UTIA Awards First Seed Grants for International Programs

By David Ader, Postdoc Research Associate, International Programs


UTIA has awarded its first set of international seed grants to five teams from across the Institute for collaborations that address global food security. The five faculty-led teams integrate personnel from eight departments at UTIA from both colleges—CASNR and CVM—as well as AgResearch and UT Extension. The seed grants will build collaborations in six countries on three continents and will be implemented over eighteen months, which started May 1, 2016. The grants will develop new teaching, research, and extension collaborations, materials, and trainings. These will extend UTIA’s opportunities to build future global food security programming with partners around the world.

One of these seed grants was awarded to Phillip Myer, assistant professor, Department of Animal Science; Mark Morgan, head, Department of Food Science and Technology; and David Ader, postdoc research associate, International Programs, to establish an international partnership with the Panamerican Agriculture University, Zamorano, in Honduras, pictured below right.

Zamorano University offers young people from countries across Latin America the opportunity to gain internationally recognized agricultural education and valuable experience in agricultural production. The students focus on food production, as well as addressing challenges such as conservation of natural resources, rural transformation, and economic development.

Collaboration between UTIA and Zamorano, starting with the departments of Animal Science and Food Science and Technology, is intended to advance international awareness, education, and research in sustainable agriculture through internships, graduate education, and open research collaboration. Importantly, collaboration will result in the education and training of future food, animal, and agricultural scientists, with a gained understanding and appreciation of the importance of sustainable agriculture and food safety.

Myer and Ader traveled to Honduras in June to discuss potential collaboration with faculty and students. They also met with staff as they shared information about educational programs and opportunities at UTIA. During the trip they also conducted site visits to the farms, production plants, and research facilities at Zamorano to evaluate the types of collaborations that might be possible. One possibility is through student internship programs. Students at Zamorano are required to complete a one-semester internship during their fourth year of study. They often do this abroad at research universities, like UTIA. This year, UTIA hopes to sponsor various students from Zamorano in their internships as a first step in strengthening the relationship between the institutions. Myer was able to present information specifically about the Animal Science program to 160 students studying animal production, pictured at left. Ader presented information about UTIA to another fifty students, including those interested in connecting to soil science, forestry, fisheries and wildlife, ag economics, and plant sciences. Many Zamorano students expressed interest in connecting to UTIA for internships and also for graduate programs.

The Office of International Programs hopes to improve the relationship between UTIA and institutions like Zamorano by providing opportunities for students and faculty to engage with research projects abroad. Watch for descriptions of the other UTIA international seed grants, listed below, in future editions of Common Ground.

DeBruyn, J., Hayes, D., Moore, J., Schaeffer, S., Schexnayder, S., Velandia, M., Wadsworth, L., Wszelaki, A. International Biodegradable Mulch Study Tour: Assessing Barriers and Bridges to Adoption in the EU.

Plastic mulch is used in specialty crop production to increase yields, but its disposal has environmental impacts. Biodegradable mulch (BDM) is a potential alternative; however, farmers in the U.S. are slow to adopt this practice compared to their European counterparts. Assistant professor Jennifer DeBruyn, Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science, and team will explore factors contributing to the difference in global adoption rates of biodegradable mulches and learn from industry and university cooperators with expertise in the long-term use and evaluation of degradation of biodegradable mulch. The team will develop Extension fact sheets, a journal article, and field day experiences for U.S. growers and other stakeholders where the focus is an exploratory assessment of the factors that contribute to differential BDM adoption rates in the U.S. and the European Union.

Kerro Dego, O., Almeida, R., Ruis, A., D'Souza, D., Abdi, R., Ensermu, D., Gillespie, B., Headrick, S., Cantwell, S., Vaughn, J. Improving Dairy Animals Productivity, Health and Hygienic Milk Production and Processing in Southern Ethiopia.

