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Korasick Awarded USDA Postdoctoral Fellowship to Pursue Research on Soybean Cyst Nematode Infection Resistance

David Korasick (Tanner Lab) was recently awarded a United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA) postdoctoral fellowship to pursue his research on the molecular basis of soybean cyst nematode infection resistance. Korasick’s work is supervised by Jack Tanner, professor of biochemistry, and Melissa Mitchum (University of Georgia), his mentor and co-mentor, respectively. Soybean cyst nematode (SCN) is the most detrimental and costly pathogen that affects soybean production in the U.S.; more than $1 billion is lost annually due to SCN infection. The project focuses on the soybean metabolic enzyme serine hydroxymethyltransferase 8 (SHMT8), and how changes in SHMT8 from an SCN resistant plant line confer pathogen resistance. Korasick combines protein biochemistry, protein biophysics and X-ray crystallography approaches to tackle this problem. Korasick stated, “Our goal is to gain the information through these studies necessary to engineer a new line of soybeans with durable resistance for use in agriculture.”

Lesleighan Cravens Takes First for Bridal Bouquet at Mid-America Cup

Lesleighan Cravens, instructor of plant sciences, won first place for her bridal bouquet at the 2019 Mid-America Cup design competition in Little Rock, Arkansas. She placed 5th overall out of 26 competitors from across the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The competition, hosted by the Arkansas Florists Association, is the only floral design competition that invites one person from each state to represent their state. Each designer is given three hours to complete four designs with the given flowers and products. This year’s categories included: a modern fascinator, a bridal bouquet for the non-traditional bride, a cremation piece for a male who was an architect and an arrangement for a New York art school opening.

Biochemistry Researchers’ Work Featured as Molecule of the Month

Work of former graduate student Tara Marcink and Steven Van Doren, professor of biochemistry, is featured as the “Molecule of the Month” in this month’s issue of PDB-101. The molecule featured is a nanodisc, which is used to conveniently package a small piece of membrane for experimental studies. This important molecule is playing a big role in a recent revolution in structural biology. PDB-101 is the educational portal of the Protein Data Bank.

CAFNR Faculty Part of Approximately $11 Million in Funds from UM System, Mizzou Following Strategic Research Investment

The University of Missouri System has announced $20.5 million in awards for its first round of research funding to address grand challenges, foster system-wide collaboration and enhance faculty research through new equipment. This is part of the System’s plan to strategically invest $50 million in research and creative works over the next five years, announced last fall. Researchers from CAFNR are part of approximately $11 million of the funding, along with colleagues from other MU colleges, and, in one case, from UMKC. Three of the funded projects are led by CAFNR faculty.

“I am very proud that CAFNR was so well represented among the funded projects,” said Shibu Jose, CAFNR’s interim associate dean for research. “Our research is vital to the top priorities of the UM System, and is also looking to solve the most important issues in our world today. This just shows the extremely high level of research happening in our college and its relevance to the people of the state and beyond.”

The System received more than 115 proposals for this year’s strategic investments, 19 of which were funded. Eleven million is provided by the UM System, and the remaining funds are from the four universities.

Project selection looked to support the system’s highest priority, the NextGen Precision Health Initiative and Institute, in addition to funding projects that showcase collaboration across the four System campuses, according to the UM System.

CAFNR’s funded research projects include (CAFNR-affiliated researchers are starred):

Missouri Resource for Cryo-Electron Microscopy
PI: Michael Chapman*, MU
Co-PIs: Donald Burke, Jack Tanner*, Tommi White, Lloyd Sumner*, Xiaolan Yao

This proposal aims to acquire a Talos Arctica™ Cryo-Electron Microscope (EM) to equip researchers with the leading cryo-EM technology to investigate fundamental biomolecular interactions and enable pharmaceutical development, but will also have remote operation capabilities for scientists throughout the state who prefer to mail samples rather than travel to Columbia. In the coming months, University leaders will coordinate with Dr. Chapman and other faculty colleagues to leverage this investment and develop a center for excellence in electron microscopy with donors and industry partners.

NovaSeq Instrumentation and Sequencing: Leveraging MU Resources for Advancing Research
PI: Wesley Warren*, MU
Co-PIs: Leslie Lyons, Robert Schnabel*, Kevin F. Staveley-O’Carroll, Douglas C Miller, Peter J Tonellato

Technological advances in DNA sequencing have revolutionized biomedical science and health care approaches, but constant technological advances require continued investment. This proposal aims to maintain MU’s excellence in research by providing researchers with the Illumina®NovaSeq system, the latest disruptive technology that offers quantum enhancements in speed, volume and quality of sequencing at a significantly lower cost – an upgrade that will allow MU’s sequencing capabilities to match or exceed those of the top research universities around the world.

Modeling Early Pregnancy in Humans
PI: Thomas Spencer*, MU
Co-PIs: Toshihiko Ezashi*, Amanda Patterson*, Laura Schulz, Danny Schust, Bret Ulery

Problems during early pregnancy can cause infertility, miscarriage and other complications, but this crucial period is poorly understood because it is impossible to obtain tissue samples from pregnant women in the first trimester. This project aims to develop the first model of human implantation in a laboratory dish without using human embryos, opening new possibilities to study early pregnancy, develop reproductive therapies and solve fertility problems that affect 50% of all women worldwide during their life.

