October 23, 2002
AMES, Iowa — The Iowa Intellectual Property Law Association has named Iowa State University animal scientist Max Rothschild the 2002 Inventor of the Year. The award is given to an Iowa inventor who has made the most outstanding contribution to Iowa through his or her invention. The award will be presented Friday, Oct. 25, at a banquet in Amana. Rothschild is a C. F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor in Agriculture. With students and colleagues, he has invented three gene tests to improve pig litter size. The tests are now used in the industry and have been licensed to PIC, Berkeley, Calif., a leading international swine genetics company. "The tests have revolutionized genetic improvement for a trait (litter size) that has been enhanced only slowly over the past 40 years," said Kenneth Kirkland, executive director of the Iowa State University Research Foundation. "Litter size is the most economically important trait in swine production," Kirkland said. "The conventional genetic approach for increasing litter size involves selecting sows and boars whose families have above average productivity. Max Rothschild's development of new molecular genetic methods has enormous economic value because they allow immediate testing of the DNA of all individual pigs and then selection of the preferred form of those genes for prolificacy." The use of the three gene tests in developing superior pigs for improved litter size is the first use of DNA tests to improve reproductive traits in domestic animals. Rothschild's Estrogen Receptor (ESR) gene test allows direct selection of individual females, and can be applied before any animals have their own litters. In addition, it allows for selecting males who will pass on the desired form of the ESR gene to their female offspring. The ESR gene test is based on a specific DNA marker that Rothschild's team showed to be associated with variation in litter size after they analyzed thousands of records for sow litter size. The two other gene tests, for the prolactin receptor (PRLR) gene marker and the retinol binding protein 4 (RBP4) gene marker, also were invented to improve litter size. "These tests lead the way in offering a molecular approach to improve other important traits—such as meat quality and disease resistance—that have not been improved previously by traditional genetic methods," Kirkland said. In 1999, Rothschild received an R and D 100 Award for the ESR gene test. The award is presented by R and D Magazine to honor the year's top 100 products of technological significance. This October, Rothschild won a second R and D 100 Award (with ISU graduate student Kwan Suk Kim and Sygen International, Berkeley, Calif.) for the PT1 gene tests for pig appetite regulation. All of the gene tests are patented and other gene test patents are pending. Rothschild earned his doctoral degree in 1978 from Cornell University, Ithaca, N. Y. He joined the animal science faculty at Iowa State in 1980 and was named professor in 1987 and distinguished professor in 1999. Rothschild also is coordinator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Pig Genome Mapping Project.