Assistant professor Kerro Dego, Department of Animal Science, and team will focus on improving the availability of healthy and safe milk for human consumption in Southern Ethiopia. Milk is particularly important in the diet of the rural people and can contribute more than 50 percent of the energy intake of families. UTIA researchers will work with farmers and provide training for community members in hygienic milking and milk handling practices as well as how to evaluate milk for the presence of pathogens.

Logan, J., Jagadamma, S., Eash, N., Lambert, D. Biochar for Enhanced Ecosystem Services in the Coffee Plantations of Dominican Republic.

The Dominican Republic has a high level of vulnerability to changes in temperature stress, hurricane intensity, precipitation patterns, and ocean levels. It is vital to protect the soil and land resources as well as the hydrological cycle, especially at the higher elevations where rainfall is greatest. Incorporation of biochar is a promising strategy that significantly reduces soil loss and increases soil organic carbon and aggregate stability. Associate professor Joanne Logan, Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science, and team will promote sustainable agriculture and ecosystem services in the coffee plantations by teaching a workshop in the use of biochar as a soil amendment and conduct several on-farm demonstrations of the benefits of biochar.

Willcox, A., Souza, M., Gerhold, R., Okafor, C. Bushmeat Roulette: Species Uncertainty and Disease Risk from Foodborne Pathogens in Uganda.

There are potential dangers of transmitting disease from hunted wildlife to humans; however, the perceived and actual risks of transmission are unknown. Research assistant professor Adam Willcox, Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries, and team will quantify the perceived and actual risk of disease spillover from bushmeat to humans in Ugandan communities. They will be traveling to Uganda to survey hunters on their perceived disease risk and to identify species and presence of diseases from bushmeat in markets. They will also work with local veterinary clinics to analyze blood from hunting dogs. This research will result in several presentations and publishable manuscripts and provide pilot data to conduct this research at a larger scale.




New Level 3 Biosafety Lab Opens Door for Research, Funding, Collaboration

By Jim Thompson, Dean, UT College of Veterinary Medicine

Discovery has been a hallmark of the UT College of Veterinary Medicine since our inception some forty years ago. We have a deep-founded responsibility to advance biomedical and

surgical knowledge, improving both animal and human health. While we have made great strides in infectious disease research and are leaders in the areas of bacterial genomics, virulence, and antibiotic resistance, more remains to be discovered. It is critical that we have the ability to answer fundamental questions about infectious organisms and be able to study emerging diseases in a safe, controlled environment provided with advanced equipment.

There are seventy-four biosafety level 2 (BSL-2) laboratories on the UT Knoxville-area campuses (fourteen at CVM). These laboratories use special equipment and procedures for the safe handling of common infectious organisms. I am pleased to announce the University now has a biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) laboratory at the veterinary college that will enable even more important work on disease research. BSL-3 laboratories have the same safety equipment used in BSL-2 labs with the added advantage of special air processing and procedures for increased safety. The 1,000-square-foot area contains two work bays to accommodate biomedical infectious disease research, and access is restricted to personnel who have undergone advanced training in biosafety practices.

The step up to a BSL-3 is incremental and along with more safeguards it provides important new capabilities. The BSL-3 laboratory was designed and safety-engineered to meet rigorous federal regulations so that research with limited Risk Group 3 agents can be undertaken. Risk Group 3 agents can cause serious human or animal disease, but do not spread readily from one infected individual to another (high individual risk; low community risk). Currently, the only approved research involves the use of hantaviruses conducted under the direction of Dr. Colleen Jonsson in the Department of Microbiology. Hantaviruses are a group of viruses that may be carried by some rodents (mice and rats) who shed the virus in their urine and feces. They have been a source of concern for people sweeping out cabins and shelters in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Dr. Jonsson’s research focuses on the virus-host interaction. Space for diagnostic testing and research on emerging infectious diseases has also been designated for Dr. Stephen Kania in our Department of Biomedical and Diagnostic Sciences.

This new laboratory also offers the benefit and capability to provide quick segregation and diagnosis if an infectious disease, such as highly pathogenic avian influenza, is suspected in our veterinary medical center.

