Published on 05/18/22

Animal and dairy science spans oceans through UGA-Sassari partnership

By Clint Thompson
The main building of the University of Sassari in Italy, viewed from above and surrounded by other buildings
A formal agreement was established between the University of Sassari and the University of Georgia to expand the pool of talented student applicants and capitalize on the strong programs in animal genetics at both institutions. (Photo by Giuseppe Faedda)

A partnership between the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) and the Department of Agriculture at the University of Sassari (UNISS) in Italy is yielding more efficient studies in animal breeding and providing international students with a more extensive network of research capabilities.

“We have talent everywhere. We just need to go and try to find them,” said Daniela Lourenco, an associate professor in the Department of Animal and Dairy Science at CAES.

A formal agreement between the two universities was established in 2019 to capitalize on the strong programs in animal genetics at both institutions by expanding the pool of talented student applicants.

“In Italy they have a very strong group. That's why we targeted them. They have very good training over there so we thought just combining the two groups, bringing the two groups together would be beneficial. It's been very beneficial so far,” Lourenco said.

Lourenco and fellow ADS faculty member Ignacy Misztal are part of the Animal Breeding and Genetics Group at UGA, which oversees research projects being studied by Alberto Cesarani, a former UGA postdoctoral student who now works in the animal breeding and genetics group headed by Professor Nicolò Macciotta at UNISS.

“We are looking for talent, and that talent is present everywhere,” said Misztal, who is both a UGA Distinguished Research Professor and D.W. Brooks Professor of Animal Breeding and Genetics at CAES. “The second reason is that collaboration is always good. If one is staying at the same place all the time, there's not that much creativity. When we exchange ideas, we brainstorm and find that research can go much faster.”

Cesarani was a beneficiary of this partnership. He worked at CAES as a postdoctoral researcher from 2019-20 and has experienced the benefits of studying and working at both universities. He explained that UGA courses are more specialized in one field of study, while in Italy the curricula are more generalized. Students study a range of fields in addition to animal breeding, creating a well-rounded learning environment for Cesarani and other students like him.

“U.S. universities and Italian universities are really different. Without the support of UGA, I wouldn't reach some goals that I can now reach,” Cesarani said. “Here in Italy we have smaller (genetic) datasets. UGA’s animal breeding group supports young scientists like me with access to the largest scientific network field. I work with 5 million genotypes thanks to UGA. In Italy, I use 10,000 to 15,000. We are talking about completely different capabilities.”

The partnership is important to the overall health of animal breeding and production, whether in dairy or beef production, with research geared towards sustainability. With scientists from both institutions collaborating on research and contributing ideas will strengthen the long-term health of the industry.

“Sustainability is very important right now because we need to produce more food and we need to do that without increasing the land we use and without increasing the amount of feed the animals eat. We need to especially increase the efficiency of the animals. The system will then become sustainable,” Lourenco said.

In September, CAES researchers Daniela Lourenco, Ignacy Misztal and Jeferson Lourenco visited the University of Sassari to give seminars and discuss developing joint research projects with their counterparts. Scientists from the University of Sassari, including Cesarani, are visiting the UGA Athens campus from April to June of this year.