Team:Cornell NY/Integrated Practices

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Our Approach

Cornell iGEM’s multifaceted approach to tackling bovine mastitis is innovative and unique. In order to facilitate the development of our novel ideas, we have spent each stage of our project visiting and interacting with experts in the field, making decisions carefully with the feedback of current dairy farmers in mind. We approached the project with human-centered design in three stages [1]. First, inspiration. We derived our ideas from what was needed in the mastitis industry. Next, ideation. We sketched out prototypes and brought them to the farmer. And finally, implementation. We created our product. And at this stage, we knew that what we had created would be useful, because it was, in essence, the farmer, who had directed us throughout the process.

Check out our continued discussion on cost, safety, and legality here.

Timeline - Inspiration
[April - May]

QUESTION: What is the biggest problem facing the dairy industry?

FINDINGS: There needs to be better methods for detection and prevention of bovine mastitis.

  • April 28, 2016
    Cooperstown, NY

    We began our journey by speaking with Caroline Potter and Rob Lynch from ProDAIRY, a dairy educational organization in New York. We discovered that cows infected with mastitis have to be taken out of the milking process and are treated with antibiotics in quarantine. Even after a cow is cured, they have to be withheld from milking for several more days until all traces of antibiotics have left the milk. The treatment process and loss of milk is costly and Caroline and Rob emphasized the pervasiveness of bovine mastitis in the dairy industry.

  • May 6, 2016
    Brooktondale, NY

    Next, we visited Snofarm, a small dairy farm with 90 cows about an hour away from campus. The owner of the farm showed us the milking process and told us that the most intensive part of bovine mastitis was disease prevention. Ensuring the cows and their environment were clean is time consuming, but crucial to prevent mastitis. Due to Snofarm's size, antibiotics were a last resort for the owners, and they preferred helping the cow heal on its own.

  • May 7, 2016
    Vet Dairy Teaching Barn
    Ithaca, NY

    Shortly after, we visited Cornell's Vet Dairy Teaching Barn. Located close to campus, the Vet Dairy Teaching barn supplies milk and is often used for educational purposes and outreach events. We met with Charles, who showed us the milking process. He informed us about the methods that he uses to prevent and treat bovine mastitis, and showed us the instruments used to inject antibiotics into a cow. After our talk with Charles, we decided that mastitis prevention efforts were more important during the milking period than during the dry period. We saw that during milking, the first bit of milk from the teat is squirted onto the floor as a visual test for bovine mastitis, and decided to create a more sophisticated method for bovine mastitis detection.

  • May 13, 2016
    Florham Park, NJ

    Zoetisis one of world’s largest pharmaceutical companies that develops medicine and vaccination for animals. We reached out to Dr. Neubauer, also president of the National Mastitis Council, to ask about a collaboration between us. Dr. Neubauer arranged a call-in meeting to learn more about our project and assisted the product development team with their milking device design.

  • May 13, 2016
    Quality Milk Production Services
    Ithaca, NY

    Dr. Daryl Nydam is the reigning milk quality expert in New York State. He works at the Quality Milk Production Services (QMPS) located on Cornell’s campus, which serves all of New York. The QMPS is world-renowned for its diagnostic services, mastitis prevention programs, and educational assistance. Dr. Nydam gave us information about different types of bovine mastitis-causing pathogens and the bacteriocins that target them. Rare species are worth targeting because a single outbreak can quickly become detrimental. Infection by Gram-negative pathogens is common because they are found in abundance in the milking environment. Gram-positive pathogens are the most virulent and traditionally must be treated with antibiotics. Our wet lab team decided to target a few species in each of these groups when choosing the bacteriocins we would use.

Timeline - Ideation
[June - August]

OUR PROGRESS: Just from preliminary interviewing, we realized that there was a dire need for the prevention and detection of bovine mastitis. Our wet lab team started work on a bacteriocin treatment, choosing genes based on Dr. Nydam's advice. Our product development team concentrated on prevention, and narrowed their ideas down to a multi-purpose milking shell with different modules: an automatic post-dip disinfectant, a flow rate sensor, a cold shock, a temperature sensor, and a UV sterilizer. Our CS/ECE subteam focused on the detection of mastitis and created an app with several features including: a resource for symptoms, a somatic cell counter with a microscope attachment, a data analysis section, and a cost calculator. We brought these concepts to experts in the ideation phase to get feedback and constantly improve our designs.

