University of Kentucky researcher Surendranath Suman accepted the Young Animal Scientist in Research Award from the American Society of Animal Science Southern Section in a recognition ceremony Feb. 6. Suman, an assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences in the College of Agriculture, studies proteomics, specifically, the interactions between proteins in meat.
“Since most of the livestock we raise end up on our dinner tables, we need to know more about their lives after death,” Suman said in an interview.
Suman wants to know how protein interactions affect coloration in meat. Much of his research focuses on a protein called myglobin, which binds with iron to give meat its color.
“Meat color is the most important quality that influences consumers,” Suman said. “If it looks good, we buy it.”
Suman said discoloration leads to huge economic losses for the animal agriculture industry. Last year, he said, the U.S. industry lost around $1 billion to discoloration. If scientists can better understand what causes discoloration, they could make meat more appealing to customers and strengthen the animal production industry.
Suman also looks at how proteins in meat affect tenderness. He said muscles have their own “biochemistry,” meaning each has a different composition of proteins and other compounds that affect color and tenderness.
Suman came to meat science from a non-agriculture background. He grew up in India, and studied veterinary medicine at Kerala Agricultural University. Suman started working in meat science during his master’s program at the Indian Veterinary Research Institute. He said working in the sciences was a natural choice.
“I always liked to answer questions by asking myself how it happens and why it happens,” Suman said.
In 2002, Suman moved to the U.S. and began a meat science master’s and then doctoral program at the University of Connecticut. While at U-Conn, Suman met meat scientist Cameron Faustman. Suman said Faustman was his mentor, and he credits Faustman with inspiring him to use techniques common in human medicine, not animal agriculture.
As an assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, Suman also serves as faculty adviser to the Food Science Club, and he holds associate faculty appointments at the Center for Muscle Biology and Graduate Center for Nutritional Sciences of the College of Medicine. In addition to the Young Animal Scientist Award, Suman has received the International Meat Secretariat Prize for Meat Science and Technology.