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New faculty profile: Jimena Laporta specializes in lactation physiology

Jimena Laporta joined the UW–Madison faculty in September 2020 as an assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences.

What is your hometown? Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Uruguay, a small South American country with four cattle per capita! Although I was raised in the city, I used to visit my grandfather’s farm quite often where I had my first experiences with agriculture, mainly sheep and beef cattle raising.

What is your educational/professional background, including your previous position?
I earned my B.S. in biology (2009) and my M.S. in animal science (2011) from Universidad de la Republica, Uruguay. In 2011, I came to the U.S. to pursue my Ph.D. degree (2014) in dairy science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Before joining UW, I was an assistant professor (2015-2020) in the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Florida.

How did you get into your field of research?
During my M.S., I focused on the metabolic and hepatic regulation in grazing beef cows during gestation and lactation. Towards the end of my M.S., I got involved in dairy cattle projects, which sparked my interest in dairy biology. During my Ph.D. I studied the participation of serotonin in the mammary gland-bone axis regulation of calcium homeostasis during lactation. As an assistant professor, I continued my line of doctoral work exploring the involvement of serotonin in other aspects of dairy cattle biology, specifically immune function and energy metabolism, and I started new lines of research on stress physiology and mammary biology.

What are the main goals of your current research program?
My research program integrates the physiology of lactation with advances in management and nutrition to overcome challenges dairy cattle face across their lifetime, including increased susceptibility to the changing environment, metabolic disorders, and immune suppression. I investigate how autocrine, systemic, and environmental factors regulate mammary gland development and function, as well as milk synthesis and composition. I also explore the molecular mechanisms by which prenatal and postnatal stressors contribute to the programming of offspring’s performance. By targeting early life developmental windows, I expect to develop management practices and therapeutic interventions to improve health and productivity outcomes.

What attracted you to UW-Madison?
Cows! Wisconsin is one of the epicenters of dairy cattle in the U.S., and UW-Madison is a world-class university. The Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences is growing quickly, and it feels great to be part of this effort and hopefully have an impactful career in dairy sciences here. Besides, Madison is a great city to live in and raise kids, undoubtedly a perfect combo!

What was your first visit to campus like?
My first campus visit was in the fall of 2010, when I came to UW-Madison for a 3-month study abroad. I immediately fell in love with the university, the people, and the city. My favorite part of campus (still) is Observatory Drive’s lake view and the beautiful Memorial Union and Terrace. Feeling like a tourist in the city in which I reside is fantastic!

What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with?
A better understanding of how fascinating yet complex mammals and milk are, along with a better appreciation for animal agriculture and the research and extension efforts that are conducted in our department to help the dairy industry succeed in Wisconsin, nationally, and globally.

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? If so, please describe how.
Absolutely. The state of Wisconsin is one of the nation’s leading dairy producers. My research program outputs have direct applications to improve dairy cows’ productivity and sustainability. Finding applicable solutions to current problems dairy farmers face is the rewarding part of being an academic at a public institution.

What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter at parties?
Once lactation is established, between 400 and 500 gallons of nutrient-rich blood need to pass through the udder to make 1 gallon of milk; this makes milk one of the most nutritious foods you will ever find!

What are your hobbies and other interests?
Outside of work, I devote my time to my kids; they keep my feet on the ground. Being a mom of a 2 and 4-year old is a full-time job! I also enjoy photography; my favorite models are trees, cows, and (of course) my kids.