WASHINGTON — For her outstanding contributions to food science and processing, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist Tara H. McHugh is the agency’s Distinguished Senior Research Scientist of the Year for 2019. McHugh, director of the ARS Western Regional Research Center (WRRC) in Albany, California, is one of many ARS researchers being honored for their scientific achievements.
Prior to becoming WRRC director in 2018, McHugh led the center’s Healthy Processed Foods Research Unit in Albany, located in the agency’s Pacific West Area. There, she oversaw the development of new or improved food-processing methods. In particular, her team focused on creating value-added products from fruits and vegetables deemed too small or flawed for fresh market sales, but are otherwise safe and nutritious to eat. Their efforts, in turn, led to the patenting, licensing and commercialization of several new food products, including 100-percent fruit bars, edible films and purees.
McHugh also oversaw the development of infrared- and ultraviolet light-based processing methods. In walnuts, for example, infrared drying reduced energy costs by 25 percent and cut the total drying time by 35 percent. Her team’s investigation of ultraviolet processing opened the door to increasing the vitamin D content of mushrooms and meeting 100 percent of the daily recommended allowances.
ARS also named four 2019 Area Senior Research Scientists of the Year. They are—
- Justin D. Derner, with ARS’s Rangeland Resources and Systems Research Unit in Cheyanne, Wyoming (Plains Area), for outstanding contributions and vision in developing rangeland management strategies and decision support tools for ranchers, managers and others in the western Great Plains. His accomplishments include showing how practices like grazing and prescribed burning, as well as natural disturbances like prairie dog activity, affect life-sustaining benefits of semi-arid rangelands. The unit is part of the ARS Center for Agricultural Resources Research in Fort Collins, Colorado.
- Kenneth A. Sudduth, with ARS’s Cropping Systems and Water Quality Research Unit in Columbia, Missouri, (Midwest Area), for innovative uses of sensor technology in precision agriculture leading to improved measurements and interpretations of spatial variability in soil and crop data. His accomplishments include the Yield Editor, a software that ensures the accuracy of data used in crop yield maps and boasts 11,000 downloads worldwide since 2005.
- Matias B. Vanotti, with ARS’s Coastal Plain Soil, Water and Plant Conservation Research Unit in Florence, South Carolina (Southeast Area), for outstanding technological advances in waste and wastewater management, including new phosphorus recovery methods and the use of anammox bacteria to remove nitrogen forms from septic systems and swine lagoons as well as help with water recycling aboard the International Space Station and future space exploration.
- Dante S. Zarlenga, with ARS’s Animal Parasitic Diseases Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland (Northeast Area), for leadership in the diagnosis and control of helminth parasites that can affect the health and productivity of swine and cattle. Zarlenga pioneered studies on the molecular biology of Trichinella spiralis and other parasites that ushered in better detection methods, vaccine development and pasture management strategies to prevent grazing animals from infection.
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 of 2019, goes to Amanda J. Ashworth, a soil scientist at ARS’s Poultry Production and Product Safety Research Unit in Fayetteville, Arkansas (Southeast Area). Ashworth is being recognized for outstanding creativity in devising systems-based approaches to minimizing the threat of non-point source pollution from livestock wastes. Her accomplishments include co-developing Tractor Guidance Analysis, a decision-aid tool to help farmers avoid over applying crop inputs like fertilizer and herbicide, thus decreasing costs and environmental risks.
ARS is honoring four other Area Early Career Research Scientists. They are—
- Vanessa L. Corby-Harris, with ARS’s Honey Bee Research Unit, Tucson, Arizona (Pacific West Area), for outstanding research in honey bee nutrition and physiology leading to improved colony health. Corby-Harris’ contributions include the isolation and freeze-dried preparation of beneficial bacteria that limit the harm caused by the honey bee gut pathogen Nosema.
- Jay S. Johnson, with ARS’s Livestock Behavior Research Unit, West Lafayette, Indiana (Midwest Area), for research excellence in the field of animal welfare and productivity, including his discovery of a promising new antibiotic alternative, investigations into the postnatal impact of in-utero heat stress in swine, and for the evaluation and development of cooling pads for lactating sows vulnerable to heat stress, which costs the U.S. swine industry $900 million annually.
- Lauren M. Porensky, with ARS’s Rangeland Resources and Systems Research Unit, Fort Collins, Colorado (Plains Area), for multi-pronged research to understand the responses of semiarid rangeland plants to livestock grazing. Porensky’s work in the western Great Plains and East Africa established her as an authority on plant-livestock interactions and plant restoration methods for degraded lands.
- Majher I. Sarker, with ARS’s Biobased and Other Animal Co-products Research Unit, Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania (Northeast Area), for versatile research ranging from crop protectants and produce shelf-life extenders made from plant hormones, to a spray method for decontaminating cattle carcasses for improved meat safety and hide quality.
The agency also announced its 2019 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 Judson V. Edwards, with ARS’s Cotton Chemistry and Utilization Research Unit in New Orleans. Edwards, together with ARS colleagues and collaborators in academia and private industry, co-developed a new nonwoven cotton gauze that quickly stanches bleeding and promotes wound healing. The product, known commercially as TACgauze, is made of greige cotton and is 33 percent lighter and 65 percent more absorbent than gauzes made of processed fibers. During trials, the nonwoven greige cotton gauze also triggered blood clotting more quickly—critical to military personnel and first responders when minutes count.
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 $20 of economic impact.