QUESTION: What do you like and what would you change about our product?

FINDINGS: Experts were receptive to bacteriocins and had no problem with the safety of it. The temperature sensor, UV light, iodine spray, and cold shock were all seen as important modules, but not all farmers wanted all of the modules. The flow sensor was not needed, and the app was most useful on big farms that use traditional milking processes.

  • July 15, 2016
    Johnson Creek, WI

    Milkrite, a division of Avon Rubber and Plastics, is the world’s largest provider of dairy rubber wear. We reached out to Tom Votny. During our conversation, we learned about the current state of the milking machine market, what technologies had already been developed for shells and liners, how products were typically tested, and how large companies conduct their market research. Tom emphasized that farmer feedback is essential to making sure that our project as a whole succeeds in the marketplace. We began contacting as many farms as we could to gather that feedback.

  • July 25, 2016
    Muranda Cheese Company
    Waterloo, NY

    With sketches in hand, we went to the Muranda Cheese Company, a 90-cow farm located in Waterloo, NY. We talked to Blane Murray, who told us that our idea as a whole was valuable because it includes a preventative measure for bovine mastitis. We showed him our proposed sketches for the milking shell with various modules, and he indicated that the most useful modules would be the temperature sensor, UV light, iodine spray, and cold shock. Blane said that our app would be more useful for bigger and more technologically advanced farms, and referred us to two more farms we could speak to. Blane also pointed out the importance of cost effectiveness. Farmers want to know that our device works, and whether they are going to get a return on their investment.

  • July 28, 2016
    Quality Milk Production Services
    Ithaca, NY

    We went back to speak with Daryl Nydam of Quality Milk Production Services now that our ideas were more fleshed out. Dr. Nydam lent us a field guide for bovine mastitis that gave us a solid foundation of how we should move forward with bacteriocin testing, and agreed to provide us with infected milk samples that we could use as test targets. We asked Dr. Nydam how we would know if our product was successful. He answered that if we could show that bacteriocins work better than antibiotics, then it could be a home run.

    For our milking shell, Dr. Nydam liked the iodine spray, UV light, and cold shock modules. He did not think the temperature sensor or the flow sensor were necessary as they were already implemented in farms, or were not good indicators for prevention. He mentioned that the iodine spray module would contaminate the milk if we kept it at the top of the shell. He was particularly interested in the cold shock module for its innovation, but suggested that we talk to more experts to see whether cold shock would be physiologically effective.

    We also spoke to Dr. Nydam about our app. He recommended some academic literature that would help us with the economic analysis of treating or culling a cow. He was fascinated by the somatic cell counter and urged us to further pursue that option. While there are tests like the California Mastitis Test that already allow farmers to quickly detect mastitis, this new innovation could change the way the disease is approached and dealt with by farmers.

    Dr. Nydam praised us for choosing a project in the dairy industry because of the strong agricultural presence in New York, along with the connections that Cornell has. Overall, Dr. Nydam emphasized something that everyone we have met has said: farmers want ease and effectiveness.

  • August 1, 2016
    Windstott Farm
    Genoa, NY

    Windstott Farm has robotic milking machines, unlike other farms. We spoke to Bill Kilcer, the owner. Robot farms require very little human interaction - cows step into the machine as they need to, and sensors detect the teats before latching on. We watched the process and noticed that the iodine spray was automatically sprayed after milking, unlike other farms where a person had applied it manually. Bill told us that our ideas of having a temperature sensor and iodine spray built into the shell were already incorporated into the robots. He also said that our app would not be helpful for him because all the metrics that the milk samples are tested for, such as conductivity, temperature, and amount of fat and protein, are already stored in a computer. In addition, there was no need for CowMD since most of the farmers do not need information about symptoms. This feedback made us realize that our idea would be most helpful for bigger traditional dairy farms.

