CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has hired an alumnus who is a meat scientist at the University of Illinois to head its forthcoming animal and rangeland sciences department.
John Killefer, who earned a doctoral degree in animal science from OSU in 1990, will start work in September. He is a professor of meat science and muscle biology at the Urbana-Champaign campus of the University of Illinois.
"We are excited to have a person of Dr. Killefer's caliber and international reputation take on leadership of the soon-to-be-created department of animal and rangeland sciences, resulting from a merger of the department of animal science and the department of rangeland ecology and management," said Sonny Ramaswamy, dean of OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences.
The proposal to merge them was in response to new directions in science, and reductions in state funding and faculty, Ramaswamy said. The new department is expected to be official in the fall, following approvals at the university level, he said.
"My goal," Killefer said, "is to build upon the strong history and tradition of both programs. I envision the department as one of the premier departments of animal and rangeland sciences nationally and internationally."
As part of that, he wants to build overseas connections. For example, because of Oregon's abundant rangeland, he'd like to expand the marketing of forage-fed beef and dairy products to international customers. He also hopes to develop collaborative research programs with Argentina to study how it raises cattle.
"They have different production and marketing systems," he said. "There may be advantages of being able to adopt practices from different cultures. Expanding the global perspective of our department will benefit the teaching, research and extension missions of our program."
One issue that needs to be addressed is a projected increase in the world's population, he said. The number of mouths to feed will rise from 6.8 billion to 9.1 billion in 2050, according to a report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
"That will require increasing food production," he said. "We only have a certain amount of land available. If we're going to grow more food we can't just use more land. We need to be able to manage and maintain our natural resources and improve the efficiency of food production.”
Killefer plans to conduct research that builds on his work at the University of Illinois. His lab there examined genetic, nutritional and environmental factors that influence muscle development and meat quality in fish, poultry, pigs, cattle and sheep. His lab also investigated ways to control metabolism in livestock after slaughter, which can affect the quality of meat, making it tender, tough or discolored.
Prior to his position in Illinois, he was an associate professor in the division of animal and nutritional sciences at West Virginia University. There he was involved in the creation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Center for Cool and Cold Water Aquaculture.
Killefer has authored or co-authored about 100 refereed journal articles. During his career, he has received about $10 million in grants and contracts. That figure includes his collaboration on a $5 million award this year from the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The researchers on that project aim to identify a possible genetic explanation as to why some cattle process nutrients more efficiently than others and thus develop better.
Killefer replaces Jim Males, the head of the animal sciences department, and Mike Borman, the head of the department of rangeland ecology and management. Both will continue as professors at OSU.
"Jim and Mike have provided outstanding leadership of their departments during really tough budget years, which is highly appreciated by everyone," Ramaswamy said.