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Student earns national agriculture fellowship

Doctoral student Ananda Portela Fontoura earned a FFAR Fellow award for her work developing nutritional therapies that can improve the metabolic health and productivity of dairy cows. Photo by Justin Muir.

Ananda Portela Fontoura has been named an inaugural recipient of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) Fellow award, given to graduate students from across the U.S. to prepare them for successful careers in food and agriculture science.

“The future of agriculture relies on training a strong scientific workforce,” said FFAR Executive Director Sally Rockey. “The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research is pleased to support the next generation of food and agriculture researchers and I am excited to see how the FFAR Fellows will grow through this program.”

In partnership with her industry sponsor Vetagro, Fontoura will work to define nutritional therapies that can improve the metabolic health and productivity of dairy cows at the onset of lactation and when exposed to heat stress. She will receive mentorship from Joseph W. McFadden, assistant professor and Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance Partners Sesquicentennial Fellow in Dairy Cattle Biology; Ester Grilli of Vetagro; and John McNamara of the Federation of Animal Science Societies.

“Heat stress caused by climate change represents a major challenge for dairy producers to maintain cow health, performance and well-being,” said McFadden, “Ananda is looking to address this challenge through innovative nutritional therapies that improve heat stress resilience in dairy cows.”

As part of the fellowship program, Fontoura will join 16 other fellows at North Carolina State University for a weeklong training course.  The $2.7 million FFAR grant was matched by a consortium of industry leaders dedicated to preparing the agricultural workforce to optimize impact on the future of agriculture science. The program will award two additional cohorts of students in 2019 and 2020. A team at North Carolina State University manages the FFAR Fellows program.

The FFAR Fellows Program pairs doctoral candidates with academic and industry mentors to equip students with the skills needed to facilitate their transition to the workforce. Awards were granted in two funding categories. Stipend and Professional Development Fellows like Fontoura receive fully-funded support for three years to pursue research projects and interdisciplinary training. Professional Development Fellows have support secured for academic studies and will use the FFAR Fellow award to participate in the three-year interdisciplinary training program.

Learn more about Ananda Portela Fontoura from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research website:

I am originally from Belém do Pará, a city located in the Northern part of Brazil and in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon region. Even though I grew up in the capital, my childhood memories are marked by the weekends at our family owned farm where my dad raised Nelore cattle. 

My love for animal production started with caring for calves that were refused by their dams, and by treating and loving-on every single sick animal I could lay my eyes. Considering that at some point I owned two dogs, a bunny, two parrots, a donkey and two horses, my parents were not surprised when I applied to Veterinary School. 

Fontoura. Photo by Justin Muir 

It was during my DVM program at the Universidade Federal do Pará, that I decided I wanted to work with large animals, focusing mostly on cattle production. My interest in research grew during internships at the University of Guelph and Dalhousie University, and inspired me to apply for graduate school at North Dakota State University, where I later received a MS degree in ruminant nutrition. 

Currently, I am a Ph.D. student at the Animal Science Department at Cornell University and under the guidance of Dr. Joseph McFadden, I study ways to improve health and production of dairy cows.

Being from the Amazon, it is impossible not to consider sustainability and environmental protection. Growing up in a region where this is such a concern and seeing the efforts of not only my parents but of local producers in general, to produce while still protecting is what ignited my love for agriculture. 

I have been very fortunate to see other scenarios during my training as a veterinarian and an animal scientist, and I believe having my early-life background combined with my academic experiences outside of my home country have also contributed shaping the way I look at global agriculture challenges we currently face.

Fontoura will work with Joe McFadden, center, assistant professor and Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance Partners Sesquicentennial Fellow in Dairy Cattle Biology. Photo by Justin Muir.

After discovering the background about the FFAR fellowship, I was delighted that this fellowship combined aspects of every single sector in agriculture (i.e., academia, industry, government and non-profit) that I wanted to engage with during my Ph.D. program and was the opportunity I was long waiting for. 

During the three years of this fellowship opportunity, I aspire to become a leader in agriculture through experientially learning and mentorship. My mentor team is comprised of 1) my major professor, Dr. Joseph McFadden at Cornell University), who will provide expertise in lipid metabolism during the transition period of dairy cows, 2) industry leader and program sponsor, Dr. Ester Grilli with VetAgro Inc., and 3) expert in dairy cattle production and developing agricultural policies, Dr. John McNamara at Washington State University. 

I also plan to acquire interdisciplinary knowledge from the other FFAR fellows and our diverse set of projects, and through the FFAR proposed activities. I am excited as I know that FFAR fellowship will provide me with all the tools for conducting sound science as an independent researcher at a global level to help feed people while still protecting our resources.

Under the mentorship of Dr. McFadden, I will characterize the relationship between gut and hepatic health using contemporary systems biology approaches including microbiotics and metabolomics. This innovative approach will enable us to define, for the first time, the relationship between the gut-liver axis, health, and performance in dairy cows. 

Moreover, we will identify unique approaches to prevent or mitigate the effects of leaky gut in dairy cows afflicted by metabolic or heat stress. The collective effort will address the FFAR Protein Challenge Area by 1) identifying gut microbiota-host interactions, 2) establishing practical nutritional therapies to improve immune health and performance, and reduce antibiotic use in dairy cattle, and 3) enhancing milk production efficiency when cows are challenged by metabolic or heat stress. We emphasize that the outcome of our work has the translational potential to improve health and performance in other species including swine and poultry.