Message Number: YG1233 | New FHL Archives Search
From: Brett Middleton
Date: 2001-03-13 20:38:00 UTC
Subject: A little professional background

Well, somewhere along the way Christopher fingered me as a potential
source of "professional expertise" for the group. Me, I thought I was
just a poor sap who got stuck with a stray ferret one day, became
addicted, and has been scrambling ever since to raise his knowledge of
ferret husbandry to an acceptable level. But, after seeing the little
vita that Bob C. posted, and after considering some correspondence I've
received, I think it might be a good idea to provide more information
on my professional background. Aside from the fact that my specialty
is not very familiar to most people, it's only fair that anyone looking
to me for "expertise" should have enough information to decide for
themselves if I'm a crackpot.

Education-wise, I hung around agricultural colleges long enough to pick
up the following between visits to the local taverns:

1983 PhD Iowa State University
Major: Animal Breeding with beef-cattle emphasis
Minor: Statistics

1981 MS Iowa State University
Major: Animal Breeding with beef-cattle emphasis

1978 BS Delaware Valley College
Major: Animal Husbandry

These majors aren't as pornographic as they may sound to those who
aren't familiar with aggie degrees. "Animal Husbandry" covers the
basic animal sciences, with particular attention to farm livestock:
anatomy, physiology, nutrition, reproduction, genetics, diseases, etc.
"Animal Breeding" is genetics as applied to livestock production, and
mostly involves quantitative genetics (aka "statistical" or
"population" genetics).

It's a little easier to work into this backwards: the opposite of
quantitative genetics is molecular genetics. The molecular geneticists
get to stand around in white lab coats, madly splicing genes into
things and making a lot of money. Everybody knows what they do because
they get all the publicity and people make neat movies about them, like
"Jurassic Park". I'm not one of those guys. Mostly what I do is to
gather heaps of data on pedigrees and production measures (like how
much milk a cow gives), and then I analyze it statistically to try to
determine which animals will make the best breeding stock. (Guess what
happens to the others. Yum! B-) Sometimes we get to work with traits
that are "simply" inherited -- just one or two genes are involved, like
whether a cow has horns or not -- but usually we deal with complex
traits that may be influenced by hundreds or thousands of genes, like
how much a steer will weigh when it's ready for slaughter.

While I was in grad school I managed to find enough free time to pursue
a side interest in livestock record-keeping systems, which are critical
in gathering data of sufficient quality for good genetic analysis.
Nowadays they'd probably call this something like "animal informatics"
and load on some extra course requirements. Fortunately for my mental
health, back then I could follow the subject as I pleased.

Following grad school I spent 10 years in the Information Systems
department of the American Polled Hereford Association (a large beef-
cattle breed association). Here I developed record-keeping systems and
performed genetic analyses for Polled Herefords and for several other
breeds of beef cattle for which we provided data-processing services,
as well as having some involvement with the National Sheep Improvement
Program. (I may be the only weirdo who ever had simultaneous
memberships in the American Society of Animal Science and the National
Systems Programmers Association.)

When the Polled Hereford Association merged with the Hereford
Association and downsizing was in the air, I made the jump back to
academia, and I'm now an Assistant Research Scientist in the Animal and
Dairy Science Department at the University of Georgia. (Those of you
who are familiar with academic rank may be a little suspicious of my
qualifications at this point. Assistant rank? At my age? Well, see,
I committed the unpardonable sin of working in the industry for more
than a couple of years, rather than paying my "dues" in the hierarchy.
This is my comeuppance. B-) Here I go on much as before -- performing
genetic analyses and developing record-keeping systems -- but closer to
the leading edge of research and with a little more variety in the
problems I get to tackle. I still mostly work with beef cattle, but
I've also had the chance to work on genetic improvement programs for
the National Swine Registry.

Whether this background will allow me to offer anything special to the
ferret community, I can't yet say. I know there are some very genetics-
savvy enthusiasts here who can probably say all that *can* be said
about the major ferret genetic issues, given the current state of
knowledge. But, I'll be glad to try to add whatever I can. And I
*know* y'all won't be afraid to argue with me. B-)


*SLMW 1.0* Animal Breeders do it with Frequency and Variation.