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Portrait of International Dairies

A love story: Married doctoral candidates are obtaining knowledge to improve dairies and veterinary education in Sri Lanka.

In Sri Lanka, 15 billion of the country’s currency is spent annually to import milk powder and, in recent years, only 17 percent of the country’s milk was produced locally.

Those are statistics that Eranda Rajapaksha and Saumya Wickramasinghe want to change. That’s why the Sri Lankan natives — who were married in Davis — chose to study and earn their Animal Biology doctoral degrees at UC Davis.

“We knew UC Davis was one of the best agriculture universities in the world,” Rajapaksha said. “We knew if we wanted to achieve our goals of improving the dairy industry in our country we would have to study here. The exchange of knowledge between UC Davis and other countries is powerful.”

Rajapaksha is researching how different housing conditions affect the health of dairy cows and, therefore, the production of dairy herds. For the first time, Rajapaksha is employing a novel technique of using electromyograms on dairy cows — electrode-type sensors placed on a cow’s muscles — to study how something as simple as flooring can impact a cow’s overall physiology and behavior.

“I hope that we can use the knowledge we gain here to educate undergraduate students in Sri Lanka and also share what we know with policymakers to improve the dairy industry,” he said.

Likewise, Wickramasinghe is researching the gene expression of milk to identify cows with improved milk composition such as higher fat and protein yields. Wickramasinghe hopes that her research will help Sri Lankan farmers breed herds that produce better milk yields, which could increase milk production and consumption in Sri Lanka, especially in children 2 to 6 years of age.

For their work, Rajapaksha and Wickramasinghe both have received the Austin Eugene Lyons Graduate Fellowship, departmental fellowships, the Jastro Shields Graduate Research Scholarship Award and child care grants, all of which has helped them both pursue their doctorates and start a family together.

“We’d like to take the opportunity to thank everybody who has donated to UC Davis through The Campaign for UC Davis,” Wickramasinghe said. “It has helped us with our research and our lives. We are a good example that philanthropy works.”