  • August 2, 2016
    Scipio Springs Dairy
    Union Springs, NY

    Scipio Springs Dairy is a large farm with 800 cows. We met with Bill Morgan, who looks over the operations of the dairy farm, and the herd manager of the farm. Bill was interested in implementing bacteriocins on his farm instead of traditional antibiotics. He was impressed by our modular idea for the shell because he believed that it was an all-encompassing prevention to bovine mastitis. Bill believed that the UV light would be a great alternative to the traditional use of heat because heat changes the functionality of the proteins in the milk as well as the milk’s flavor. He liked the temperature sensor idea because Gram-negative infections typically cause an increase in temperature. Bill Morgan was supportive of our idea, and was interested in testing our prototype and app once we finalized them.

  • August 4, 2016
    Dairy One Co-op Inc
    Ithaca, NY

    Dairy One is a dairy data management company that assists farmers in making farming decisions. We spoke with John Tauzel and James Zimmermann for feedback on our app. Dairy One supported the Somatic Cell Counter idea because it is convenient and innovative. For the cost calculator, they noted that calculating the overall profit/loss of the farm would be more beneficial than looking at individual cows. They suggested that the cow data show the effectiveness of the farmer’s practices, so that the farmer can review productivity and make long-term decisions.

Timeline - Implementation
[September - October]

PROGRESS: After receiving feedback in the Ideation Phase, we modified our sketches and incorporated suggested changes. For the milking shell, we got rid of the flow sensor module and added an option for a blank module if a farmer did not want to purchase all of the modules. We changed the iodine spray module to a sponge applicator, since a spray could potentially contaminate the milk. We finished more of our app and updated the designs based on the feedback. We got rid of CowMD since farmers did not find it useful. We also modified cow data to show overall trends of the farm rather than focus individual cows, as DairyOne suggested. Finally, we polished our somatic cell counter designs to present a more user-friendly interface. We continued working on cloning bacteriocins in wet lab, in response to positive feedback. We went back for our final farm visits with a physical prototype of the customizable shell, along with a running app.

QUESTION: Would you buy this product? Why or why not?

FINDINGS: Though our product may be more expensive than the cheapest shells available, farmers would still purchase our product for the long term investment.

  • October 1, 2016
    Muranda Cheese Company
    Waterloo, NY

    Blane Murray looked at our prototype and was interested in the product, but noted a few design changes. He noted that the temperature sensor could be an obstruction if the teats are too close together. He suggested that we remove extraneous components on the outside of the shell that could be damaged if the cow kicked. He also mentioned that we should try to get the modules inside the shell in a way that would not alter the liner.

  • October 1, 2016
    Scipio Springs Dairy
    Union Springs, NY

    Bill Morgan of Scipio Farm gave us a thorough analysis of the various aspects of our project. He supported iodine application through sponges and UV exposure between milkings, because they would prevent growth and transfer of bacteria. Bill told us that he and other farmers would invest in a new device that would decrease the incidence of mastitis. Usually, shells are a one-time purchase and are only replaced when there is a better product in the market. Currently, shells cost about $40-$50, but Morgan said he would spend $100-$200 for what we were offering, which would still be less than some other products on the market. Each case of bovine mastitis can cost up to $300, and permanently damages infected cows so that they produce 10% less milk for the remainder of their milking years, causing additional losses on top of the initial $300 cost. Since farmers can identify the strains of bacteria that cause each case of mastitis on the farm using a special culture plate, choosing a specific bacteriocin for treatment is more precise than the traditional broad-range antibiotic cocktail. Bill also said that the microscope and app we were designing would be more convenient than current management techniques for bovine mastitis.

7 months and 13 interviews later, we turned inspiration into Legendairy results.
FINDINGS: Our dream of curing, preventing, and detecting mastitis can become a reality.


[1] Design Kit: The Human-Centered Design Toolkit. (2015, June). Retrieved from