Research Project Areas and Associated Faculty

Animal Health and Disease Group

Summary: A major focus within the Department of Animal and Food Sciences has been avian diseases, in particular, viral diseases of poultry.  Projects in this area range from very basic, molecular biological studies of virus gene function to interactions of viral pathogens with their host, the chicken. These in vivo studies range from understanding basic immune system development to identifying important and protective responses in the treatment and prevention of virus-induced diseases.

Animal Health Faculty Project Areas

Faculty Mentor   Project Focus Area
Brannick Laboratory Research in the Brannick lab involves elucidation of the pathology [i.e. gross and microscopic lesions, etiology, and disease pathogenesis] underlying infectious and noninfectious poultry diseases encountered within backyard and commercial broiler chicken flocks on the Delmarva peninsula.  Studies are conducted in both a modern and historic context utilizing current and archived diagnostic specimens.  Current projects primarily include prospective and retrospective studies of respiratory viral diseases, as well as pathogenesis studies of emerging myopathies.
Keeler Laboratory The Keeler avian pathogenomics research group studies avian innate immunity, the avian respiratory microbiome, and a variety of avian pathogens. Student projects will concentrate on these three areas. Work on the avian herpesvirus infectious laryngotracheitis virus (ILTV) encompasses determining changes in pathogenicity and sequence when ILTV strains are serially passaged in tissue culture, eggs, or birds. The avian response to ILTV by both RNASeq and microRNASeq is another area of undergraduate student involvement. In addition students will participate in ongoing vaccine trials.
Parcells Laboratory The main focus of the Parcells Lab is Marek’s disease virus (MDV), an oncogenic herpesvirus of chickens that is currently controlled through vaccination. Student individual projects will be focused on the characterization of a particular gene of MDV. This will include the amplification and cloning of the particular gene from several strains of MDV, the sub-cloning of this gene into expression vectors for making fluorescent protein fusions (eYFP, eCFP, mRFP), and the characterization of this protein with respect to its localization and co-localization with cellular and other viral proteins. In addition, students will participate in ongoing vaccine trials and in vivo characterization studies of recombinant MDVs.

Bioenergy and the Environment Project Area

Summary: One of the strength areas of the Department of Animal Food Sciences is bioenergy and animal environment control. Examples of studies involve discovery and applications research in animal wellbeing, energy conservation, and nutrient management on animal operations to improve animal welfare, promote best animal management practices, and to protect air and water quality. Projects in this area include alternative lighting technologies, animal welfare and housing enrichment, reduction in nutrient excretion, and abatement strategies for odor and/or greenhouse gas emissions associated with animal operations.

Bioenergy and the Environment Faculty Project Areas

Faculty Mentor   Project Focus Area
Benson Laboratory The Benson laboratory has three key project areas: a) alternative lighting technology, b) emergency animal management, and c) environmental air quality. Lighting represents between 20% to 40% of a poultry producers’ electrical bill and alternative technologies such as light emitting diodes (LED) and organic light emitting diodes (OLED) have the potential to significantly reduce energy consumption, however, this needs to be balanced against production losses. The Benson group is active in all areas of emergency animal response, but specializes in the 3-D’s – depopulation, disposal, and disinfection. The Benson group has been extensively involved in the current highly pathogenic avian influenza response.  The Benson group has experience with environmental air quality monitoring of broiler facilities.
Li Laboratory The main focus of the Li Lab is the areas of animal environmental control and agricultural air quality. Concerns about ammonia (NH3) emission are multifaceted and include issues of animal performance, health, welfare, environmental impact, and public perception. Effectively managing NH3 emissions is critical to meet foreseeable regulatory limits set for animal operations. Dietary manipulation has shown promise to be a cost effective and viable technology to reduce these emissions.

Food Safety and Microbiology Project Area Summary: The main focus of the Food Science faculty of ANFS is on food safety: the detection and inactivation of foodborne pathogens, the colonization, internalization and persistence of pathogens on food products, and physical and biochemical mechanisms of persistence, pathogenesis and disinfection. Specific faculty project areas are given in Table 5, below: Food Safety and Microbiology Faculty Project Areas

Faculty Mentor   Project Focus Area
Chen Laboratory The undergraduate students will be involved in a food processing and safety project. There has been a great concern among consumers about the safety of fresh produce due to several large high-profile outbreaks. Shortwave ultraviolet light (UV) is able to inactivate a wide range of microorganisms and has been approved by the FDA as a treatment for controlling surface microorganisms and juice products. To improve the safety of fresh produce, we propose to develop a UV-decontamination chamber for home use. The main objective of this study is to evaluate the effectiveness of the UV system for inactivating E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella on fresh produce.
Hoover Laboratory The undergraduate students will be involved  in studies involving spores and vegetative cells of Alicyclobacillus sp. in fruit juice products. Specifically, they will develop and test hypotheses focused on the conditions of sporulation, germination, growth and viability with regard to temperature, pH and redox potential, as well as juice type and beverage additives. Sensitivities of spores and vegetative cells to temperature and pressure will also be investigated if time permits.
Joerger Laboratory The undergraduate students will be involved in research on two projects. One project will be the continuation of work studying the genetic basis of acid resistance in Salmonella enterica. Strains having mutations in genes potentially involved in acid resistance have been generated and characterization of these will be the topic of further undergraduate research. The second project studies the effectiveness of antimicrobials (primarily oxidizing agents) on Listeria monocytogenes released from biofilms.
Kniel Laboratory Undergraduate students in the Kniel lab will focus on aspects of environmental microbiology as it relates to food safety and microbial fitness. A majority of foodborne illness cases are attributed to consumption of contaminated fruits and vegetables. Some of the contamination occurs at the pre-harvest level, which is a complex environment with many factors for supporting the growth and survival of human and zoonotic bacteria and viruses. Students will work with species of Salmonella, pathogenic E. coli (both enterohemorrhagic and extraintestinal), and Listeria monocytogenes in an attempt to understand mechanisms of persistence. By combining genetic analysis and phenotypic traits of survival, students can hypothesize what may allow some bacteria to persist in the pre-harvest environment and cause disease.
Wu Laboratory Undergraduate students will be involved in food quality and safety projects, specifically on enhancing food safety and quality through novel applications of antimicrobials or pulsed light technology. Most studies on food safety have primarily evaluated the effects of antimicrobial treatments on the pathogens in or on the food; however, it is also essential to evaluate the effects of such treatments on the quality of the food itself during the shelf-life. In the proposed project, undergraduates will work together with graduate students to conduct quality evaluation tests on sensory, color, texture, and major nutrients of food products after they receive processing for reduction of foodborne pathogens.

