A new poultry nutritionist at Iowa State University traces her passion for birds to a contest she entered when she was in elementary school.

Elizabeth Bobeck, who recently started as an assistant professor in the animal science department, won a parakeet at a benefit for her local zoo in Baraboo, Wis.

“From then on I always had birds in the house. I did my graduate work on biomedical models and antibody engineering in the laying hen. Who knew you win a parakeet at a benefit and it would affect your career,” she said.

Bobeck succeeds Mike Persia, who left nearly three years ago to take a similar position at Virginia Tech University. She worked with him at Iowa State from 2012 to 2013 as a researcher after she earned her doctorate in poultry nutrition and nutritional immunology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Her research plans, which center on regulation of the immune system through nutrition, also could include work on avian influenza, which decimated Iowa chicken and turkey farms last year. Infections from migratory birds led to whole flocks being euthanized.

“I’m interested in avian flu from a nutrition and immunology standpoint,” Bobeck said. “Can I make an antibody or nutraceutical to reduce sickness or prevent the spread of the flu in or between flocks? What if producers knew their poultry were infected and there was a way to prevent death. Right now, unfortunately, they have to control through depopulation.”

She attributed increased interest among students in her introductory poultry science class to the disease.

“It was a big outbreak and nobody really understood all of the vectors for spreading it at first. When a disease gets that much attention in the news, people get interested and my class is full,” Bobeck said.