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New faculty profile: Francisco Peñagaricano focuses on quantitative genomics in livestock

Francisco Peñagaricano joined the UW–Madison faculty in August 2020 as an assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences.

What is your hometown? Where did you grow up? I am originally from Uruguay. I grew up on a farm. My family has a beef and sheep operation, so I have had direct contact with livestock farming since I was a child.

What is your educational/professional background (including your previous position)? I earned my B.S. degrees in biology and biochemistry and my M.S. degree in animal science all from Universidad de la República, Uruguay. I continued my graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison where I received my M.S. degree in statistics and my Ph.D. degree in animal science. From 2015 to 2020, I was a faculty member in the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Florida.

How did you get into your field of research? I always wanted to be an animal geneticist and try to understand gene functions and how these affect relevant traits such as production, disease resistance, and reproduction. As an undergraduate student, I took courses in classical genetics, cytogenetics, molecular genetics, and genetic engineering. Then, as a graduate student, I focused more on quantitative and computational genetics and genomics.

What are the main goals of your current research program? I am broadly interested in quantitative genomics and computational biology. My program focuses on the development and application of advanced methods to dissect the genetic architecture of economically relevant traits in livestock. Our research involves gene mapping, genomic prediction, multi-omics data integration, and network modeling.

What attracted you to UW-Madison? UW–Madison is a world-class university, and the animal and dairy science program is widely recognized as one of the premier programs nationally and internationally. And, of course, Madison is hard to beat; it is a great place to live.

What was your first visit to campus like? My very first campus visit was in Summer 2009 when I came to UW–Madison for an internship. I was impressed by the beauty of the campus and the city. Now, for my job interview, I came in mid-January, and after living for five years in Florida, I had forgotten how cold winter is in Wisconsin!

What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with? Critical thinking and solid analytical skills.

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? If so, please describe how. Absolutely! I am actively involved in the continuous education of producers, consultants, and industry partners on practical and economically important aspects of genetic selection, including the transfer of new research findings.

What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter at parties? The current dairy cow produces more than twice as much milk as the dairy cow of 50 years ago, and more than half of that improvement is due to genetic selection!

What are your hobbies and other interests? I am a runner. I enjoy watching all kinds of sports, grilling meat and tasting good single-malts.