Breno Fragomeni joined the Department of Animal Science this past August as assistant professor of genetics. He works in computational genetics, analyzing data related to animals’ performance in order to improve selection and breeding decisions for livestock. Here is what he said in an interview.
Where did you get your degrees?
I have a degree in veterinary medicine from Federal University of Bahia in Brazil. I earned a master’s degree in animal science at Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil. I received my Ph.D. in animal and dairy science from the University of Georgia.
What did you do before you came to UConn?
I was at the University of Georgia completing my postdoctoral training with Dr. Ignacy Misztal until July of last year.
What will your work here at UConn focus on?
My work focuses on using genomic information to tell if livestock are going to be productive or resistant to a type of disease or thrive in a particular environment. I primarily study cows, chickens and pigs because we have a lot of genetic information on those animals. I’m interested in improving food production in terms of quantity, quality and safety.
Even though I’m a geneticist, all my work is analyzing data on the computer rather than lab research. This depends on huge data sets that are hard to get and take years and years to compile. We rely on cooperation with breeding associations and companies to share their data with us. This means ensuring my research addresses commercial and industry concerns.
One part of my research is looking at how temperature affects production. Companies in North Carolina and Texas have hundreds of thousands of pigs that suffer from heat stress in the summer. Each pig might lose twenty pounds of meat as a result. Rather than spending money on conditioning or cooling them, we can breed animals that are more adaptable to regular heat stress.
There is not much research on how the cold might affect animals, so we’re starting to look at that with the cows we have at the Kellogg Dairy Center [KDC]. It’s much simpler to see extreme temperature effects, but subtle impacts in cows that are as well-cared for, as they are here, are harder to see. We’re interested in slight stress, so we need to do data analysis. For the pig heat stress research, we had a million animals, but the temperature estimates were less accurate since we had to use a nearby airport’s weather station. At UConn, we can install a weather station at the KDC that will be much more precise. We have about eighty lactating cows here, but we’re hoping the improved accuracy of the data might reveal a few trends. This is important to create more evaluations to measure productivity in animals with consideration for the environment they’re in. Maybe cows in one region would do better in another place. My research is exciting because we have no idea what we’re going to find.
Working with different companies has led to interesting questions. A company approached us to find out if a family of shrimp is more resistant to particular viruses. As you can imagine, working with shrimp is much different than livestock. For one, it’s much harder to figure out the parents of a shrimp than a calf. I plan to write a simulation program to find out if this is even feasible to do. I’ve worked with the USDA on rainbow trout data and was getting good results so maybe it’ll work. It’s hard to tell what may happen before you start.
Name one aspect of your work that you like.
The best part of my work is using genetics and statistics to improve food production. My research helps lower emissions and lessen environmental impacts by reducing the quantity of animals. If you look sixty years ago in the United States, there were many more cows producing a fraction of the milk we have today. We can continue to produce more food of higher quality that use less resources and reduce overall costs.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?
I’m a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I enjoy running and many different sports. I’ve been very busy and I’m looking forward to experiencing more of New England, but I’ve really loved the fall here.