Oceanside High School senior Miranda Leibstein notched a rare feat when she had her research into cows’ diets published for a second time.
Leibstein translated her love of riding and caring for horses over to another barnyard animal as part of her work with the prestigious University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.
Leibstein credited her OHS college research teacher Heather Hall for setting her up for her recent successes with her research papers.
“The way that she teaches you to write in ninth and 10th grade, it has helped so much,” Leibstein said. “I can go into the papers and see my wording.”
Her first research paper was published last year in PLOS One, a peer-reviewed open access scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science since 2006, and her second research paper was published on March 4 on sciencedirect.com, a website which provides access to a large bibliographic database of scientific and medical publications.
Hall said she has never had a student who has been published twice while still in high school. “While often public focus is on things like winning awards, the science and the research component is what I get excited about.”
Leibstein, an equestrian enthusiast from an early age, said she never thought she would end up working on research about cows. She added that she long wanted to do equine metabolic research because of her time caring for her horse, Caden, who developed a potentially fatal condition in her hoof called laminitis in 2015.
Early detection helped to bring the horse back to health, but it also led Leibstein to monitor Caden’s diet more closely. A few years later in 2019, it led her to contact an equine researcher at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, who connected Leibstein with Dr. Dipti Pitta, assistant professor in ruminant nutrition at the school.
“She was being flexible because the opportunities can be hard to come by,” Hall said. Leibstein needed the credits for her college research class and made the transition to bovine studies to satisfy that.
Through microbial research in dairy cows’ guts, Miranda and the researchers at the university’s veterinarian school hope to create a cheaper, but more efficient diet that can support the high demand for dairy products and milk production.
In the summer of 2019, Leibstein spent eight weeks working on two projects at the University of Pennsylvania’s dairy farms for her college research course at OHS. The first project, which culminated in the publishing of Leibstein’s first research article, tracked changes in the fecal bacteria of Holstein dairy calves as they transitioned to a solid diet as they grew. The second project compared the fecal bacterial communities in diarrheic and non-diarrheic dairy calves, but was interrupted by the pandemic.
Despite the obstacle, the lab was able to freeze the samples and then send the data for Leibstein and the other researchers to analyze last summer. “So, I didn’t have to scramble and look for another place,” Leibstein said. “All my friends in research had to look for other labs in the middle of a pandemic.”
For Leibstein, it has been a challenge to juggle the responsibilities of classes at OHS and research in Pennsylvania, but fortunately for her, she has had support. Her parents rented a house in Kennett Square, Pa., which is a five-minute drive from the School of Veterinary Medicine’s New Bolton Center, where she worked. In the summer, she headed there on Sunday nights, worked until Friday afternoon, and then drove back to Northport where so she could ride her horse. “I didn’t get to see my friends that entire summer,” Leibstein said. “But I got to work at probably the best vet school in the United States.”
Leibstein has a third research paper on the way and will be studying at her dream school, University of Massachusetts Amherst, in the fall. There, Leibstein will have the opportunity to continue the work she has done with large animal nutrition and sport horse medicine.