Meet Paula Chen, our latest addition to Farm Journal's PORK's Up & Coming Leaders feature. We will be 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: Canton, Ohio
Education: Bachelor’s degree, The Ohio State University; master’s degree in animal science – functional genomics, The Ohio State University; currently pursuing Ph.D., University of Missouri
Q. What drew you in to pursue a career in the swine industry?
A. I became interested in pursuing a career in the swine industry while working on my master’s degree, which was primarily focused on poultry but had a small swine component. I realized there were a lot of opportunities for advancement in this industry to improve production efficiency as well as the fact that pigs are becoming more and more popular as biomedical models in human medicine. The combination of these two factors creates numerous, enticing opportunities.
Q. Tell us about your internship experiences.
A. During the summer before my third year of undergraduate school, I had an internship in the laboratory of Dr. Kristy Daniels who focuses on mammary biology in dairy cattle. This internship provided me with firsthand research experience and the opportunities to present my research at undergraduate poster forums.
Q. Did you take part in other undergraduate research experiences?
A. Aside from my internship, I performed research as an undergraduate in the laboratory of Dr. Kichoon Lee. My project focused on understanding adipose tissue development in the embryonic chicken. I also gained experience in genetic engineering which is what initially sparked my interest in this field and applications for the swine industry.
Q. What other learning opportunities have you been involved in?
A. I did not have any swine experience until attending The Ohio State University. Aside from loving bacon and other pork products, I did not gain most of my swine experience until pursuing my master’s degree. During one of my projects, I took muscle samples from different breeds of pigs to measure expression of myostatin, which regulates muscle growth. This piqued my interest in conducting research with pigs to understand early developmental processes that lead to successful pregnancies and make improvements in the swine industry to meet demands of the growing population.
Q. Tell us about your current research.
A. My research focuses on improving pig embryo development in an artificial culture system, so that we can study early developmental processes and create genetically-modified pigs with resistance to certain viruses or other advantageous traits. Generation of genetically-modified pigs requires embryo manipulation and a short period of development in a culture dish before being transferred into a surrogate mother. In order to increase the efficiency of creating these pigs (which is still relatively low), I have been studying how addition of an amino acid, glutamine, to our culture system improves pig embryo development and affects activation of a protein complex called mTORC1. This complex is known to regulate growth and proliferation of most cell types; therefore, we will also investigate the role of mTORC1 during developmental stages before implantation. We will use this information to further understand embryo viability at these early stages with an overarching goal of obtaining larger and more consistent litter sizes in the modern sow to increase the current food supply.
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