AgBioResearchers Honored at Awards Convocation

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Seven AgBioResearch scientists, whose research spans the smallest plant particles to the foods we eat, were honored at the 2009 Awards Convocation following President Lou Anna K. Simon’s State of the University address.

Christoph BenningChristoph Benning, MAES biochemistry and molecular biology researcher; Robert Hausinger, MAES microbiology and molecular genetics researcher; Sheng-Yang He, MAES plant biology researcher and member of the Plant Research Lab; Thomas Reardon, MAES agricultural, food and resource economics researcher; Joan Rose, MAES-affiliated water scientist; and J. Mark Scriber, MAES entomology researcher, received Distinguished Faculty Awards. Katherine Alaimo, food science and human nutrition researcher, received a Teacher-Scholar Award.

Distinguished Faculty Awards are presented in recognition of a comprehensive and sustained record of scholarly excellence in research and/or creative activities, instruction and outreach. Teacher-Scholar Awards are presented to faculty members who early in their careers have earned the respect of students and colleagues for their devotion to and skill in teaching and who have shown scholarly promise.

Christoph Benning, internationally recognized as one of the leading scientists in the area of plant lipid metabolism, has pushed the boundaries of the fundamental understanding of lipid synthesis and function in plants. He has made major breakthroughs in lipid trafficking, transcriptional control of lipid metabolism and deciphering the role of lipids in photosynthetic membranes that together have shaped the way scientists think about lipids in plants.

In recent years, Benning has pursued applying the fundamental information obtained in his lab to engineering and developing the next generation of agricultural crops for use as biochemical feedstocks and biofuels. His research has been documented in 50 peer-reviewed publications and 26 reviews, and through his filing of 10 patents. Numerous leadership roles—including service as associate editor on a myriad of journals, on national and international grant panels and review teams, and as editor-in-chief of The Plant Journal—exemplify his service to the international plant biology community.

“I am honored to receive this award and am happy for the members of my lab, as the award provides acknowledgement of their accomplishments as well,” Benning said. “Going where no one has gone before provides the thrill of science, but training young scientists and seeing them advance to their first jobs is just as satisfying. Being a faculty member at MSU has allowed me to pursue these two ideals, and I am grateful for the opportunity.”

Robert HausingerRobert P. Hausinger’s international reputation initially derived from his seminal contributions to metal ion homeostasis in biology. His research group has defined the assembly of nickel into the enzyme urease, which is responsible for urea metabolic breakdown, and the foundational understanding of nickel trafficking for specific reconstitution of apo forms of proteins in cells. As the leading expert in this field, he was selected to write an authoritative review on metallocenter assembly. Additionally, his pioneering work on a second class of metalloenzymes, the Fe(II) hydroxylases, is receiving international attention. This class of enzymes carries out hydroxylation at non-activated carbon sites of substrates, which is ecologically central to microbial degradation.

Hausinger has served on numerous editorial advisory boards and has been a grant review panel member for the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He is the elected chairperson of the Division of Microbial Physiology and Metabolism of the American Society for Microbiology.

“I’m very honored to be selected for this award, which, in part, reflects the outstanding efforts of the many undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral researchers who have been associated with my laboratory,” Hausinger said. “I am extremely fortunate to have worked with, and learned from, my superb colleagues in microbiology, biochemistry, quantitative biology and other programs at MSU.”

Sheng-Yang HeSheng-Yang He is an internationally recognized leader in research on plant-pathogen interactions. He has made numerous seminal contributions to the understanding of the molecular mechanisms by which bacterial pathogens infect plants and by which plants resist pathogens. He and his colleagues were the first to demonstrate that bacteria have a specialized bacterial appendage, called the harp pilus, which they have used to inject essential virulence determinants into plant cells. His work has been published in major peer-reviewed journals, including Science, Nature and Cell.

His research program is funded by major grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He has served as panel manager of the USDA competitive grants program and is an honorary scientist of the Rural Development Administration of the Republic of Korea. He was elected to the board of directors of the International Society for Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions.

