Women in Ag Profile: Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam

Joan Conrow

March 7, 2016

Whether it’s shearing sheep in her native Australia, collecting bull semen on a cattle ranch in Texas or using biotechnology to breed better animals, Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam has devoted her career to livestock.

In her current position as a Cooperative Extension Specialist in Animal Genomics and Biotechnology at the University of California-Davis, she’s helping farmers adopt the newest breeding methods.

“That’s really where the rubber meets the road and I really enjoy that aspect of the translation of animal genomics,” she says.

She also enjoys educating people about the benefits of biotechnology, such as her recent successful efforts to silence the gene that produces unwanted horns in Holstein dairy cows. It would have been difficult, if not impossible, to use conventional breeding methods to attain that desirable trait, which spares farmers and animals the ordeal of dehorning.

Alison has made extensive use of videos, parodies, and social media to spread the word about new advances in agricultural science, especially biotechnology.

As a scientist working to achieve animal welfare and environmental benefits through the use biotechnology, Alison remains somewhat perplexed by the ongoing resistance to genetically engineered livestock and crops.

“We seem to adopt technology in all aspects of our life, but there’s a hesitation when it comes to agriculture,” she says. “To me, it’s the area where we should most be applying technology, to try to advance our capability to provide sufficient food for the people of Earth, while minimizing our impact on the environment.”

As a mother, Alison is deeply troubled by reports that 25,000 people most of them children die of starvation each day.

“I would like to be part of the solution to stop that from happening in the future,” she said.