By Victoria Pilger
Originally from California, Dr. Stephen Smith has traveled around the globe but has called Texas home for the past 30 years. He has traveled thousands of miles to Australia, Korea, China and Japan where he has partnered with various universities to study the limitations of marbling in beef cattle.
Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from California State College, Bakersfield, and a doctorate in metabolic physiology from the University of California, Davis. Smith moved to the USDA Meat Animal Research Center in 1981 to work as a postdoctoral research associate. In 1983, Dr. Russell Cross, who was the USDA’s research leader in the Meat Research Unit at the time, hired Smith as a research chemist. Just two years later, Smith joined the Texas A&M University Department of Animal Science.
“Dr. Cross sat me down and said ‘If you are going to work with fat you should work with marbling.’ It was a big career changer,” Smith recalled. “I was one of the very few people in the United States working on marbling which is one of the main reasons I wound up going to Australia and Asia quite a bit.”
Now a professor of meat science, Smith said his career and research interests have been shaped by the opportunities and experiences he’s gained by studying overseas. Although originally he did not pursue a career in agriculture, Smith has valued his continuous education in a field that enables him to travel abroad and work to progress the beef cattle industry.
Smith’s cultural acceptance has led him to work, communicate and travel in four different countries: Australia, Japan, Korea and China.
“Much of what I’ve learned is a result of my foreign travels,” Smith said. “More people could benefit from collaborations with other countries. The cultural aspects have supported my science.”
Early in his career, Smith was invited on his first international visit to Australia for the International Meat Science Conference where he met other researchers who shared similar interests. His unique area of study provided Smith with the opportunity to work beside brilliant minds from various countries.
In 1996, he was asked to join Dr. Ron Tume, retired principal research scientist from Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Brisbane, Australia, in his efforts to explore the hardening of fat deposits within cattle as they increased in age.
“In Australia, the longer they feed the cattle the harder the fat gets, which is completely opposite of that in the United States,” he said.
During these studies, Smith noted that with an increase in marbling, comes an increase in oleic acid, which is good.
“Australian cattle have a negative slope in oleic acid as the age of cattle increases whereas cattle in the U.S. and Asia have a positive slope, which led to our studies in Australia,” he said.
Smith, his wife, Dana, and two children spent four and a half months in beautiful Australia, which was just enough time for his children to acquire Australian accents and Smith to gain experience on a global level, he said.
“We had a flat in downtown Brisbane that overlooked the Botanical Gardens. It was wonderful!” His last visit to Australia was in 2007 when he wrote one final paper with Tume before his colleague’s retirement.
In 1991, Smith expanded his international reach and traveled to Japan for the first time to collaborate with Dr. Meiji Zembayashi, retired professor and livestock research farm manager at Kyoto University, on the production of marbling in Wagyu cattle, which are black cattle from a Japanese origin. Smith and Zembayashi collaborated successfully for approximately 10 years and through their efforts in research, built a friendship that remains strong today.
From a research standpoint, Smith believes that not only did he receive free food and nice trips but traveling abroad directed his research. Smith learned about the biology of how fat develops and found out how the composition of marbling changes in relation to growth.
“Beef cattle production is very intensive in Japan, Korea and China. Even as a developing country, Korea wasn’t just concerned about increasing the amount of beef but also about the quality of beef,” Smith said.
Smith’s work in Korea to increase beef quality led to the development of a partnership between Texas A&M AgriLife Research and the Rural Development Administration-Republic of Korea National Institute of Animal Science. Part of this agreement included the Korea-U.S. International Joint Symposium.
His most recent trip to Korea in 2009 proved to be one of his most memorable trips thus far. While visiting, Smith presented at the Korea-U.S. Symposium and was able to travel independently and visit many former colleagues, which was an added bonus.
In 2007 and 2011, Smith had the honor and challenge of organizing the Korea-U.S International Joint Symposia in College Station, which focused on producing high-quality beef and meeting future global demands.
“If I never have to put on another that will be fine, because my hair wasn’t gray before I started! I really did enjoy it but putting on a symposium is very hard work,” Smith said. He remains involved in Korea and will be traveling there once again in October 2013 for the next symposium.
Smith’s research is now directed towards China to work on the Chinese Yellow Cattle as well as studies in human populations on the health risks and benefits of beef consumption. Smith has published two articles describing two metabolic trials that were conducted with men and is currently preparing two more articles on trials conducted with women.
“My wife is a registered dietitian and she says ‘You can’t say that beef is healthier unless you test it!’ So we had to conduct the human studies,” Smith explained.
The cultural experiences that Smith encounters enables him to bring a unique perspective back to his students in the classroom at Texas A&M. Smith teaches two classes, Physiology and Biochemistry of Muscle as Food, and Lipids and Lipid Metabolism, mentors four graduate students and maintains a productive research lab.
“The day after I walked into the doors [of Texas A&M] I was two months behind, that’s how it felt, and I am still that way now,” Smith tells his graduate students.
Smith can attest that professors lead a busy life full of hard work in and out of the classroom but the experiences one gains and the successes witnessed make it worthwhile.
Victoria Pilger ’15 is a junior animal science major, agricultural economics minor from Bryan, TX.
For more information regarding news from the Department of Animal Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Texas A&M University, please contact Courtney Coufal at firstname.lastname@example.org or (979) 845-1542.