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See how our current work and research is bringing new thinking and new solutions to some of today's biggest challenges.

  • Animal Science
  • Animals

Brianna Tate is a Ph.D. candidate studying in the McFadden Lab housed in the Cornell CALS Department of Animal Science. Over the past four years Tate’s research has looked at ways to benefit dairy calf immunity to better survival and impact health later in life. Tate was recently inducted into the Cornell Chapter of the prestigious Edward A. Bouchet Graduate Student Honor Society in recognition of her outstanding work as a scientist as well as a leader in the Cornell and scientific communities.

Growing up in North Carolina, Tate had always been fascinated by science. Her love for the field started in elementary school and led her to pursue both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in Cell and Molecular Biology from Appalachian State University. She grew up with a great love for animals and believed her curiosities would lead her to a career in veterinary medicine. Upon completing her master’s degree, she realized she was more interested in understanding animals through research than through medicine.

Following her curiosity, Tate enrolled in the Cornell University Graduate School’s field of Animal Science and received a Dean’s Excellence Fellowship for her first year of study. Soon after acceptance, she set off to work with Associate Professor Joe McFadden. “The combination of the expertise in Cornell’s Animal Science department and the experience I could gain by being in the McFadden lab helped make Cornell the ideal place for me to pursue my Ph.D,” she said.

Tate jumped headfirst into research both in the lab and in the field, working with cows on various New York dairy farms. Her research focuses on ways that farmers can intervene to help better the health outcomes of their calves by strengthening their immune system.

“Dairy calves are born with a deficient immune system, making them vulnerable to disease in their first few weeks of life,” she said. “Impacts from disease in early life can have later life consequences for these calves when considering milk production and fertility as adults. It’s important that cows are healthy in early life so that they can be healthy and productive later in life.”

Past research in this field focused on colostrum management, which involves feeding calves milk that is rich in immune proteins to help calves develop their own functioning immune system. In a new approach, Tate’s research focuses on enhancing calf immunity by using biological materials that cows naturally produce, rather than introducing something biologically foreign to the calves’ system.

“Essentially, we don’t want to add something that isn’t already endogenous to the calf. The lipid that we are doing research on is naturally produced by calves, and has been shown to have immune regulatory effects,” she said. “Our hope is by that supplementing this lipid we can enhance calf immunity by encouraging their immune system to naturally develop.”

To answer these questions, Tate’s research requires extensive work in the lab as well as on-farm trials. Her work in the lab focuses on using differing tests to evaluate immune function as a result of supplementation with distinct immune-enhancing proteins. To test the effectiveness of these proteins in live animals, Tate conducted trials last year to track calf growth and immune function.

“Our hope is that this foundational research might inspire more scientists to look into ways of enhancing calf immunity. It will better the lives of the calves and the productivity of the farmers, which is really a win-win situation.”

Tate’s research in the department has led her to accept a postdoctoral position at the University of Maryland to study the effects of vaccination in human mothers on the immune and gastrointestinal tract development of their infant through their breast milk. “I’m eager and excited to blend my knowledge of animal science with a different skill set to tackle new and exciting questions.”

“Tate’s incredible work at Cornell combined with her passion for science makes her stand out as a catalyst for positive change in the field,” said McFadden.

“When I think about my motivations for pursuing science, I really just want to make a positive impact on the world,” said Tate. “Some people may do it through art or through writing, but I think there’s something profound about how science builds upon itself. I want to use my passion to inspire others to keep building upon knowledge and finding solutions to better the lives of animals and people over time.”


Catherine Andreadis '22 is a student writer for the Cornell CALS Department of Animal Science.

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