Outstanding Graduate Student

Animal sciences Ph.D. student honored by National Swine Improvement Federation

Karl Kerns, Ph.D. student in the Division of Animal Sciences, recently received the Lauren Christian Outstanding Graduate Student Award from the National Swine Improvement Federation. Kerns was recognized at the 2017 North American Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome and National Swine Improvement Federation Joint Meeting on Friday, Dec. 1, at the InterContinental Magnificent Mile in Chicago. Maynard Hogberg, professor emeritus and chair of animal science at Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Science, presented the award.

The award is named in memoriam of the late Lauren “LC” Christian. Christian served as Karl’s father, Steve’s, advisor at ISU, before Steve went on to own a swine seedstock operation with genetics in over 32 countries. Christian was a father figure to Steve, but passed away while Karl was young.

“I consider him a grandfather at heart, therefore this was very special to me” the native of Clearfield, Iowa, said. “I can only hope to be a fraction of what LC was and this award is evermore an inspiration to stay in academia with close industry ties and interaction.”

Hogberg was the chair of the Department of Animal Sciences during Kerns’ time at ISU. Hogberg as well as Kerns’ other co-nominator, John Mabry, was instrumental in his decision to pursue a career in the field, Kerns said. He puts a special emphasis on his thankfulness to be part of the collaborative and mentorship environment of the Interdisciplinary Reproduction and Health Group at MU.

“The environment we have here at Mizzou to study reproductive physiology is first-rate, made up of many world-renowned and cutting-edge researchers,” Kerns said. “The award is less about me and more about the cumulative investments of time many have taken to mentor me.”

Two of those mentors at the University of Missouri have been Peter Sutovsky, professor of animal science and obstetrics, gynecology and women’s health, as well as Michal Zigo, post-doctoral fellow. Kerns is currently studying reproductive physiology in the area of boar sperm fertility. The applications of his research include diagnosing infertile males as well as investigating mechanisms to increase and preserve fertility in an effort to maximize herd genetic power usage, marketed pounds per sow per year and sustainability.

The reach of the findings, however, may not end with the swine industry.

“Our findings are not simply confined to swine, but can easily be translated to bovine and human alike,” he said. “Where economics are not the only motivator, but also the emotional health of 1 out of every 8 couples that struggle to become pregnant.”