Below is the transcript from an interview with Laura Hernandez, an assistant professor in the Department of Dairy Science at the UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. To listen to the audio clip, visit UW-Cooperative Extension.

Sevie Kenyon: Laura, start out telling us a little bit about the disease you’re working on.

Laura Hernandez: I am working on calcium in the cow and maintaining adequate calcium in the cow while she’s lactating called hypocalcimia or milk fever. We’re interested in improving the calcium status of the cow so she can stay healthy, make lots of milk.

Sevie Kenyon: Laura, tell us what happens to the cow.

Laura Hernandez: So in the case of milk fever, which is when a cow is really, really sick with the calcium status, so she’s got really low calcium, she’ll typically get really cold, get tremors in her muscles, start shaking and can often go down to the ground.

Sevie Kenyon: How does your research address that?

Laura Hernandez: We’re working on a new way to improve the ability of the cow to keep her calcium levels normal during those first few days right after she gives birth. We have a new area of research in the area of serotonin and we’re looking to develop this in a way to feed cows before they give birth so that they don’t have this rapid drop in calcium and get the tremors, get cold and go down.

Sevie Kenyon: Laura, perhaps you can help us a little bit by describing how it works.

Laura Hernandez: Serotonin, based on what we’ve seen so far is going to increase calcium liberation from the bone stores. And the bone of the cow or any mammal will store the most amount of calcium that the cow or animal has in order to make sure there’s enough calcium for mom and enough calcium for the milk for the baby. So we’re trying to manipulate this system so that cows can pull calcium from their bone in a better fashion so that they can keep their calcium levels normal while making enough for the milk as well.

Sevie Kenyon: So Laura, look into your crystal ball, how long will it be before people can actually begin to use some of these new inventions.

Laura Hernandez: We hope, in a world where it was all governed by my process, somewhere in the next five to seven years. We’re doing the real down and dirty physiology right now and we’re getting the work patented and so hopefully if things keep going as we see them going, we can get a company involved and take it to the next level.

Sevie Kenyon: Laura, can you tell us what this may look like.

Laura Hernandez: Basically serotonin or 5-Hydroxytryptophan is what we’ll be using. It’s just an amino acid, so it’s a little tiny molecule. When we give things to cows we have to basically put some kind of coding on the molecule, so on our little amino acid so it gets to the rumen and the bugs can’t break down the product until it gets past the rumen and it can be used. So they usually look like little grainy pellet-type things.

We’ve been visiting with Laura Hernandez, Department of Dairy Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and I’m Sevie Kenyon.