Monday, October 2, 2023

Penn State professor named Walther H. Ott professor in avian biology

Special Dr. Ramesh Ramachandran, professor of reproductive biology in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, has been named the Walther H. Ott Professor in Avian Biology.

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Dr. Ramesh Ramachandran, professor of reproductive biology in Pennsylvania State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences, has been named the Walther H. Ott Professor in Avian Biology.

“I am honored to be recognized,” said Ramachandran. “I had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Ott when I joined Penn State as a young assistant professor in 2002 and learned his vision and passion for research. I’m extremely proud to have the opportunity to implement this vision almost two decades later. I hope to continue improving animal production and studying the avian model for curing human disease.”

The main focus of Ramachandran’s research is to understand the role of hormones in avian growth and reproduction, with an eye toward improving meat and egg production.

“This field of research is critically important for both animal production and human health,” he said. “A better understanding of the endocrine system is expected to lead to novel strategies for improving the growth and reproductive efficiency of chickens. The research also can utilize chickens as a ‘model organism’ for human diseases such as ovarian cancer and obesity.”

Along with an extensive list of peer-reviewed publications, Ramachandran recently was named director of graduate studies for the Department of Animal Science, beginning July 1.

“Dr. Ramachandran is conducting groundbreaking research with the dual benefit of improving poultry production and understanding the underlying causes of obesity and reproductive diseases in women,” said Adele Turzillo, professor and head of the department.

Funding from the professorship will provide an assistantship and tuition for an outstanding graduate student in Ramachandran’s lab and bolster the department’s graduate education mission.

“We’re pleased to award this professorship after an extended hiatus and believe Dr. Ramachandran’s research is well aligned with the intent and vision of Dr. Walther Ott’s endowment,” Turzillo said.

Ramachandran advises two graduate students in his lab, Lalitha Gopalan and Evelyn Weaver. Weaver is working with Ramachandran on research to understand how obesity affects ovarian function and egg production in chickens.

“Broiler breeder hens, the parent stock of broiler chickens, tend to overeat and develop obesity-related problems affecting the ovary,” Ramachandran said. “Consequently, they produce far fewer eggs than Leghorn chickens. Our goal is to minimize excessive weight gain in broiler breeder hens and increase fertile egg production.”

Gopalan is working with Ramachandran to identify biomarkers in the blood that could be used to diagnose ovarian cancer at a very early stage.

“Ovarian cancer is the most lethal gynecological disease, and animal models are essential for developing prevention strategies,” Ramachandran said. “Early diagnosis greatly improves survival rate. Like women, the leghorn chickens we’re studying don’t display symptoms at the early stages, and the course of the disease is similar in humans. That allows us to use this unique animal model to find ways to diagnose ovarian cancer at an early stage.”

Ramachandran said he is looking forward to training more graduate and undergraduate students in his laboratory using funds from the Ott endowment.

“I plan to continue encouraging my students to participate in national-level scientific meetings and utilize the endowment funds to generate data for securing additional extramural funding,” he said.

Ramachandran joined the Penn State Department of Animal Science in 2002. He received a bachelor of veterinary science from Madras Veterinary College in India in 1986. He also earned a master’s degree in poultry science in 1994 and a doctorate in animal science in 1997 from the University of Maryland College Park.

Walther H. Ott earned an undergraduate degree in poultry husbandry from Oregon State University in 1934 and a master’s degree in animal nutrition in 1936. After earning a doctorate from Penn State in agricultural and biological chemistry, he went on to have a distinguished career in poultry science at the Merck Institute.

Ott also was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Institute of Chemists and served as president of the Poultry Science Association.

He and his wife, Maxine Peterson Ott, created the endowed position in poultry science in 1995 to advance research and education in the field by supporting poultry scientists in the early stages of their careers.

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