Establishment of the NextGen Data Analytics Center
PI: Praveen Rao, UMKC; Prasad Calyam, MU
Co-PIs: Zhu Li, Viviana Grieco, UMKC; Peter Tonellato, Deepthi Rao, Prasad Calyam, MU; Sanjay Madria, Missouri S&T; Timothy Middelkoop, Kannappan Palaniappan, Satish Nair, Ye Duan, Trupti Joshi*, MU

The traditional model of a central supercomputer resource that serves the majority of campus users falls short of the new reality in which collaborative, interdisciplinary and highly data/computation-intensive resources are not always within campus boundaries. This project will support a “community-scale” research computing approach that will advance systemwide research and education collaborations and seamlessly integrate local and remote resources, directly supporting the NextGen Precision Health Initiative in addition to many other research collaborations across the UM System. This center will be the first of its kind in the UM System, capable of analyzing and storing massive datasets, bringing new capabilities to our researchers and students in an era of the rapidly growing demand for data scientists. In the coming months, university leaders will coordinate with Drs. Rao and Calyam and other faculty colleagues to leverage this investment with donors and industry partners.

Center for Vector-borne and Emerging Infectious Diseases
PI: Deborah Anderson, MU
Co-PIs: Brenda Beerntsen, Donald Burke-Aguero, Deborah Finke*, Alexander Franz, Bret Ulery

Missouri is the perfect environment for mosquitos, fleas and ticks to infect livestock and humans with the horrific diseases caused by Zika, West Nile and other viruses. In response to recent major outbreaks in humans and the lack of understanding about these diseases, this research team will study insect vectors to understand the mechanics that drive the spread of disease and develop new approaches for diagnosis and treatment.

Animal Sciences Students, Postdocs Receive Awards at National Meeting

The following Animal Sciences students and postdocs received awards at the 2019 Society for the Study of Reproduction annual meeting held July 18-21 in San Jose, California:

Karl Kerns and Grace Wiley were awarded SSR Trainee Travel Awards. Karl is a recent PhD graduate and is working as a postdoc under Peter Sutovsky. Grace is an undergraduate research assistant, also under Sutovsky.

Master’s student Caroline Pfeiffer won an USDA NIFA-AFRI Merritt Award. Caroline is advised by Rod Geisert.

Harriett Fitzgerald, a postdoc under Tom Spencer, was also awarded a Trainee Travel Award and placed 3rd in the trainee poster competition.

Clarke Named UM System Presidential Engagement Fellow

Andrew Clarke, associate professor of food science, has been named to the UM System Presidential Engagement Fellow Class of 2019-20. This cohort will begin their term in July 2019. The Presidential Engagement Fellows program was established to share accomplishments in teaching, research, creative achievements and engagement with the citizens of Missouri in their own communities. This effort allows faculty to make personal connections and deliver on the system’s important mission to disseminate and apply knowledge for the benefit all Missourians. To participate in the Presidential Engagement Fellows program, faculty members are nominated or can self-nominate at the campus level based on their demonstrated excellence, as well as their ability to communicate their research to the public. Fellows participate in a training and orientation session and represent the UM System at a minimum of three-five speaking events per year. 2018-19 was the inaugural year for the program.

Lisa Webb Wins Scientific Excellence Award

Lisa Webb, cooperative associate professor in the School of Natural Resources, has received the U.S. Geological Survey, Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit Scientific Excellence Award for 2018. This award is given to one Cooperative Research Unit faculty member nationwide (out of about 85 scientists) and is based on research productivity, student engagement and placement, and collaboration with cooperators. In addition to Webb’s research productivity (more than nine publications this year), her students and postdocs have recently received jobs throughout the country with organizations and agencies such as Ducks Unlimited, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the University of Missouri, and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. Her nomination packet included letters of support from the Missouri Department of Conservation, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, and The Nature Conservancy. These letters indicate how Webb’s research is being used by their agencies to benefit wetland management, endangered species and waterfowl harvest regulations. She was surprised with the award June 17 when meeting with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Secley Kennedy Honored with Service Award

Secley Kennedy, executive assistant, Food Systems and Bioengineering, has been named the recipient of the May 2019 Service Champion Award from Mizzou Staff Advisory Council. The MU Service Champion Award is given monthly to an employee who goes above and beyond the four core values of the University: Respect, Responsibility, Discovery and Excellence.

Peculis Receives MU Connect Champions Award

Brenda Peculis, associate professor of biochemistry, received the 2019 MU Connect Champions Faculty Award from the Provost’s MU Connect Early Alert Advisory Board. Peculis was honored at the Celebration of Teaching Awards Luncheon in May. The MU Connect Champions Award recognizes excellence in the efforts of faculty, staff, teaching assistants and students involved in using MU Connect and the Early Alert tools to meaningfully improve teaching and learning, as well as student success at Mizzou.

Fusinatto Named Regional Advisor of the Year

Jenna Fusinatto, senior academic advisor, School of Natural Resources, was named Region 2 Advisor of the Year by the National Society of Collegiate Scholars (NSCS). NSCS is an honors organization that recognizes and elevates high-achieving students. Benefits include scholarships, access to career resources and internship positions, and leadership opportunities as both the campus and national levels. With active chapters at more than 300 colleges and universities across the country, including all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, the NSCS has as its goal to honor, inspire and engage. Fusinatto advises the Mizzou chapter of the society.