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New faculty profile: Steven Ricke, director of the Meat Science and Animal Biologics program

On Oct. 5, Steven Ricke will join the faculty in the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences as a professor and director of the meat science and animal biologics program within the department. The new Meat Science and Animal Biologics Discovery (MSABD) building, which opens this fall, will be the home for the program’s research, teaching and outreach. Ricke is already a Badger, having received a PhD from CALS in Bacteriology and Meat and Animal Science in 1989. Prior to accepting this new position, he served as the Wray Endowed Chair in Food Safety at the University of Arkansas, where he was also the director of the Center for Food Safety. Ricke, a microbiologist and food safety expert, plans to continue his research program at UW, which focuses on foodborne pathogen ecology from farm to processing plant, and the genetic mechanisms employed by pathogens to survive these highly variable environments.

What is your hometown? Where did you grow up?
I went to school in Ramsey, Illinois. I grew up on a dairy and grain farm and was active in the local and county 4-H showing dairy cattle along with other projects.

What was your first visit to campus like?
I visited the UW campus in the mid-1970s when I attended the World Dairy Expo as a 4-H delegate from the state of Illinois. I was impressed by the beauty of the campus and how large it was.

What is your vision for the MSABD facility and UW meat science program?
Overall, my vision is to build a world-class program. More specifically, this means cutting-edge science that applies advanced scientific tools to solve practical problems, encourages entrepreneurship, and sets the standard for how to conduct this type of research amongst our peers. We will also conduct outreach activities that not only serve a diverse stakeholder clientele, but also provide marketing exposure for further investment in the program. This should translate into recruitment of highly talented students and post-doctorates because they see excellent training and well-established graduate placement in universities, federal agencies and industry. Finally, I plan to approach all MSABD activities as strategic opportunities to increase and improve the impact of the program locally, nationally and internationally.

What are your initial top priorities, as you start your new position as MSABD director?
My top priority is to get familiar with the research being conducted at the MSABD and simultaneously get to know the meat industry in the state. I think this is critical for me in my role as director to begin to develop potential matches between the research being conducted and the needs of the meat industry. This will not only enhance the visibility of the MSABD but lead to potential partnerships for the research outcomes that may have commercial possibilities. As this process continues, my next stage is to take the same approaches to a national – and eventually an international – level to seek both academic and industry partnerships for research collaborations and funding opportunities. Along these lines, I plan to look for a wide range of public settings to showcase the MSABD research whether it be at local commodity meetings, national scientific conference symposia, or workshops for industry. Finally, I plan to integrate my research program into the broader scope of the MSABD facilities and expand it to help contribute to the overall vision for the MSABD program.

How will the new MSABD facility improve our ability to support the state’s meat industry?
The ability of MSABD personnel to use the facility to solve pressing problems that the meat industry face, whether it be a meat quality issue or food safety-related, will be an ongoing activity. Along these lines, our ability to “beta” test new meat processing technologies, pathogen detection systems, or pathogen intervention strategies that the industry is considering can provide valuable insight to the feasibility of new developments that the industry wishes to explore. One of the key features of the new building is the BLS2 biosafety level processing facility that will allow the industry to test their pathogen control measures directly on carcasses as they are being processed. Finally, MSABD should be able to explore potential avenues of innovation for the industry that may become a reality in the near future. This could be anything from a new processing technology, a novel meat product, or a biological compound derived from animal processing that opens new commercial markets for the meat industry.

What do you see as the potential for animal biologics?
I see tremendous opportunities for discovery – and eventual commercial development – of a wide range of biological compounds originating from food animals. This will involve seeking compounds that possess unique properties that may offer value to the medical and/or agricultural communities, as well as unveiling functionalities of food animal components that we did not initially expect existed. While this may make it difficult to predict the commercialization potential for animal biologicals, the exceptional capabilities of the MSABD research group and the excellent facilities put us in a unique position to capture any opportunities.

 What are your hobbies and other interests?
I enjoy reading history for pleasure (all types) and travel with my family. I’m also a baseball fan. I grew up an hour and a half due east of St. Louis, so I root for the St. Louis Cardinals.