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Scientists Speak - International Day of Women and Girls in Science - Miller
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ARS Celebrates International Women and Girls in Science Day: You Can't be Chicken in Science -  Identifying and Fighting Organisms Attacking Chickens

Patti Miller, Veterinary Medical Science Researcher at the ARS Exotic and Emerging Avian Viral Disease Research Lab (Athens GA)

Dr. Patti Miller is a Veterinarian and microbiologist working with infectious diseases of poultry, with a primary focus on Newcastle disease virus. She served as Chairperson for the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee at Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory from 2011 to 2015, and is the attending Veterinarian for the US National Poultry Research Laboratory.

What is the objective of your project?

“The objective of our project was to assist a veterinary health business centered in Lahore Pakistan to identify the organisms present in the chicken flocks. Often, birds may be vaccinated to prevent diseases and still may get sick. It is important the veterinarians understand what is making the birds sick to be able to modify their disease control programs if needed.”

Can you tell us about your research project and the international collaboration involved?

"The research involves having the collaborator collect samples from healthy and sick birds in each flock, being careful to practice good techniques to keep the samples from being cross contaminated. The veterinarians also have to obtain a few pages of information about the flock as far as what vaccines were given, when they were given and information about the presentation of clinical disease. Serum, oral swabs, and fecal swabs are sent to our biosafety level-3 laboratory where we perform virus isolation and extract the RNA to sequence to look for avian viruses, like Newcastle disease virus and avian influenza viruses. Other organisms, like infectious laryngotracheitis virus, infectious bursal disease virus and infectious bronchitis virus, may be found. Some of these may be vaccine strains and sometimes they will be pathogenic (disease-causing) strains. We also look at the serum to look for antibody titers from either vaccination or from being infected. "

How has your work with international partners benefitted your project? What skills/expertise/other contributions have they brought to this research?

“This collaboration has provided real-world experience as far as understanding how different laboratory experiments and the conditions in the USA are from certain areas of the world that have to produce poultry in less than optimal situations. Their expertise of being familiar with common production and vaccination practices is invaluable. It is very hard to solve a problem when you do not have all the pieces of the puzzle. The information they have provided has helped us to better understand the problems they deal with daily.”

What are some of the critical research areas that still need to be addressed?

“We have used next generation sequencing on some of the (virus) samples after growing the samples in eggs to increase the amount of virus able to be sequenced. We would like to be able to sequence the viruses directly from the samples without passing them into eggs."

Since we’re commemorating the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, our audience will be thinking about the role and impact of women in science, and what the particular challenges are that they may face. What is one thing that you would like to share, or advice you may have, about women in science, or for women and girls who are considering a career in science?  

“Courage, inspiration and hard work will lead to limitless opportunities. Don’t dwell on the small things. Keep moving forward.”