Animal, human health pioneer Min Du named WSU Regents Professor

Min Du standing in laboratory
Helping address the worldwide epidemic of obesity, Min Du is the newest WSU Regents Professor, and first from the Department of Animal Sciences (WSU Photo-Seth Truscott).

His work has improved the quality of U.S. agriculture and helped thousands of moms and babies live healthier lives. The achievements of Washington State University animal scientist Min Du have now earned him a place among the institution’s 30 active Regents Professors.

“Being a scientist fulfills my curiosity,” Du said. “Since I was young, I’ve always asked ‘why?’”

Receiving promotion this February, Du is an internationally recognized researcher in nutrigenomics and growth biology. He is the first regents’ professor from the Department of Animal Sciences, 13th from the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, and 54rd overall from WSU.

“Dr. Min Du is exemplary in everything he does,” said Gordon Murdoch, department chair. “His research program bridges the biomedical and animal sciences fields. He is prolific in his publications, immensely successful in securing competitive research awards, and most importantly, dedicated and detailed in his student training and mentorship.

“Amazingly, he still dedicates time for service at the departmental, college, institutional and national level,” Murdoch added. “Min is world-class; he exemplifies excellence, and as the first ever Regents Professor in Animal Sciences we are thrilled to retain him as a colleague, mentor and friend.”

Addressing rising rates of obesity and diabetes in Americans, including children, Du’s work focuses on understanding how maternal nutrition affects developing embryos, setting the trajectory for growth and development in life. Poor nutrition affects muscle and fat tissue and can predispose offspring to health challenges such as diabetes and obesity. His team discovered a key physiological component of poor fetal muscle and fat tissue development, leading to new treatments to improve metabolic health in children born to mothers with obesity and diabetes. This work also revealed strong protective effects against childhood obesity from maternal exercise.

His discoveries also connect with animal agriculture. Due to seasonal reproduction, nutrition deficiency is common in beef cows. Du’s work has helped develop better nutritional management strategies for cattle, improving animal nutrition and quality and making a substantial economic impact. His discoveries have drawn interest from scientists around the globe, and Du predicts that the field will continue to expand.

“The most interesting thing for me is the scientific question itself,” he said. “Those questions don’t distinguish between medical and animal science.”

Raised in Hangzhou, a city near Shanghai, Du’s curiosity marked his path early.

“I liked to watch movies about science, and read children’s magazines about nature,” he said.

A teacher as well as a researcher, Du has trained more than 50 graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and visiting scientists.

“I like to see my students succeed,” said Du, who integrated his research with his 300-level course in animal growth and development and enjoys daily interaction with students in the lab and classroom.

A former Fulbright Specialist, he has earned the highest award in his field, the American Society of Animal Science (ASAS) Award in Animal Growth and Development. As a director at large of ASAS, he is actively involved as a leader in the society, as well as other professional organizations, and serves different funding agencies.

Regents professorships recognize the highest accomplishments in research, teaching, and public service. Nominees must be tenured full professors who have served WSU for the last seven years; achieved high distinction in their disciplines; helped raise the standards of the university; and sustained national or international recognition. Only three professors may be promoted to the rank annually; no more than 30 may be active at a time.

“I’m glad for this honor, and feel rewarded for hard work,” Du said. “But it also makes me want to work harder for continued growth and progress.”