“I feel very honored to receive this award,” He said. “For the past 13 years, I have had the privilege of working with many talented students, post-docs and collaborators who really deserve all the credit for the work in my lab. MSU provides a particularly stimulating environment for our research because we study both plants and microbes. MSU has exceptional faculty in both disciplines. I am also very happy that my colleague Christoph Benning receives this award this year.”

Thomas ReardonThomas Reardon investigates international agricultural development and agrifood market transformation in developing countries. He is known globally for his contributions regarding the rise of supermarkets in developing countries and their impact on agrifood systems and small farmers, the transformation of global horticultural markets and the development of the rural nonfarm economy. This research influences development assistance programs in Asia, Latin America and Africa. In 2007, he co-founded the MSU/International Food Policy Research Institute Joint Program on Markets in Asia.

He has been principal investigator or co-principal investigator for $4 million in grants and has managed a further $10 million. He has published 89 journal articles, 13 special issues of academic journals, four books and 138 monographs and reports.

“It’s a pleasure and honor to receive this award,” Reardon said. “I am grateful for the mentorship I have received from Carl Eicher since I arrived in 1992 with his vision of long-term commitment to hands-on field research and dedicated direct collaboration with developing country research institutions. I am grateful for the encouragement and unflagging support from Steve Hanson, chairperson of our department, who has recognized the value of diversity of approaches and who encourages faculty through constant listening combined with his vision. I owe much of the success I have enjoyed to those two persons and honor them here.”

Joan RoseJoan Rose has advanced the field of water resources and human health by examining key microbes, parasites and viruses as waterborne pathogens, using innovative, advanced genomics techniques to decipher their fates and effects within an ecosystem as well as their effects on human populations. Her research has greatly enhanced understanding of the risk these pathogens pose and provided solutions for improving water quality and public health protection throughout the world. Her ongoing research and outreach programs have had local, national and international impact on water safety and global health, particularly a program in which she and her colleagues continually survey the health of our waters globally.

She is well-known for her studies of beach health, sewage-contaminated waters, water reclamation systems and drinking waters; her most recent studies examine the effect of climate change on water quality. In all her work, Rose has brought environmental monitoring into a risk- and evidence-based decision-making process to protect public health.

“At MSU I have had the opportunity to work with some of the best and most passionate scientists and engineers,” Rose said. “Together, we have built a program that can help meet global water and health challenges as well as those we face in our own Great Lakes. Sometimes it occurs to me that what we do is save lives; if we can prevent one waterborne outbreak and prevent pollution, we can make a real difference in this world.”

J. Mark Scriber’s international reputation derives from his passion for studying, documenting and publishing how the genetics, morphology, physiology and behavior of the various North American lineages of swallowtail butterflies have diverged in the face of shifts in host plants, geography and climate. Through more than 300 publications, he has elevated this study into a classic model system, producing knowledge with implications across biology. His most recent work on how reproductively isolated recombinant hybrids can drive rapid evolution and speciation is another of his scientific contributions that will stand for all time.

Scriber has been a pillar of interdisciplinary collaborations at MSU, exemplified by the Ecology, Evolutionary Biology and Behavior program. During the 11 years he chaired the Department of Entomology, it became one of the top five entomology departments nationally. He remains the driving force behind the Bug House outreach program and has served on countless committees for local, national and international science agencies.

“The high quality and uncommonly cooperative nature of the faculty drew me here 23 years ago to chair the Department of Entomology for 11 years,” Scriber said. “Our students and staff have made it especially enjoyable. With these colleagues and friends, I have had the pleasure of enjoying research, teaching and outreach during and after my administrative tour of duty. My deepest thanks to all of you!”

Katherine Alaimo studies hunger in the United States and its effects on children. Her research also focuses on urban agriculture, community and school gardens, and community food security, as well as promotion of healthy eating and physical activity through policy and programs and community design.

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