New meat scientist joins University of Guelph faculty
Latest hire continues rejuvenation of Guelph’s Animal Biosciences department
By Lilian Schaer for Livestock Research Innovation Corporation
The University of Guelph is getting ready to welcome a new meat scientist to its ranks in 2021.
Prof. Marcio Duarte will be joining the Department of Animal Biosciences as assistant professor in meat science and muscle biology. With a background in ruminant nutrition, he hails from the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, one of that country’s leading agricultural regions, and is currently an assistant professor in animal science at the Universidade Federal de Viçosa in Brazil.
Beef cattle are his main focus, although he also collaborates on swine research projects, and his specialization lies in improving meat quality through research in muscle biology, maternal nutrition, and fetal development.
“Skeletal development starts in the uterus and with a third of the animal’s life spent in-utero, we need to learn how we can manipulate the maternal diet to benefit fetal development,” he explains. “What we do during pre-natal development has consequences later in life for the calf.”
He also hopes to partner with other researchers on projects related to feed efficiency and how that area can be balanced with meat quality. He’s done some initial work on this in Brazil, but a lack of data has kept him from moving forward.
“The main goal is to understand how selection for feed efficiency can influence changes in meat quality traits. We can look at tissue development at the cellular level to understand what the consequences are of feed efficiency selection, and maybe we can find a way to have some balance between the two,” he says.
The University of Guelph has been on Duarte’s radar since his days as an undergraduate student, and he had colleagues who came to Guelph for their graduate and post-graduate work.
He was also attracted by the investments that government, producers, and the university have made into livestock research, including the newly renovated and upgraded federally inspected on-campus abattoir and the new beef research facilities in Elora, both of which he had a chance to tour during a visit to Ontario last winter before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“Since I work with beef cattle and meat quality, I saw this as a great opportunity to be in the right place at the right time,” he says of his new position at Guelph.
Those investments and Duarte’s hiring are just two aspects of the long road of rebuilding for the Department of Animal Biosciences over the last decade. In 2008, the department, then known as Animal and Poultry Science, lost eight faculty positions as part of a 40% budget cut to the Ontario Agricultural College.
Today, faculty numbers are back up, facilities are undergoing renewal, and both research and teaching are expanding into new areas. It’s an evolution department chair Prof. Jim Squires is proud of and rightly so, as much of the rebuilding and growth has happened under his leadership.
“I’ve been a faculty member since 1987 and Chair of the department since 2014, and I wanted to do my part for its future. We’ve hired 14, including eight women, all really bright, smart young people,” he says. “We’ve built back up to our previous levels, and at the same time our productivity has grown, and our number of graduate students has grown as well.”
According to Squires, all new faculty have received funding for two graduate students for two years on top of funds to start their respective research programs. The department now has over 150 graduate students across its 28 faculty members.
Guelph is home to the only federally licensed university abattoir in Canada. It recently underwent an approximately $2.5 million overhaul and re-opened two years ago as a completely modern meat science laboratory that not only focuses on teaching and research but can also collaborate with industry partners on new product development.
The Elora Research Station is home to the new Ontario Dairy Research Centre and the new Ontario Beef Research Centre, both state-of-the-art facilities to support current and future research needs of the industry.
The new dairy facilities began operations in 2015, the new beef cow barn and some of the renovated pastures are already in use and construction of the new beef feedlot is underway. A new swine research centre was announced in 2019 that will also be built in Elora, and discussions about renewal of the poultry research facilities are ongoing.
New research specialty areas for the department include increased focus on big data, and ecosystem services that look at the broader impact of livestock farming on the environment. As well, new programs for students in the Ontario Agricultural College have been added to meet the evolving needs of the agricultural sector, including resource management, food industry management and environmental management, and a new program focused on technology and business is in development.
“That’s a nice niche; someone with a good understanding of agricultural technology on the plant and animal side combined with business could work almost anywhere,” Squires said.
New faculty members who have joined the Animal Biosciences in the last few years include David Huyben (aquaculture), Alexandra Harlander, (poultry behaviour), Jennifer Ellis (animal systems modelling), Christine Baes (dairy genomics), Angela Canovas (beef genomics), Anna-Kate Shoveller (companion animal nutrition), Elijah Kiarie (poultry nutrition), Eduardo Ribeiro (reproductive physiology), Katie Wood (beef nutrition), Wendy Pearson (equine physiology), Lee-Ann Huber (swine nutrition), Michael Steele (animal physiology), and Dan Tulpan (computational biology).
This article is provided by Livestock Research Innovation Corporation as part of its ongoing efforts to drive innovation in the livestock sector.