Magazine feature about Van Tassell's research (July 00)
ARS Scientist Awarded for Cattle ResearchBy Jan Suszkiw
January 22, 2004
NEW ORLEANS, La., Jan. 22 Agricultural Research Service scientist Curtis P. Van Tassell's use of computing techniques to improve genetic evaluations of dairy cattle has garnered a top annual award from the research agency.
ARS, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency, will honor Van Tassell and other ARS personnel here today during an awards ceremony.
Van Tassell, named as the 2003 Herbert L. Rothbart Outstanding Early Career Research Scientist, will receive a plaque and cash award from Edward B. Knipling, acting administrator for ARS. Early career awards recognize the achievements of ARS researchers who've been with the agency seven years or less, and earned their highest academic degree within the past 10 years.
"Dr. Van Tassell is being recognized on two fronts--his development of improved methods of evaluating the genetic merit of dairy cattle, and his analysis of the bovine genome for traits affecting the animal's health and productivity," said Knipling.
Van Tassell, a research animal geneticist, is assigned to two ARS labs in Beltsville--the Bovine Functional Genomics Laboratory (BFGL), and the Animal Improvement Programs Laboratory (AIPL). His research contributions there include combining new statistical methods with software programs to improve the estimation, processing and delivery of genetic data on important cattle populations, particularly sires, some of which have generated more than a million dollars each in U.S. sales.
In one such effort, Van Tassell estimated heritability information for all yield data stored in the U.S. national database, which contains records for millions of dairy cows.
In genome mapping studies at the BFGL, Van Tassell identified 25 regions in cattle genomes, called quantitative trait loci (QTL), that may prove of economic importance to dairy producers. One such region, for example, may yield clues to reducing the incidence of metabolic diseases in cows without sacrificing milk yields. Another region appears tied to parasite resistance in the animals.
In other work, Van Tassell applied bioinformatics (use of computing techniques to study genetic data, such as DNA sequence data) to create a kind of "periodic table" describing the features of active mammary gland genes.
He is the author on 35 peer-reviewed manuscripts and has been an invited speaker at numerous meetings in both the United States and abroad. Van Tassell, who is originally from Millbrook, NY, attended Cornell University and obtained a bachelor's degree there in 1986 and a master's degree three years later at Iowa State University. He returned to Cornell and earned his doctorate there in 1994, joining ARS that same year.