Applying Chemistry to Improve Animal Health

Paiton McDonald’s commitment and enthusiasm for Iowa State started before she ever set foot on campus.

A junior in agricultural biochemistry and international agriculture, McDonald began to develop her interests in high school in western North Carolina when she researched Mongolia and the importance of its horses to one of the world’s last nomadic cultures.

Her winning essay brought her to the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute in Des Moines.

“I just loved Iowa,” she says. “When I found out that Iowa State had a major that combined biochemistry with agriculture, it sealed it. I applied before I had even visited Iowa State.”

After arriving at Iowa State, McDonald quickly found work in the lab of Jodi McGill, assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Preventive Medicine. McDonald is now a co-author on several of the lab’s upcoming publications, and she presented (virtually) on her research at the December Conference for Research Workers in Animal Diseases.

“She’s become an important part of our team,” says McGill. “For example, this past semester, we started a new project involving a bacteria that causes respiratory infection in cattle. Paiton taught herself how to culture and quantify the bacteria. She’s now teaching the rest of us.”

Last year, McDonald decided to try sharing her “unique” love for general chemistry. She applied to become a teaching assistant and was excited to be accepted as an undergraduate.

“I wanted to help people not hate a subject that I love,” she says, “and it’s been great! It’s so fascinating to see how people learn.”

McDonald has served as an assistant for the Honors Undergraduate Program community, which she calls her “home away from home.” She also finds time for activities including the Dairy Science Club (she was born in Wisconsin and milk is her favorite food) and the student-led Stupka Memorial Undergraduate Research Symposium.

“Even as a freshman, Paiton showed so much initiative,” says Desiree (Desi) Gunning, undergraduate program specialist for the Roy J. Carver Department of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology. “She decided the Stupka Symposium needed a newsletter. She recruited another student to help, and the result was beautiful. Now she’s the symposium treasurer and on her way to becoming co-chair.”

“Paiton’s energy and smiles are infectious,” says Gunning of the department’s 2020 Garnett B. Whitehurst Scholar. “She has a great impact on everything she does.”

McDonald’s goal is to become a professor at a Midwest land-grant university researching emerging livestock diseases. Her next steps include getting a doctorate in immunology and infectious diseases. She looks forward to the day when she will help people in places like Mongolia live better by improving the health of their livestock.