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John P McNamara
President, Washington Science Teachers Association
Emeritus Professor of Animal Sciences
WSU Teaching Academy
Fellow, American Dairy Science Association
Fellow, American Society of Animal Sciences
Brief Description of Webinar
"An interactive, fun and factual look at systems biology in animal agriculture, how we got here, where we are going and why we must change our experimental approach."
Professor Emeritus of Animal Sciences, WSU. Fellow, American Dairy Science Association; Fellow, American Society of Animal Sciences; President, Washington Science Teachers Association.
Washington State University, Washington Science Teachers Association
Born in a little farm town of Chicago, he realized milking cows and feeding pigs was more interesting then selling groceries. Later he realized that doing research on cows and pigs was a lot easier than milking and feeding them. That led to a BS in Agricultural Sciences (1976) and an MS in Dairy Sciences (1978) at University of Illinois. But the best part of that experience was meeting his love, Sue, to whom he has been married for 44 years.
Following a PhD as the first graduate of the new Foods & Nutrition Program at University of GA (1982), he did a post doctorate in Dairy Sciences at University of FL, and then accepted a job in the hidden town of Pullman WA and has now been retired from Washington State University for 4 years.
He had the great opportunity to work with Bob Collier, Dale Bauman, Jimmy Clark, Carl Davis, Bruce Larson, Janice Bahr and others at the University of Illinois, where he learned that biology included everything in life, not just one part; the value of studying the literature before you devise hypotheses; designing experiments for the most clear and relevant answers, and being sure the experimental design matched the hypotheses, and that the statistical analyses matched the experimental design. He also learned how to be a team player and a good faculty member, and that being a good scientist, teacher and a nice person were not mutually exclusive.
At UI, he also learned the hard way how important it was to be a good teacher, taking the graduate level Ag Statistics class, from the ‘guy who wrote the book’; and whose teaching method was ‘turn on the overhead, start writing and talking to the overhead, turn off the overhead and leave.’ No eye contact, no interaction. But we did teach ourselves statistics very well.
It was also a room of about 120 white men. So, 40 years later, in the same building, while receiving the Award of Merit from the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, and being inducted into the Round Barn Society, he could talk to the room of 120 young people of all genders, ethnicities, points of view and state ‘we are (we being the 5 old white guys getting the rewards) the past, and you are the future!’
Continuing on the quest of learning the interaction of biology and statistics, he had the glory of crashing the entire UGA computer system with a SAS ANOVA for 3 diets, 6 animals per diet, 6 post-harvest nutrient concentrations in incubations in 3 tissues and 3 reps per concentration. Remember, this was 1981 on a mainframe with punch cards.
At WSU, he had the good fortune of working with a geneticist Joe Hillers, with whom he was able to make some of the first discoveries of the metabolic controls which made the most efficient cows. Later, he was able to ‘end’ the research thread with the largest data set (to that time) on mRNA expression in the adipose tissue of dairy cattle. Among his discoveries were the uncoupling of lipolysis and lipogenesis in later lactation, which was the first explanation of why cows in later lactation are the most efficient animals. Their studies in early lactation defined the differences in control of metabolic pathways due to genetic selection and how that interacted with energy intake to ensure rapid rates of milk production, energy intake and adipose metabolism.
All of these experiments included explicitly genetics (genetic merit of milk production of the bulls) and energy intake in the model, as well as repeated studies over time and in many experiments, tissue culture, enzyme activity and later, mRNA expression. No experimental model had fewer than 6 to 8 interactions and most used continuous rather than categorial variables, as metabolism is continuous. To put that in perspective, the biochemical model of Baldwin et al that Dr. McNamara studied for 30 + years has over 100 equations with more than 17000 variables, in an attempt to explain the cow, which has more than 3000 metabolic reactions occurring in several organs, every day and 3000 relevant genes expressed. So, let us not say that an experiment with 6 to 8 interactions is too complex.
In addition to driving himself crazy studying cows, he also did the same thing in sows to discover the interactions of energy and amino acid metabolism in lactating sows. He helped build the only mechanistic model of metabolism in pregnant and lactating sows.
And, just because he was one of the few who realized that student’s and society’s interest in companion animals far exceeded its interest in farm animals, and that pets were not only economically important, but a key part of human development and behavior; he started one of the first senior level Companion Animal Courses, and an early course in Pet Nutrition, which was taught as a WSU University General Education Course, which means it could serve as the only biology course several students would take. His successful text, Principles of Companion Animal Nutrition has been used across the country and some other countries and is now in a new (3rd) edition, all on-line interactive text with Great River Learning.
In recognition of his scientific and educational work, Dr. McNamara earned the1990 WSU College of Agriculture Young Scientist Award, the 1992 ADSA Young Scientist Award, the 2001 Washington Science Teachers Association Higher Education Teacher of the Year; the 2007 Corbin Award in Companion Animal Biology (Dr. Corbin was one of his teachers at UI in the 70’s); The College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resources Excellence in Advising Award (2005); and received the first WSU Excellence in Advising Award (2016). He was elected to the WSU President’s Teaching Academy in 2007. He was elected as a Fellow of ADSA in 2012; earned the 2015 Zoetis Animal Physiology Award and was elected a Fellow of ASAS in 2016. He is one of only 11 people who were elected as Fellows of both ADSA and ASAS.