An ovation for innovation

Plant disease and cattle production researchers honored with New Innovator awards
Font Size

Article body

Two Auburn University College of Agriculture researchers have been named recipients of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) 2019 New Innovator in Food and Agriculture Research, based on their prior research accomplishments during the 2019 calendar year. The award is granted to early career scientists supporting research in one of the foundation’s six challenge areas.

Dr. Paul Dyce, associate professor in the Department of Animal Sciences, and Dr. Neha Potnis, assistant professor in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, were two out of only seven U.S. researchers to receive the prestigious FFAR New Innovator Award for 2019.

The recipients will receive a total of $1,744,803 over three years, with matching funds from the recipients’ respective institutions to double FFAR’s investment for a total of $3,494,132.

The New Innovator in Food and Agriculture Research Award provides early career scientists with funding to conduct audacious food and agriculture research. Investing in these scientists in the early years of their careers allows them to pursue innovative and transformational ideas uninhibited by the pressure of identifying their next grant.

“Preparing for the next frontier of agricultural innovation starts with investing in today’s scientific workforce,” said FFAR’s executive director, Dr. Sally Rockey. “We are thrilled to support emerging superstars in food and agriculture research as they develop cutting-edge strategies to revolutionize food production, processing and distribution.”

“The College of Agriculture is truly honored to receive two of the eight New Innovator in Food and Agriculture Research awards,” said Dr. Henry Fadamiro, associate dean for research and associate director of the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station.

“To receive two awards in one year speaks to the quality and creativity of our faculty,” Fadamiro said. “In total, five faculty members in the college have received grants from FFAR in recent years. These awards are partly the result of increased engagement with FFAR and reflect the growing reputation of the college in cutting-edge research and innovations.”

Potnis said the award will provide her an opportunity to leverage basic scientific findings to devise immediate and long-term solutions to tackle endemic plant diseases.

“I am especially excited about multidisciplinary collaborations with Extension plant pathologist Dr. Ed Sikora, agro-climatologist Dr. Di Tian, agricultural economist Dr. Ruiqing Miao and  epidemiologist Dr. Karen Garrett.

“This multidisciplinary collaborative project will provide an excellent opportunity for my graduate students to receive training in a wide range of research topics ranging, from field surveys, molecular methods, microbiome study, modeling, seed pathology, genomics/metagenomics and, most importantly, communication with growers,” she said.

With matching funds from Auburn University and the University of Florida, Potnis’s total grant amount is $581,992.

Dyce said the FFAR award gives him the funds that are needed to facilitate moving his research project forward for the cow-calf industry.

“It provides the opportunity to train undergraduate and graduate students in the area of improving reproductive efficiency within the cow-calf sector,” Dyce said.

Dyce’s research project involves identifying molecular markers in the blood of heifers that are able to inform  their reproductive potential.

“Currently, significant input costs are associated with developing heifers that ultimately prove disappointing when it comes to their ability to reproduce,” he said. “Our efforts are to ultimately develop a set of tools that provide cattle producers with the ability to remove those heifers prior to investing in their development. This has the potential to improve the efficiency of cattle production and ultimately benefit cattle producers’ profitability.”

The project is in collaboration with Dr. Soren Rodning, associate professor in the Department of Animal Sciences, and involves several Alabama Agriculture Experiment Station Research & Extension Centers.

With matching funds from the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station and the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association, Dyce’s total grant is $599,309.