Adam Perez/The New York Times

February 6, 2022

National Science Foundation Grant to Fund Innovation in Sustainable Milk Production

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With the start of a new year, the McFadden Lab of the Department of Animal Science at Cornell University received a National Science Foundation grant to fund an innovative new project to increase efficiency and sustainability on milk production. 

The four-year project, which started this past January, will explore the uses of a new “recombinant protein” that will boost efficiency in cattle milk production, said Prof. Joseph McFadden, animal science. The project will also develop a community outreach program in Cortland to raise awareness about the impact of dairy consumption.

Insulin resistance is a key mechanism that holds an important role in milk production. The more insulin resistance a cow produces, the more milk that will be lactated. 

The project aims to study what causes insulin resistance to function in order to develop innovative nutritional approaches that target the cow’s mechanism and increase milk production, said McFadden.

An important aspect of the cow’s insulin resistance centers on the complex lipid molecule called ceramide, which produces insulin resistance in cattle milk production. With this in mind, the McFadden Lab team has started testing a possible new protein recombination that will increase ceramide synthesis and possibly insulin resistance. 

The investigation also arises from the University’s former Prof. Dale E. Bauman and his research on Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin — a protein recombination and nutritional supplement for cattle that increases efficiency in milk production by 15 percent. The supplement has opened a path for milk production to be more sustainable by requiring fewer cows to produce a certain yield, consequently using fewer resources and making milk more affordable for the public.

The NSF grant will not only fund the research study but also an educational component at The State University of New York College at Cortland. This part of the project aims to bring awareness to consumers about increasing environmental health tied to dairy consumption and production. The project hopes to enable consumers to identify sustainable practices and make their own choices, explained McFadden.

NSF Fellow and Cornell alumna Amanda Davis will be leading a group of NSF undergraduates at SUNY Cortland to connect with the local community. In the upcoming weeks, the team will visit the local farmers market to communicate research on sustainable milk production. They will organize events including animal interaction with the public at the Science Center.

“Biotechnology will be more important [in food production] in the future and we have to teach the public about how it’s safe so that consumers make choices about what they consume,” McFadden said. 

Together, the research at Cornell University and the community outreach programs at SUNY Cortland aims to impact consumer choices and communicate adoptable sustainable practices through awareness and education, according to McFadden.