July 27, 2012

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July 27, 2012

GONZALEZ WINS SHEEP INDUSTRY SCHOLARSHIP

For More Information Contact:

Peter Orwick (303) 771-3500, ext. 33, or porwick@sheepusa.org
Mary Jensen (303) 771-3500, ext. 46, or mary@sheepusa.org

DENVER, Colo. - Michael Gonzalez of Pullman, Wash., has been selected as the recipient of the $1,500 Sheep Heritage Foundation Memorial Scholarship being offered through the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI). Gonzalez earned his master's degree in 2011 in forensic science from California State University, Fresno and is currently engaged in a doctorate degree in veterinary genetics at Washington State University (WSU).

For his master's degree thesis, Gonzalez was involved in constructing and maintaining an online database for the identification of hair fibers for application in fur trapping and poaching crimes.

"The prosecution of certain crimes is often constrained by the evidence found at a crime scene," explains Gonzalez. "Nowhere is this more apparent than in the prosecution of poaching and fur trapping crimes, where pieces of the animal or even hair fibers may be the only remaining evidence."

Gonzalez's ability to analyze and identify these animals based upon morphological characteristics of their hair fibers aided in the successfully prosecution of these crimes.

In his current doctorate project, Gonzalez conducted a genome-wide association study on more than 500 domestic sheep from the Columbia, Polypay and Rambouillet breeds to measure the association of blood cell count data. The focus of this study is identification of genetic markers associated with blood cell characteristics, which is an important step toward having a collection of genome markers that predict sheep well-being, increased productivity and resistance to disease. Gonzalez has found an association between a genetic region in these domestic sheep breeds and red blood cell health, which may be crucial to sheep productivity and efficiency in growth.

Stephen White, Ph.D., research geneticist and adjunct assistant professor at the WSU Animal Disease Research Unit, says about Gonzalez's research, "His genome-wide association scan has produced one of the strongest association results with any trait of which we are aware in domestic sheep. Depending on the outcome, this research could produce a genetic-marker test for not only red blood cell shape, but also potentially for production and infectious disease traits."

Looking to finish his doctorate degree in the summer of 2014, Gonzalez says, "I was excited and honored to learn that I had received the scholarship. It feels good to have the scientific merits of what I'm trying to accomplish recognized and that my work is potentially important to a number of people. It's an exciting time to be involved in livestock genetics."

"The foundation is pleased to again be able to offer a post-graduate scholarship," comments Pierce Miller from Texas, president of the Sheep Heritage Foundation. "The high-quality pool of applicants made the selection process difficult while reinforcing the necessity for a program such as this one."

The Sheep Heritage Foundation is tasked with the challenge of developing a foundation for industry education, research and continuous improvement that will perpetuate the sheep industry into the future. The memorial scholarship program is just one way to fulfill this objective.

ASI is a national trade organization supported by 45 state sheep associations, benefiting the interests of more than 81,000 sheep producers.