Genetics and Genomics Projects  Summary: The main focus of the Genetics and Genomics ANFS research group is on the relationship between genomic sequences and traits affecting poultry production. Projects encompass measurements of physical traits, examination of gene expression patterns, evaluation of genomic diversity and measurements of metabolic products. Specific examples include: Genetics and Genomics Faculty Project Areas

Faculty Mentor   Project Focus Area
Abasht Laboratory Research in Abasht lab is focused on characterizing the biological basis of variation in quantitative traits as it relates to poultry breeding and genetics programs. Using diverse multidisciplinary approaches, we aim to track the flow of biological information from DNA to RNA, its translation to protein, and eventually its impact on metabolism at cellular and molecular levels. Genome-wide association studies (GWAS),  next-generation DNA- and RNA-sequencing, detecting genomic signatures of positive selection, and finding genes with allele specific expression (ASE) are among the major approaches that we are currently using to find genes underlying variation in important traits.
Biddle Laboratory The Biddle Lab focuses on the structure and function of bacterial communities in the equine gut through community sequencing surveys as well as anaerobic culture based experiments. Employing an in vitro model, students will use 16S rRNA gene surveys to determine which bacteria are present in equine gut communities, measure the metabolic products, and determine the effects of perturbations (such as dietary change) over a time course. These experiments will deepen understanding of how equine gut communities respond to change and why some horses are more resilient than others to dietary perturbation.
Schmidt Laboratory This laboratory focuses on evaluating the effect of biological and abiotic stress on growth in the chicken.  Student projects typically focus on the gene responses of specific tissues to heat stress.  This effort includes participation in necropsies to learn the anatomy of the chicken and to harvest tissues. Subsequently, the student will extract RNA from the tissues of interest and then prepare transcriptome libraries for high throughput sequencing.  Following sequencing, identification of differentially expressed genes typically leads to quantitative PCR validation experiments. Finally the results are interpreted in the context of animal growth and physiology.   These projects provide training in multiple areas of biology and allow students to explore hypotheses of the relationship between gene expression patterns and response to stress.

Physiology, Immunology and Nutrition Projects Summary: The Department of Animal and Food Sciences has 3 faculty members involved in the areas of physiology, immunology and nutrition of ruminants.  Projects in this area range from very basic, molecular biological studies using cell culture techniques to applied animal feeding studies. Specific example projects are given in Table 7, below: Physiology, Immunology and Nutrition Faculty Project Areas

Faculty Mentor   Project Focus Area
Arsenault Laboratory Research in the Arsenault lab centers on kinomics and cellular signal transduction. From this perspective the lab studies gut health, host pathogen interactions, immunometabolism and host-microbiome interactions. We have ongoing projects looking at chicken immune development, feed-additives as antibiotic alternatives, and host-pathogen interactions in chicken, including Salmonella serovars, Clostridium perfringens, and Coccidia.
Dutta Laboratory

Research in the Dutta laboratory is focused on understanding the mechanistic basis of cellular response to oxidative stress in both normal and diseased states. In particular, the laboratory studies mitochondria-mediated mechanisms involved in development and maintenance of reproductive organ systems, in the context of ovarian health and cancer. We utilize state-of-the-art transcriptomic, proteomic, and metabolomic approaches to interrogate chicken models, mouse models, and human samples. Our work aims to improve reproductive efficiency in chickens, and identify and define drivers of ovarian cancer initiation in the human context.

Gressley Laboratory The main focus of the Gressley Lab is understanding how feeding strategies impact animal health and productivity, with a particular focus on intestinal carbohydrate fermentation. Undergraduates are an essential component of the Gressley lab and they take part in all aspects of our work. Most undergraduate researchers and all Senior Thesis students from my lab have gone on to receive post-graduate training in fields pertaining to animal or human health.
Li Laboratory The main focus of the Y.Li’s Lab is intestinal development and physiology. By utilizing monogastric animal model, we want to understand the mechanisms by which the intestine rapidly respond and long-termly adapt to environmental stressors (weaning, heat/cold, physiological stress) in early life, eventually identify novel nutritional strategies to facilitate gut adaptation and attenuate damage. Research projects will include the isolation and characterization of intestinal stem cell, evaluation on nutrient sensing/transport physiology, and mucosal barrier function and regeneration.