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DNA discoveries reduce hunger

Max Rothschild has spent much of his career looking at the DNA of pigs.

His work at Iowa State University has won numerous awards, including the American Ag Editors Association’s Distinguished Service Award, which was presented to him at the Ag Media Summit in Ft. Worth, Texas, Aug. 4.

Rothschild, responsible for numerous inventions such as three gene tests that are leading to significant increases in pig litter size, says changes in technology have made it possible for scientists to determine the DNA sequence of all major livestock species.

“The ultimate outcome — and this may take many years — will be to produce animals that are healthier and grow better and faster,” he said. “We will be able to make specialized products for the consumer, which will provide more income for the farmer. All of these genetic developments will continue to make the farmer more productive and to help feed the world.”

The latter is a familiar subject to Rothschild, who has made several trips to work with the Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods in Uganda over the last four years. His is one of several projects being conducted by ISU scientists in that country. For more information, go to Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods.

“Over 1 billion people in this world make less than a dollar a day, and their food security is nonexistent,” said Rothschild, who holds an endowed chair at Iowa State and is also coordinator of USDA’s National Pig Genome Project. “We in the developed world need to do more to help these people emerge out of poverty and have a secure source of food.”

He harbors no illusions about the challenges agriculturalists face in making those changes, particularly when it comes to winning acceptance for the biotechnological innovations that have occurred so rapidly in the U.S.

“There is a crisis in our country relative to science, and there is plenty of blame to go around,” he told attendees at the Ag Media Summit, which was billed as the largest gathering ever of agricultural journalists under one roof. “As much as our discoveries will change the face of animal agriculture, they will require the efforts of all of you.

“We, the academics, need to do a better job of explaining science and its applications to the public and people like you. We need those in your profession to actively try to translate science and its implications to readers, and we need the public’s help in seeing that their children are trained in science. This will allow us to continue to be a strong and vibrant society, allowing us to make discoveries that help feed ourselves and the world around us.”

More than 700 ag editors and industry communications professionals attended the Ag Media Summit, including about 150 journalists from 30 countries who participated in the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists Congress held prior to the Summit.


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