CALS faculty Huff-Lonergan named AAAS Fellow

Woman in medium brown hair wearing blue jacket, print top, in front of campus building
Elisabeth Huff-Lonergan. Photo by Whitney Baxter, Iowa State University. 

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) recently named Elisabeth Huff-Lonergan, University Professor of Animal Science, a AAAS Fellow for her “distinguished contributions to the field of meat science, particularly in early postmortem muscle biochemistry that have made significant, lasting impacts in sustainably providing nutritious, high-quality protein to the world.”

Huff-Lonergan and four other Iowa State University researchers were recognized this year by AAAS for their distinguished efforts to advance science by the prestigious organization. 

Advancing meat quality research

Huff-Lonergan’s research centers on improving the efficiency of muscle growth and improving fresh meat quality. Using cutting-edge protein chemistry techniques, she and her team have sought to find effective, practical solutions for the livestock industry. Challenges addressed by her work include producing animal-sourced foods more sustainably to meet the growing global demand for protein.

One ongoing theme of Huff-Lonergan’s work has been investigating the biochemistry of the calpain-1 enzyme and how it is regulated to affect both muscle growth and meat quality. Her varied research has also included studies of effects on meat quality related to vitamin and mineral supplementation to the live animal, postmortem aging and protein oxidation. 

Funding for Huff-Lonergan’s research has come primarily from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. She has also received support from commodity groups, especially state and national pork producers groups.

Inspiring the next generation 

In addition to research, teaching has been a vital part of Huff-Lonergan’s career. “I feel it is important to inspire the next generation. Graduate students, especially, have also been valuable collaborators in much of my research,” she said. 

The quality of her instruction has been recognized with awards that include the national Distinguished Teaching Award (2020) from the American Meat Science Association (AMSA). With this, she became the first-ever AMSA member to be recognized with four of its major awards (also including Distinguished Research, Fellow/Signal Science Award and overall Achievement).  

Giving back 

Service to her institution and discipline has also been important to Huff-Lonergan. Ways she has “given back” include chairing the curriculum committee of the Department of Animal Science for several years, serving on Iowa State’s faculty senate and as a member (and twice chair) of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Promotion and Tenure Committee. Her contributions were recognized with the Iowa State University Regents Award for Faculty Excellence in 2016 and by being named a University Professor in 2022. 

Nationally, she serves as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Animal Science and previously was editor of the AMSA journal Meat and Muscle Biology. She has also been involved with a number of organizational committees and task forces, including serving on grant review panels for USDA NIFA programs. She is also a fellow in AMSA, as well as the American Society of Animal Science and the Institute of Food Technologists.

“I grew up in northeast Missouri on a beef cattle farm, and I was always interested in livestock and science,” said Huff-Lonergan. “That was during the farm crisis, which was an early influence to think about how to improve agriculture.” 

She earned a bachelor’s degree in food science from the University of Missouri-Columbia, where she participated in livestock and meat judging teams and worked in laboratories on campus. Her undergraduate advisor, who had a friend in the animal science department at Iowa State, encouraged Huff-Lonergan to consider pursuing advanced degrees in Ames, a path she followed to complete master’s and doctoral degrees in meat science, muscle biology and biochemistry. 

“All along, I think, I was finding the way to marry my interests in livestock and food,” she said. 

After completing her doctorate, she worked for several years as an assistant professor at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, before returning to Iowa State as a faculty member in 1998.

“I have been extraordinarily lucky in my career to have fabulous colleagues and collaborators at Iowa State, as well as nationally and internationally, including my husband, animal scientist Steven Lonergan,” Huff-Lonergan said. “I have also been fortunate to have had opportunities to work with great mentors, including F.C. Parrish, Richard Robson and the muscle biology science pioneer Darrell Goll. “Through them, I really came to love the basic science of muscle metabolism and structure and understanding how they ultimately impact meat quality,” she said.

Huff-Lonergan and her cohort of 502 AAAS fellows nationally will be honored during a September forum in Washington, D.C., on the 150th anniversary of the organization’s fellows program. The AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the prestigious journal Science and other scholarly publications.