Meet Gustavo Lopez, our latest addition to Farm Journal's PORK's Up & Coming Leaders feature. We are showcasing some of the fresh, new voices of the pork industry who combine innovative thought and work ethic with scientific savvy and a passion to make a difference.
Hometown: Caracas, Venezuela
Education: Doctor of Veterinary Medicine,, Central University of Venezuela; pursuing Ph.D. in veterinary medicine at University of Minnesota.
Q. What drew you in to pursue a career in the swine industry?
A. I’ve always been interested in agriculture as my family owns a poultry farm in Venezuela. However, I credit my swine professors for engaging me in the swine industry and helping me see a future in it. I worked in Russia for seven years for a production company with 80,000 sows. My experience working with this production company led me to pursue a Ph.D. My DVM experience goes a long way, but I wanted to take my learning to next level.
Q. Tell us about your internship experiences.
A. Undergraduate internships are mandatory to complete your degree in veterinary medicine in Venezuela. I interned with the University of Minnesota in order to obtain tools, analysis techniques and critical thinking skills. I worked with many professors and graduate students.
Q. How did you become an “ASF celebrity”?
A. I don’t consider myself an African swine fever (ASF) celebrity. I just had the misfortune of being among the first English-speaking veterinarians who have faced ASF outbreaks and had an opportunity to share my experience. By now, many veterinarians have suffered the same misfortune around the world. While working in Russia, I gained experience living with ASF and dealing with this disease in the swine herds. When I later came to the U.S. to work on my Ph.D., people began asking me questions about how we dealt with this deadly virus. Before I knew it, I was giving lectures about what I saw in Russia and what we did as a company.
Q. What other learning opportunities have you been involved in?
A. As students, we were always encouraged to go to conferences to see how the swine industry works. I try to attend as many conferences as I can in the U.S., South America and Europe.
Q. How could your research impact the swine industry?
A. My research focuses on influenza transmission dynamics, specifically the mechanical and biological carriers of influenza. I’m studying the role that people play in transmission of the influenza virus on farms, either biologically by bringing influenza in from the outside by sneezing, coughing, etc., or mechanically by studying farm practices that may facilitate influenza transmission from pig to pig. Once pig farms get influenza, it takes a long time to get over it, even though it only lasts 5 to 7 days in humans and an individual pig. In pig farms, it takes a really long time and some farms never get it out. Our research team is trying to unravel why it’s so hard to get influenza out of pig farms. By studying bi-directional transmission of influenza, human to pigs and pigs to human, we hope to identify how it happens and discover if there are any risk factors we can circumvent.
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