The only laboratory of its kind at UT Knoxville and UTIA, the BSL-3 opens up opportunities for special accreditation, new funding opportunities, and has the potential for future collaborations, bringing professionals in various disciplines together for essential research that impacts human and animal health.



Award of Excellence to Advancement’s Lauren Vath

By Margot L. Emery, Senior Writer/Producer, UTIA Marketing & Communications

Lauren Vath, director of Advancement Communications in the UTIA Office of Institutional Advancement, has been recognized with the UT Foundation Inc.'s prestigious Award of Excellence. She is one of four members of the foundation’s statewide organization honored for excellence earlier this month at its annual meeting.

The Board of Directors Award honors outstanding achievements by development and alumni affairs staff in applying creative concepts to improve performance, advance fundraising efforts, and enhance university-wide major gift fundraising activities and asset management services of the UT Foundation Inc. 

According to UTIA Vice Chancellor of Advancement Keith Barber, shown with Vath at left, Vath has excelled in all three. Since joining UTIA as a communications coordinator in 2014, Vath has been integral to the overwhelming success of the Commodities for Communities program by streamlining how to process gifts of crops donated by Tennessee producers. She has led the social media efforts in the Governor’s Rural Challenge partnership with the TN mAGic Moments campaign. And because of her work, the Institute’s Advancement staff has introduced video storytelling that supports its cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship initiatives of donors. These impacts have captured national attention.

As liaison with UTIA’s Department of Marketing and Communications, Vath has made valuable contributions to the department’s initiatives and products and strengthened bonds between the units.

“Basically, Lauren has taken our communications objectives from zero to 180 overnight,” Barber says. “Her ‘team first’ attitude is something everyone appreciates, and she’s made, and continues to make, invaluable impacts through her unique set of skills, which range from interpersonal communications through journalism and social media to video production and postproduction. It’s hard to think of something she can’t tackle.”

Currently, Vath is spearheading the effort to transition departmental newsletters to iModules-delivered HTML e-mails, like the format you see with Common Ground. This allows access to greater metric data as well as incorporating innovative online giving opportunities for multiple programs.



Display Tells History of Tennessee Agriculture

By Doug Edlund, Assistant Director for Operations, UTIA Marketing & Communications

If you happen to be on the second floor of the Plant Biotechnology Building on the Institute’s campus in Knoxville, you may notice a new display that highlights the history and impacts of agriculture in Tennessee. It’s not only attractive, but highly informative, as well.

It all started over eighteen months ago when UT AgResearch Dean Bill Brown came up with the idea to create an informative and interactive display for the building. A project team from multiple UTIA units was formed to develop and implement the concept. Carrera Romanini and Joel Lown (UT AgResearch), Karin Langan (Office of Sponsored Programs), and Rich Maxey and Doug Edlund (UTIA Marketing and Communications) got to work and put the project in motion.

Following multiple meetings and a site visit to the East Tennessee Historical Museum, the team came up with the concept of showcasing the history of agriculture using a timeline theme. After spending many months of selecting images, writing and rewriting text, and implementing interactive technologies, the display was ready to go into production.

Now it’s one thing to create a tabletop display, but when a display needs to span 44 feet and incorporate three interactive monitors, it’s quite an undertaking, especially when you have to attach everything to a wall without hammering one nail or drilling one hole. Fortunately, Joel Lown and Rich Maxey were on hand to lend their engineering skills to give a complex project an elegant simplicity.

When you visit the display, you’ll notice an incredible attention to detail, in both textual and visual content. As you pass along the timeline, pictures morph from a sepia tone to black-and-white to color, representing the advances in photography over time.

The same attention to detail is expressed in the content. From factoids and quotations to modern infographics, you’ll see the impact agriculture has made in the lives of Tennesseans from the 1800s to the twenty-first century.

“Agriculture is the foundation of society,” Brown says. “This display clearly shows the incredible contributions and impacts agriculture has made not only to Tennessee, but also the world. When you see it, you’ll be proud to be a part of an industry that makes everything else in our lives possible.”