WASHINGTON — For his outstanding contributions to veterinary virology and discovery and development of vaccines against African Swine Fever (ASF), Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist Manuel Borca is the agency’s Distinguished Senior Research Scientist of the Year for 2022. Borca, research microbiologist for ARS’s Plum Island Animal Disease Control’s Foreign Animal Disease Research Unit in Orient Point, New York, is one of many ARS researchers being honored for their scientific achievements.
Borca’s research contributed to the vaccine development for diseases that pose threats to U.S. pork industries: Classical Swine Fever and ASF. He conducted research focused on understanding host-viral interactions to inform the development of vaccines specifically designed to control disease outbreaks.
His research led to successful technology transfers of ARS-patented ASF virus vaccine candidates to manufacturing companies in the United States and abroad that are producing vaccines to control and eradicate the current pandemic of ASF in Europe, Asia and the Americas (Hispaniola Island).
ARS also named four 2022 Area Senior Research Scientists of the Year. They are:
- Peter Follett, with ARS’s Tropical Crop and Commodity Protection Research Unit in Hilo, Hawaii, for his contributions to postharvest entomology and quarantine treatment development.
- Robert Shatters, with ARS’s Subtropical Insects and Horticulture Research Unit in Fort Pierce, Florida, for his signficant research on plants, insect pests and plant disease. He translated molecular biology research and knowledge into deliverable solutions to huanglongbing (HLB), also known as citrus greening.
- Aijun Zhang, with ARS’s Invasive Insect Biocontrol and Behavior Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, for developing efficient and alternative strategies utilizing semiochemicals to reduce insect pests’ risks to agriculture and public health.
- Heping Zhu, with ARS’s Application Technology Research Unit in Wooster, Ohio, for inventing intelligent spray technology to protect diverse horticultural crops and ecosystems.
ARS is also honoring scientists who are in the early phases of their careers. The early-career awards recognize the achievements of ARS researchers with the agency for seven years or less.
This year, the top award in this category, the Herbert L. Rothbart Outstanding Early Career Research Scientist, goes to Sheri Spiegal, a research rangeland management specialist at ARS’s Range Management Research Unit in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Spiegal is being recognized for her collaborative, systems-level research on nutrient management and holistic agricultural indicator systems.
Spiegal’s research develops and evaluates strategies to increase sustainability of beef and dairy production systems across entire supply chains. Her work applies the concept of “telecoupling,” or relationships between systems over long distances, to solving supply chain problems in beef and dairy systems.
Spiegal co-leads the “manureshed” initiative within the USDA’s Long-Term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) network, bringing together multi-disciplinary collaborators in the United States and Canada. The manureshed uses her concepts of telecoupling to recycle excess nutrients associated with livestock production, minimizing manure transport distance from barn to cropland while maximizing environmental and socioeconomic outcomes.
ARS is honoring four other Area Early Career Research Scientists. They are:
- Bradd Haley, with ARS’s Environmental Microbial and Food Safety Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, for his research to characterize important features of human pathogens associated with food-producing animals.
- Joshua Lyte, with ARS’s Poultry Production and Product Safety Research Unit in Fayetteville, Arkansas, for creating a new research paradigm uniting the microbiome and poultry neurophysiology that advances antibiotic alternatives to reduce foodborne pathogen carriage, disease and production-related stress.
- Rebecca A. Schmidt-Jeffris, with ARS’s Temperate Tree Fruit and Vegetable Research Unitin Wapato, Washington, for her significant contributions to improving biocontrol in agricultural systems. Her research provides growers with information to choose pesticides that have minimal impact on predators, resulting in improving integrated pest management.
- Anna Testen, with ARS’s Application Technology Research Unit in Wooster, Ohio, for advancing specialty crop production domestically and abroad through research on plant disease detection and management strategies.
The agency also announced its 2022 ARS Technology Transfer Award winner. This Award recognizes individuals or groups who have done outstanding work in transferring technology to the marketplace.
This year’s winner is the ARS Pennycress Researchers team. The team included researchers from ARS’s National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Illinois, ARS’s North Central Soil Conservation Research Laboratory in Morris, Minnesota, and ARS’s Plant Introduction Research Unit in Ames, Iowa.
The team led the advancement of pennycress, a winter annual oilseed crop from the Brassicaceae family, as a commerical crop in the United States. Researchers look to use its oil for the development of renewable fuels (aviation fuels). Because of the crop’s winter hardiness and shorter lifecycle, it has advantages over other oilseeds for off-season production during the Midwestern winter months.
Pennycress is domesticated to fit into the Midwest’s conventional agricultural system. ARS scientists worked with farmers and growers to demonstrate to them that pennycress can be added to their crop rotation without harming other crops.
With the use of Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) and Material Transfer Research Agreement (MTRA), ARS researchers developed methods and conditions obtaining not only oil in high yields from the seeds but also protein co-products with desirable functional properties.
Researchers also used the United States National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS) and the Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN) system to publicly release two new pennycress germplasms lines. This release allows parties interested in the advancement of pennycress to obtain seeds either for seed production or to use materials in their own pennycress breeding programs.
The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific in-house research agency. Daily, ARS focuses on solutions to agricultural problems affecting America. Each dollar invested in agricultural research results in $17 of economic impact.
— USDA Agricultural Research Service