Spotlight – Oudessa Kerro Dego

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Animal Science has four key areas of research, Animal Health and Well-Being, Genetics and Genomics, Nutrition Physiology and Reproductive Physiology. Today we are highlighting a lab in the Animal Health and Well Being area. Oudessa Kerro Dego, Assistant Professor, specializing in Vet. Microbiology with focus on control & prevention of infectious diseases will share his lab with us.


What kind of work does your research group conduct?
Developing sustainable control tools that are easily adoptable by producers, such as effective vaccines using advanced innovative molecular biology approaches coupled with in vivo efficacy testing, is critically important. Effective vaccines reduce mastitis incidence and increase dairy farming productivity and profitability. Effective vaccines also reduce antibiotics usage in dairy farms, which in turn reduces the development of antimicrobial resistant bacteria.

Our research area include 1) developing effective vaccines for major bacterial mastitis pathogens, mainly for Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus uberis and Escherichia coli, 2) mitigating the development of antimicrobial resistant bacteria and their resistance genes persistence and spread from dairy cattle farms, and 3) improving milk quality and safety through improving diagnostic, preventive, and control measures for mastitis pathogens and milk-borne zoonotic pathogens.

What lead you to your research?
I was born and grew up in the pastoral livestock raising community in the savanna grasslands of Southern Ethiopia in the East African continent. My father raised a large number of livestock (cattle, sheep, goats, and camels) that the family depended on for their livelihood. Being very close with my parents, I grew up watching a series of livestock disease epidemics that killed hundreds and thousands of livestock populations, including our own, very frequently from time to time until vaccines were widely available in our area. I will never forget the deaths of our cattle in large numbers from Rinderpest, also known as cattle plague (viral disease), which was later controlled by vaccination. Rinderpest was declared eradicated globally in 2011 through an effective vaccination program. I grew up learning the intricacies of caring for these animals and managing their health, feed, and water requirements. Though cautious about preventing those infectious diseases that kill many animals, I was very much interested in how to avoid diseases of the mammary glands since my parent’s major livelihood and source of income was mainly from dairy products. We depended on animal products for a living, so milk was everything. Mastitis is a major problem for milk production, both in quality and quantity. So that was the one thing I wanted to study and find a solution for back then several years ago and today after many years of training and research.

Where do you see your field in 10 years?
World’s population will be ~9 billion by 2050, which means we need to provide food for 2 billion more people. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) projections, by 2050 there will be a 60% increase in demand for protein-rich food of animal origin (milk, meat, and eggs). Based on our current productivity path, we need 40 million more cows to feed the world, which will be not necessarily economical or environmentally friendly. So, increasing productivity by improving production efficiency and reducing wastage is critically important. Thanks to rapid advances in molecular biology, our ability to control emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases is improving and getting better. Effective COVID 19 vaccine was developed from messenger RNA (mRNA) in a very short period which was not possible 10 – 20 years ago. Mastitis is an old disease, but advances in molecular technology is opening up new ways to find a solution for an old disease. In 10 years, I would expect an effective vaccine or vaccines for bovine mastitis and improved animal welfare with increasing precision dairy farming.

Who are your lab members?

Barbara Gillespie, Research Associate
Benti Gelalcha, Ph.D. Student (3rd year)

Aga Gelgie, Ph.D.  Student (2nd year)

Jessica Vidlund, M.S.  Student (work-study)

Undergraduate students

Alyssa Holback

Kearsten Personette

Leonardo Spadafino


Oudessa Kerro Dego Profile Page
Oudessa Kerro Dego
Assistant Professor, Animal Science