When Jasmyn Hoeger was in third grade, her father, Terry, was charged by the family’s Holstein bull and critically injured.

“His life was hanging in the balance,” Hoeger explained. “That day we were told there was a good chance we would never see our dad again.”

Yet, he pulled through the harrowing experience. Doctors call­ed it a miracle. 

“That experience changed the course of my life,” Hoeger said.

The near tragedy set the now University of Iowa sophomore  majoring in cellular and developmental biology on a career path, starting at age 16, that has yielded phenomenal results in the research and development of bovine ringworm and hairy wart treatments, as well as painless and effective methods for dehorning cattle.

It’s the latter that sparked Hoeger’s initial interest as a sophomore in high school at Beckman Catholic in Dyersville.

“We were lucky that our bull had been dehorned; however, many aren’t,” she said of her father’s accident. “Having our bull dehorned saved my father’s life … so I knew that I wanted to create a dehorning procedure that was painless, safe and cost-friendly to farmers.

“It resulted in me putting my blood, sweat and tears into creating an alternative dehorning method … and fostered my desire to improve other livestock practices and treatments such as for ringworm and hairy warts. Ultimately, personal experiences and trauma led me to show commitment to agriculture research at a young age.”

For her innovative research, Hoeger has been named one of four finalists for the National FFA American Star in Agriscience, awarded to an FFA member who demonstrates the top agriscience-based, supervised agricultural experience (SAE) in the nation while demonstrating outstanding achievement, active FFA participation and an exemplary scholastic record.

Hoeger will be recognized at the 96th National FFA Convention in Indianapolis Nov. 3, where one of the four national finalists will be selected for the top honor.

Learning through FFA

Hoeger spent her childhood milking cows, bottle-feeding calves and riding in tractors and combines.

When high school approached, she was offered the opportunity to join the school’s FFA chapter, following in the footsteps of her older brothers, and it quickly became her extended family.

“I spent every free minute of my high school career competing in career and leadership development events, the agriscience fair, serving as a chapter officer and conducting research,” Hoeger said. 

She took advantage of opportunities to participate in dairy judging, livestock judging, animal and food science programs, biotechnology, and soil judging.

FFA gave her the space to grow, learn, discover and embrace agriculture, while developing the skills necessary to become a leader. 

Today, at the University of Iowa, she serves as the youngest student representative of the International Society for In Vitro Biology (SIVB) — planning and leading workshops and symposiums.

Her unique farming background has brought new perspectives to the scientific world. 

She was invited to present at the 2023 annual SIVB meeting in June on diversity in science — thanks to her unique farming background. 

“The agricultural industry is completely aware of the necessity to prioritize animal welfare through alternative treatments and methods; however, science is lacking commitment to the movement,” Hoeger explained. 

“I’ve dedicated my research the past four years to creating painless and effective methods for treating ringworm, warts and dehorning cattle.”

Pictured above:  Hoeger picks a bacteria colony that contains plasmid to grow millions of replicates to use in future experiments to understand genetic variations and genes.  PHOTO / CONRAD SCHMIDT

Research interests

Hoeger’s investigation of ultraviolet radiation’s ability to halt mitosis (cell division/replication) is her ongoing research project. 

Over five years through trial and error, she’s found alternative methods for dehorning and for bovine hairy warts and ringworm treatment, and she has developed a novel cell culturing technique.

“I am the first person to successfully grow horn-producing cells in a lab,” Hoeger said, which led to the creation of the safe, effective and painless dehorning method. 

While early in-the-lab phases have yielded conclusive results, phase 3 will involve treating cattle in their natural environment, at a time and date to be determined.

Hoeger also created an on-the-spot skin lesion treatment for ringworm and hairy warts on cattle, while also broadening her skill set in cell culturing techniques, gene cloning, RNA isolation, genotyping and microscopy.

“I plan to apply the new techniques to create cost-effective therapies that treat bovine conditions such as hairy warts in my future career,” she said.

This year, she joined Dr. Ryan Boudreau’s internal medicine and molecular medicine research laboratory at the University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine to research genetic variations and their impact on human diseases such as Alzheimer’s, epilepsy and cardiovascular conditions.

“I am intrigued by our genetic map and how understanding genetic variations allows us to create individualized gene therapies and cures for a variety of diseases,” Hoeger said.

Rooted on the farm

Hoeger reiterates that her re­search and career path, as well as her involvement in FFA, were borne from her days on the family farm. She plans to earn a doctorate in genetics and become an agricultural genetic researcher.

“Growing up on a farm and seeing the reality of implementing current treatments and methods prompted me to do animal agricultural research,” she said. “I knew that the current procedures and treatments were unreliable, unrealistic and too costly for farmers to implement.

“My passion for biology in unison with my childhood farming experiences fostered my desire to create new treatments for a variety of bovine diseases. I didn’t just want to treat the symptoms, but also create cures that target the root causes of diseases.”

Ultimately, Hoeger said she plans to continue working to understand how genetic variations impact the presence and severity of diseases.

“I have developed a deep love and passion for research and science,” she said. “I feel like I am at home when I am in the lab conducting research in an effort to make the world a better place through new findings, treatments and methods.”