‘The Pinnacle of My Career’

Peter Sutovsky named 2019 Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

Growing up in Slovakia, a young Peter Sutovsky would often hold his own science-based lectures in front of his elementary classmates. Those lectures would generally focus on insects, as Sutovsky had a big interest in entomology.

“I would bring in my insect collection and explain how the organs of a male beetle were different than the organs of a female beetle,” Sutovsky. “It was a bit precocious – and an early introduction to the birds and the bees. There was definitely a natural curiosity and interest in science from a young age.”

Little did Sutovsky know then that his early interest in science would eventually lead to a career in researching and studying reproductive physiology in livestock. His work has led to numerous national and international awards, including his most recent honor – being named a 2019 Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

“It’s an incredible honor,” said Sutovsky, a professor in the Division of Animal Sciences. “In terms of recognition, this is the pinnacle of my career. I’ve been very fortunate to be recognized at the national and international level. Those honors are usually within my field of reproductive biology and physiology, or in the larger field of agriculture research or human medicine. To be named a Fellow is quite something.”

It was actually a high school teacher who pushed Sutovsky to hone his scientific interest in on agriculture. Sutovsky went on to earn his master’s degree in animal science from the Slovak University of Agriculture in Nitra, and his PhD in physiology of reproduction from the Czech Academy of Sciences. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Wisconsin and time as a staff scientist at Oregon Health and Science University, Sutovsky joined the Division of Animal Sciences in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources at the University of Missouri in 2001.

“When I interviewed here, I just had a great feeling,” Sutovsky said. “The faculty here are some of the best in the world, and it’s a fantastic environment to conduct research in. Each day brings something new and exciting. The group is so renowned, and we continue to attract top talent. That talent is staying here, too, which says a lot about our division.”

Sutovsky’s research is centered on the process of fertilization in livestock, as well as mammalian gametogenesis and pre-implantation embryonic development. His lab researches what happens before and after fertilization and how to make that process as efficient as possible.

“We work to recreate the entire fertilization process, as it occurs within the female reproductive tract,” Sutovsky said. “A lot happens before that moment of fertilization – and a lot happens after.”

Sutovsky’s work is incredibly important for livestock owners, especially as artificial insemination (AI) becomes more popular. His lab helps develop techniques to improve the entire fertility process.

“Being more efficient allows producers to save money at the end of the day,” Sutovsky said. “We want AI to be as effective as possible, as that process is a major technique in livestock operations.”

Sutovsky is a member of the Interdisciplinary Reproduction and Health Group (IRHG), one of CAFNR’s Programs of Distinction. He won the CAFNR Distinguished Researcher Award in 2009 and was named the Faculty Entrepreneur of the Year by the University of Missouri System a year later. Sutovsky has a joint appointment in the School of Medicine’s Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health.

“Dr. Sutovsky is very deserving of this honor,” said Bill Lamberson, director for the Division of Animal Sciences. “We have an incredible group of researchers with strong programs in reproduction, genomics and health. Dr. Sutovsky is a key part of that group. His research has implications across the globe.”

Sutovsky’s wife, Miriam, a senior research assistant, serves as his lab manager. The two have worked together since 2001.

“This is an introspective award, and it’s made me really sit back and think about how thankful I am to have worked with Miriam,” Sutovsky said. “We’re kind of like a mom and pop shop. We’ve worked with great post-docs, graduate students and undergraduate students.

“I also want to thank my nominator Tom Spencer, co-nominators Janice Bahr (University of Illinois) and Peter Hansen (University of Florida), and Rod Geisert, who helped with the nomination. I’m grateful for Dr. Lamberson and all of the past directors in the Division of Animal Sciences who have supported us through our 18 years here.”