News & Stories
Alex Rooks
March 11, 2024

Berry Student’s Mission: Strengthening Global Food Security Through Genetic Research

Alex Rooks ’24 is on a quest to provide a rising global population with safe, secure sources of food. Her journey began in the labs and fields of Berry College and now leads to graduate school at the University of Georgia. There she will focus on cattle, investigating genetic links with the microbiome, the vast web of naturally occurring microorganisms living within the animals’ digestive systems. Her discoveries could help farmers raise cattle that are less likely to carry infectious or harmful bacteria, which could lead to healthier livestock herds and prevent human disease.

At Berry, Alex gained not only scientific knowledge but also the confidence to apply it. The Athens, Georgia, native says she chose Berry because its small class sizes and faculty mentors made it “a great place to grow and be supported” as she explored the animal science field.


Aridany Suarez-Trujillo, assistant professor of animal science, became an especially influential mentor when Alex earned a job in his lab extracting RNA, a nucleic acid responsible for many crucial biological functions. She credits Suarez-Trujillo with teaching her foundational skills, such as the correct way to use pipettes, while also modeling the attributes of a successful researcher, including flexibility, trust in teamwork and a determined attitude.

“With him, all problems are fixable, and we never stop looking for a solution,” Alex says, remembering one day in particular. “When everything was going wrong, and I made a lot of little mistakes, he stayed calm, helped me fix them and showed me how to improve next time.”


Alex put her newfound research skills to the test in 2023, when she ventured west to Texas Tech University for a prestigious summer internship with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Livestock Issues Research Unit. She was one of only eight college students nationwide selected for the experience. Under a faculty leader, Alex learned to isolate and culture bacteria and safely handle biosecurity hazards. For one project, she tested compounds that affect water uptake in corn kernels used as livestock feed. More water in each kernel means the corn can be processed in a way for cattle to digest it efficiently, she explains.

The internship also gave Alex the opportunity to work closely with animals, which was familiar ground for her. She has gained thousands of hours of hands-on experience with horses, sheep, cattle, pigs and chickens — most of it on Berry’s campus farm. Learning about behavior and body language is crucial for anyone considering an animal-related career, Alex says. Feeding and caring for animals also teaches essential lessons in patience, problem-solving, and quick thinking, she adds.

Alex feels ready to follow the path that Berry has paved for her — to graduate school and then a research career pursuing innovations that will build trust in food and food producers. “My overall goal is to improve food safety and security in the world,” she says. “Everyone deserves to eat a safe and plentiful food supply.”

Celebrate National Agriculture Week with Berry's animal science students — and learn about cows — Tuesday, March 19 (11 a.m.–12:30 p.m.) on Krannert's front lawn. Games, activities and prizes, too.

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