Dr. Lisa Bielke's Early Agricultural Interests Lead to Research Improving Poultry Health

Oct. 27, 2017

Dr. Lisa Bielke’s interest in poultry science began at an early age. Encouraged by support from family and educators, she has focused her research on improving poultry health.

Dr. Bielke was born in Louisiana, but grew up in Southeast Texas with her parents and three sisters, living in College Station and Magnolia (a Houston suburb). Her interest in poultry science began when she and her sisters joined FFA in high school. By the time she graduated from high school, her family was raising chickens and turkeys for the school show, county fairs, and major Texas livestock shows. Dr. Bielke also participated on poultry judging teams.

According to Dr. Bielke, “My parents were really supportive of our FFA and 4-H endeavors, and rarely put a stop to our crazy plans, we always had some sort of project going. If we were willing to do the work, they helped us make it happen. Plus, the high school ag teachers, Mr. Ellis and Mr. Vaughn, kept us engaged in more than just raising animals. They’re a great example of how engaged teachers that connect with students and put in the extra time to teach beyond classroom instruction can really have a positive impact on students’ lives. “

When Dr. Bielke prepared to attend Texas A&M for her bachelor’s degree, poultry science was the only subject that interested her as a major. During her senior year at Texas A&M, faculty encouraged her to complete research with them. “I had worked in a few labs as an undergraduate, but hadn’t yet considered it as a career option. After some long talks with them [faculty] about opportunities in science, the chain of events that led me to Ohio State Animal Sciences began,” said Dr. Bielke. She would go on to earn both her M.S. and Ph.D. in Poultry Science from the University of Arkansas.

Dr. Bielke came to The Ohio State University in 2015. Her primary research area at the Wooster campus is poultry enteric health, with a focus on non-antibiotic strategies to prevent and treat diseases. The goal of the research is to lead to higher-quality, animal protein at lower costs, as the result of fewer needed, and costly, health interventions.

“With increasing demand for agriculture animals raised without antibiotics, producers are pressured to find new methods of preventing and treating the disease because it can cause high levels of mortality and prodDr. Lisa Bielkeuction losses in flocks. A part of the necrotic enteritis cycle involves Eimeria, which is a protozoal pathogen, so we also study strategies to control this,” said Dr. Bielke. “Alongside necrotic enteritis, we also work on methods to improve the mucosal barrier, which is basically the lining of tissue along the intestinal tract that prevents invasion of pathogens into the body. By keeping the mucosal barrier strong, we can help prevent diseases and improve growth performance, which leads to safer and more affordable poultry meat,” she added.

Dr. Bielke’s research takes an interdisciplinary approach, combining microbiology, immunology, nutrition, and physiology. So her lab frequently collaborates with scientists in a variety of disciplines at Ohio State and around the world. “For example, our vaccine development studies involve three other universities with major contribution, as well as minor contributions from at least four other centers. Every scientist has a unique contribution to the project, and we all help improve the other’s progress. This teamwork has led to multiple inventions, and a few of the technologies are even in the commercialization process,” said Dr. Bielke.

Sophomore Jack Korenyi-Both, from Hubbard, Ohio, spent summer 2017 researching necrotic enteritis in broilers under the direction of Dr. Bielke. "Working under Dr. Bielke was a unique experience that opened my eyes to research and its outreach/effect on the world. Dr. Bielke has a lab full of proactive graduate students, PhD students who work hard to ensure proper research methods. Dr. Bielke’s presence is always felt even when she is not in the lab, always maintaining ideal workplace atmosphere. We always worked hard during the week, and often spent time outside of the lab, building crucial bonds that improved the way we worked together in the lab," said Korenyi-Both, who hopes to attend veterinary school and focus on poultry health.

Most of the funding for Dr. Bielke’s research comes from industry sponsors. However, she believes her current research will lead to results of interest to a variety of government organizations. She attends and presents at industry and academic conferences each year to cultivate professional relationships and stay up-to-date on advances in poultry science. Dr. Bielke is also working on several publications. “One set of papers will describe research methodologies for necrotic enteritis, because it is a multifactorial disease, standardizing methods for induction and analysis has been difficult. We are also working on some articles about how early colonizing bacteria can affect gastrointestinal tissue development, especially the immune system,” she said.

"Dr. Bielke’s passion for the poultry industry is unmatched. She holds an important position as someone who leads research dealing with one of America’s most important sources of food- poultry. While many don’t worry about where their next meal is coming from, we can credit professionals like Dr. Bielke who make it possible to maintain a sustainable food source in our dynamic and ever-changing industry," said Korenyi-Both.

Dr. Bielke’s interest in poultry science started with FFA and grew through encouragement from family and educators. It has developed into research areas that seek to increase poultry health in ways that will make poultry an affordable, high-quality, animal protein.

“When I applied for the position at Ohio State, my family was actually very happy in Arkansas and I wasn’t very sure that we would be convinced to leave. After visiting Ohio and learning about the Department, it was obviously a good opportunity to expand my research program because of the wide range of expertise in the Department, plus the availability of campus-wide resources. The Departmental support staff and animal care staff are excellent, as well, they help keep my job fun and moving at a fast pace,” said Dr. Bielke.