Thomas Murphy of Madison, Wis., has been selected as the recipient of the $1,500 Sheep Heritage Foundation Memorial Scholarship being offered through the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI). Murphy is described by David Thomas, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison), as a person with a true interest in the sheep industry and one who is preparing himself for a scientific career in service to this industry.
Murphy is currently attending UW-Madison to earn a doctorate degree in animal science. His main research project is to search for genes or genetic markers associated with susceptibility to baby lamb pneumonia and is closely involved in a program to eliminate Ovine Progressive Pneumonia (OPP) from the university's flock.
To complete his main research program, Murphy will use the 50,000 SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) chip to compare the specific nucleotides of lambs that contract pneumonia with similar lambs that are healthy. The goal is to identify specific nucleotides/genetic markers/genes that are associated with the disease resulting in the possible development of a genetic test for susceptibility to pneumonia.
In addition, Murphy is mining the UW-Madison's database of sheep records to determine if there is an effect on female performance when being born with one or more male siblings.
While earning his bachelor's and master's degrees in animal science at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Murphy's interest in sheep research developed. As an undergraduate student, he teamed up with Kreg Leymaster, Ph.D., at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, where he analyzed a breed evaluation data set. Murphy learned about explaining differences in breeds from sire effects, estimating heritability and investigating relationships among various traits.
For his master's degree project, Murphy developed skills to extract hepatic mitochondria and measure oxygen use. This has turned out to be a critical step in helping to explain large differences created through selection in feed intake and maintenance energy requirements in mice. His work was published in the May issue of the Journal of Animal Science.
Looking to finish his doctorate degree in 2015, Murphy says he would like to continue his work in the university system as he enjoys teaching and extension efforts.
"I would like to bridge the work between researchers and what producers are looking for," he says. "I see a lot of people in the sheep industry who are very adamant about adopting new technologies to move the industry forward. I am excited to work with people who are passionate about making sure this industry will exist in the future."
Speaking about the selection process, Will Getz, Ph.D., chair of the ASI Review Committee for the Sheep Heritage Foundation, says, "This was not an easy task because of the several factors to be considered and the range of topics involved. The process revealed however that there continues to be many institutions conducting meaningful sheep research and there are graduate students that have a genuine interest in the sheep industry."