NDSU Development Foundation grant supports livestock research

The livestock industry may someday owe NDSU researcher Erika Berg a big "thank you."

The associate professor of equine studies is studying livestock fertility, specifically, Berg is exploring how a certain supplement given to sheep may help the animals maintain pregnancies.

The research is based on a series of interactions within the body. One thing affects another, which in turn affects something else.

A compound called lipoic acid is naturally occurring in the body, and it helps to augment or moderate insulin in the blood. At the same time, all pregnant mammals produce a hormone called progesterone, which is necessary to maintain the pregnancy. Earlier studies demonstrated that reduced insulin concentrations have a direct correlation with increased clearance of progesterone from the body, and less progesterone contributes to early pregnancy loss.

"The big picture is this. We found that supplementing lipoic acid helped make progesterone stay around longer in the blood. So, supplementing lipoic acid possibly helps maintain pregnancies for all mammals," Berg explained. "Kim Vonnahme, who is an associate professor of animal sciences, and I actually applied for a patent for this last fall. We're now in the process of seeking more funding to do additional experiments to gather more data."

Berg's research project, "Analysis of Insulin and Glucose Concentrations in Ewes," was funded through the NDSU Development Foundation and Alumni Association's Gordon A. Larson Agricultural Research Fund. The support has proven to be highly beneficial.

"Large research grants require preliminary data. So getting these initial, smaller grants is essential to additional funding later on. Without preliminary data, that closes the door to a lot of grants," Berg said.

Berg also received a faculty development grant through the Development Foundation and Alumni Association's Centennial Endowment Fund. The funding allowed her to give a presentation about NDSU's minor in therapeutic horsemanship at the National Association of Equine Affiliated Academics in Denver.

"Because of the funding, people on a national level can see what NDSU is doing with its teaching and research. People can see we are doing good work that is meaningful and applicable to agriculture. It truly has an impact on our ability to serve the mission of a land grant institution," Berg said.

Berg earned her bachelor's and master's degrees at Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, and her doctorate in animal science from the University of Missouri, Columbia. She joined the NDSU faculty as an adjunct assistant professor in 2007.

She is a member of the American Society of Animal Science, Equine Science Society, North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, North American College Teachers of Agriculture, and National Academy of Equine Affiliated Academics.

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