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Major scientific award presented to Notter for his global research

By Stewart MacInnis

Spectrum Volume 21 Issue 10 - October 29, 1998

When David R. Notter graduated from Southwestern High School in Gallia County, Ohio, 30 years ago he knew he wanted to work with animals, but helping provide food for growing populations world-wide never crossed his mind.
His work with animals since then has taken him from farm fields in the U.S. to China, Brazil, India, and other developing countries. Largely because of that work, Notter, a professor of animal and poultry sciences, has been awarded the prestigious American Society of Animal Science's award for breeding and genetics.
That research not only helps farmers in rural U.S., but it also helps farmers in remote foreign areas develop breeds uniquely suited to their environments. His work has led him to consulting work for the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization in developing global strategies for management of livestock.
"We must have animal protein in our diets," Notter said. "When an emerging country develops economically, the most immediate thing that happens in the agriculture sector is that there is an increased demand for animal protein."
That can create pressures on the environment, the ecology, and the production system. Some of those pressures can be lessened so far as farm animals are concerned by slowly introducing new breeds to the genetic pool of animals already in the country.
"Every valley and mountain at one time had its own breed of chicken or sheep or whatever," Notter said. "But now the same breed of chicken is sold all over the world."
The creation of a few breeds of animals that do exceptionally well in the U.S. or in other developed countries doesn't mean those breeds will do well in other areas. The pressure to introduce those breeds into other cultures should be resisted, he said.
"We are far better off to incrementally improve the existing livestock rather than introduce new breeds into different environments," Notter said. "The breeds that are there have adapted to the local conditions. If we just bring in breeds from alien environments, we stand the chance of losing genetic resources that have developed over many generations. We also stand the chance of that introduced breed failing in an environment to which it is not suited."
Notter's specialty is the genetic management of beef cattle and sheep. The underlying theme of this work has been the genetic control of reproductive traits with the aim of developing trouble-free animals as well as animals that are more productive. Much of his work falls into the category of basic research, which adds to the foundation of knowledge of a subject. Other parts of his work, however, are applied research, or research in ways to make basic understanding directly useful to producers.
"I enjoy doing applied, producer-applicable research," Notter said. "I like working to help farmers select the best animals."
Notter earned a bachelor's degree from Ohio State University in animal science in 1972, and a master's and doctoral degree from the University of Nebraska in 1977
He has conducted a broad range of research since joining the Virginia Tech faculty in 1977, including the study of the genetic control of seasonal breeding in sheep and identifying strategies for predicting genetic merit in livestock-improvement programs.
His recent accomplishments include introduction of across-breed genetic evaluation procedures for beef cattle, creation of a line of sheep with reduced seasonality of breeding, and development of the first across-flock genetic evaluations for U.S. sheep breeds.