02 Sep Bo Harstine
From Intern to Director of Research
Growing up on a dairy farm, Bo Harstine always thought that if you had an interest in science and animals that you had to be a veterinarian. Through an internship at Select Sires that opened up his awareness to the growing technological genetic advancements in the cattle industry, Bo has been able to find his job not only as a researcher in cattle breeding services but also as a university professor.
Breaking In To Science
While the world of science can seem intimidating, there are a few traits that can help you make your way in the field when it comes to science in agriculture.
“I would not say that it’s been easy and that I didn’t work at it,” Bo cautioned before giving his advice.
- Get your foot in the door.
Whether through internships, networking or asking questions – begin to understand and make relationships with those in the field of science that you are interested in.
- Don’t be afraid to create your internship.
Education through internships is a vital way that many students learn about the different opportunities in a field. Bo reached out to do an internship when he was in college, an internship that, at the time, didn’t even exist. He asked to do research in their laboratory which eventually led to the position that he has now.
- Be competitive.
Being competitive has given Bo opportunities to step into bigger roles throughout his career. A lot of companies are shifting due to the quickly changing industry of science and the advancements that their company can utilize.
Personality Traits for Success
Growing up on a dairy farm, Bo’s passion for cattle and agriculture was obvious. His knowledge and education in the science realm of molecular biology and cellular biology was also noteworthy. When combined together, he was able to fill a void that isn’t commonly filled.
Bo could talk to farmers and ranchers, understand the technological and biological side of the business, and merge the two together in communications to their customers, other academia and to colleagues.
A cooperative unlike most you’ve heard about in the agricultural world, Select Sires was formed in the late 60’s to early 70’s by essential bull stud owners to create a cooperative of semen trading so that they could pool resources and genetics of the cattle they had to serve an even larger market. There are currently six cooperatives to Select Sires with the headquarters, where Bo works, located just outside of Columbus in central Ohio.
“We have 2,000 bulls that we are collecting regularly,” says Bo. “The six co-ops serve as the distributors. We collect and send to them. Those cooperatives manage the consultants that go out to the customers.”
Select Sires prides themselves on providing every part of the breeding program start-to-finish. What that means is that they do not just sell top of the line bull semen to a rancher or dairy farmer, but also help with syncing the cows, assisting with artificial insemination and verifying pregnancy.
Not just located in the United States, Select Sires uses international brands to send semen to 95 countries.
Doctor Harstine – The Professor
A professor at Ohio State University on top of his other career tasks may seem daunting, but Bo handles it all well and it provides the added benefit of creating a great working relationship with the local university.
“I would say the professor-ship is an add-on,” says Bo. “It’s not too much day-to-day responsibility but it gives me access to all of the research going on there and in front of the students.”
Different everyday, Bo enjoys the diversity that his job provides. He always knew that being crammed in a lab all day wasn’t the epitome of his career goals. Throughout his graduate school, he was always out in the barn with the bulls and other livestock, and to this day he will always have boots and coveralls in his car so that he is ready at a seconds notice.
“There are days that I spend at the computer, reading or writing papers, analyzing data,” says Bo about his office days. When he’s not in the office he’s doing either one of two things: traveling or teaching.
Traveling to present what they are learning at conferences and other academia or traveling to conferences to learn what others have learned take up quite a bit of his time. Continued education is an important part of his position as the director of research.
Exciting Advancements in Genetics
A big concept in all cattle industries, and one that is currently running the industry, is genomics and predicting genetics. Testing genomics to predict how good the offspring will be has made the most popular bulls in the world the ones that aren’t born yet. The data that goes with those predictions on the success of the cattle and then the validation of that data is a big part of the industry. Each of the genetics companies out there are doing a fabulous job of making cattle more efficient.
Editing genes for the proprietary traits that you want is a big concept on the horizon of the cattle industry. There has already been a lot of research on the concept as well as publicity. While the industry is currently not gene editing cattle, they could be in the future. Researchers outside of the United States are pursuing this but it will lead to conversations within politics about policy and regulation. The only gene edited animal right now is the aqua salmon which has taken almost 20 years to get to market.
Cellularly Growing Semen
Bo likens the discussion about the potential for growing “perfect” semen in a lab to the ones surrounding lab grown meat.
“I don’t think there is any way to have it be as efficient or economic as just the animal doing it right now,” Bo explains.
When you talk about reproduction and fertility and the technologies that go with it, Bo always branches it to human medicine to allow consumers to understand that these same technologies and concepts are currently being used in human medicine as well.
Follow along and connect with Bo on Twitter for more of your livestock breeding, agricultural science and genetics of agriculture questions. Make sure to subscribe to the AgGrad YouTube Channel to learn more about career opportunities in agriculture and follow along on the special “30 Under 30 in Agriculture” series!
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