Summer Intern’s Research is the Cat’s Meow

By Jessica Jensen, K-State Research and Extension news service

 

Manhattan, KS— In a place where Wildcats are held in high esteem, Kiera McCalister is fitting right in.

 

McCalister, a senior-to-be from Florida A&M University, traveled more than 1,100 miles to take part in K-State Research and Extension’s Summer Research Fellowship program. Her research is developing a method for ranking cats’ food preferences.

 

“We want to know exactly what’s in the food that cats like so it can help with nutrition and potential pharmaceuticals,” McCalister said. “This research will help us know what ingredient they like instead of making them choose between two choices and not revealing why.”

 

The summer research fellowship provides experience in agriculture-related research for groups of under-represnted students. Working with K-State faculty members, students complete their research from start to finish, with a presentation at the end.

 

“Before the students get here, they do introductions, orientations and training programs, so it’s boots on the ground and they go straight into their research project,” said Greg Aldrich, an associate professor in K-State’s Department of Grain Sciences and Industry, and director of the university’s pet food program

 

Aldrich said students are involved in every step of the research.

 

“They have been working on the food product (including) how they manufacture it and making sure its flavorful — but not too flavorful, so that they can still add to it,” he said. “They are also working on the timing and sequence of when the cats are exposed to the food and trying to get them to discriminate one from the rest.”

 

“It’s been fun trying to figure out what we should do next and what we should change for the future,” McCalister said.

 

McCalister said she is thankful for the people she has met, such as graduate research assistant Katelyn Bailey. “This experience has taught me how to present (to groups), and what it takes to do research at this level,” she said.

 

Aldrich said that researchers have been developing techniques for ranking food products with dogs for 4-5 years. “Now we are working on training the cats and figuring out what specific elements they like,” he said. “The goal is consistency, quality control and getting the cats to talk to us in their own sort of way.”

 

McCalister’s and Aldrich’s full discussion on this topic is available on the weekday radio program, Agriculture Today.