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CAFNR Represented Among 14 MU Students, Alumni Honored by National Science Foundation

The National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported STEM disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited U.S. institutions. The five-year fellowship includes three years of financial support including an annual stipend of $34,000 and a cost of education allowance of $12,000 to the institution.

This year’s recipients included three CAFNR students and alumni: Daniel Lamm, BS ’20 (biochemistry); Joseph Fritsche, BS ’21 (biochemistry); and Chantelle Wimms, current graduate student in natural resources. Alyssa Smolensky, current graduate student in natural resources, received an honorable mention. Wimms and Smolensky are both members of the Halsey A.C.E. Lab, led by Samniqueka Halsey, assistant professor in the School of Natural Resources.

Read more on Show Me Mizzou.

Antje Heese Received Outstanding Graduate Advisor Award as Part of 2023 Celebration of Excellence

Antje Heese received the 2023 CAFNR Outstanding Graduate Advisor Award at the Celebration of Excellence awards ceremony April 11. She is an associate professor of biochemistry and part of the Interdisciplinary Plant Group; she chaired the Graduate Admissions Committee for biochemistry from 2018-20. 

Heese’s graduate students have achieved highly, thanks to her expert mentorship, according to nominators. For example, her students have given a total of 19 talks, including 10 at international conferences; presented 35 poster presentations; received 18 travel grants; been awarded nine fellowships; and have published 11 scientific publications.  

“Antje has high expectations and challenges her students to become the best they can be, equipping them with the necessary tools to succeed,” said Charlotte Phillips, professor and director of graduate studies, biochemistry. “Antje challenges and mentors graduate students to not only become outstanding researchers and educators, but also to be responsible, discerning, and sensitive to important societal, diversity and cultural issues.” 

“As an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship recipient, I had the opportunity to join almost any biochemistry lab in the United States. I selected Dr. Heese’s lab due to her research interests and evident commitment to graduate student development,” said former student Erica Mueller. “Dr. Heese’s mentorship style transcends scientific development and encompasses multiple facets of professional development tailored to an individual’s ambitions.” 

“Antje is the most deeply caring and highly involved mentor I have encountered at MU and in my career,” said nominator David Braun, director, Interdisciplinary Plant Group. “I wish it were possible for her to mentor all of our graduate students!” 

Scott Peck Received Roger L. Mitchell Fellow Award as Part of 2023 Celebration of Excellence

Scott Peck, professor of biochemistry, received the 2023 Roger L. Mitchell Fellow Award at the CAFNR Celebration of Excellence awards ceremony April 11.  

Peck joined Mizzou in 2005 and has made numerous seminal discoveries on the functions of specific protein kinases and phosphatases that control plant defense responses to bacterial pathogens. His papers have garnered more than 10,000 total citations. 

Peck has been appointed as an Extraordinary Professor at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, and as a Joint Professor at Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology in Japan. He continuously publishes his research in the top journals in the field, including PNAS, Molecular Plant, Plant Cell, and Plant Physiology. 

“Scott is an excellent scientist, mentor, and collaborator. He is rigorous in designing, conducting, and interpreting experiments and data. He also has the keen ability to get to the heart of a problem and directly address the key issues,” said David Braun, professor, Division of Plant Science & Technology, and director, Interdisciplinary Plant Group. 

The award honors Roger L. Mitchell, a former dean of the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, by recognizing those who elevate the College through collaboration and innovative thinking. The fellowship is awarded annually to a ranked CAFNR faculty member to recognize academic excellence and leadership in one or more areas of the College’s core missions of outreach, research and teaching. 

Marie Dickerson Receives CAFNR Safety Leadership Award at 2023 Celebration of Excellence 

 Marie Dickerson was honored with the inaugural Safety Leadership Award during CAFNR’s 2023 Celebration of Excellence ceremony on Tuesday, April 11, setting the standard of the quality of work recipients of this new award should perform, notes the awarding committee. Dickerson is the building manager and safety coordinator in the Division of Biochemistry.  

 In her role as the liaison to MU Environmental Health and Safety, Dickerson is an advocate for the safety and operation of our campus buildings, including laboratories. She is the point person for the maintenance and repair of all levels of infrastructure for students, faculty and staff, working closely with those in research and teaching laboratory environments daily.  

 “Especially during Covid-19, Marie’s work ethic and ability to get things done was tremendous,” said Cindy Greenwood, executive assistant in the School of Natural Resources. “Even though Covid-19 was unknown territory for so many of us, Marie was always thinking about making sure all teaching and research responsibilities would be safely carried through both before and after the pandeic.  

“Marie is so deserving of this award. Her service to the university can be easily and accurately described as excellent. She is a leader and a communicator but is always willing and interested in listening to new ways to improve what and how we do to ensure a safe campus.”

CAFNR Research Symposium Poster Winners Announced

More than 90 posters were showcased at the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources’ first in-person Research Symposium Oct. 12-13. The symposium was held in Memorial Union, and had more than 300 attendees. Winners in three poster categories — undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral — were announced during the closing session on Thursday. The winners are as follows:

Undergraduate Student Poster Award Winners

  • 3rd Place – Kristen Barwick (Biochemistry)
  • 2nd Place – Anna Gonsalves (Food, Nutrition & Exercise Science)
  • 1st Place – Aubrey Pipkins (Food, Nutrition & Exercise Science)

Graduate Student Poster Award Winners

  • 3rd Place – Alexis Jones (Animal Sciences)
  • 2nd Place – Alani Antoine-Mitchell (Biochemistry)
  • 1st Place – Ajay Gupta (Plant Science & Technology)

Postdoctoral Poster Award Winners

  • 3rd Place – Mohammed Abouelezz (Animal Sciences)
  • 2nd Place – Jamshid Ansari (School of Natural Resources)
  • 1st Place – Nga Nguyen (Biochemistry)

Scott Peck Receives Mumford Award for Outstanding Faculty as Part of 2022 Celebration of Excellence

Scott Peck, professor of biochemistry and member of the Interdisciplinary Plant Group (IPG), received the 2022 Mumford Award for Outstanding Faculty during CAFNR’s Celebration of Excellence ceremony held April 19.

Peck’s research focuses on plants’ recognition and response to bacterial pathogens, as well as how plants adapt to grow under drought conditions. He was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2018 and CAFNR Distinguished Researcher at the 2019 Celebration of Excellence.

“Over the past two years, the Biochemistry Department has engaged in a substantive revision of its undergraduate curriculum. Scott has been part of a small group of faculty who have been engaged with the process every step of the way. His investment in the undergraduate major is substantial,” says Peter Tipton, professor of biochemistry.

Peck has mentored numerous undergraduates, grad students and postdoctoral fellows in his lab over the years. He supports and promotes the successes of his lab members and students by actively engaging in their research efforts, and providing advice for their future careers.

“Although actively engaged in the day-to-day activities in the lab, Scott was never overbearing, nor did he demand results. Rather, he motivated me and others through his enthusiasm for research, as well as through his sincere interest in the success of each person and their project in the lab,” says Jeffrey Anderson, associate professor of botany and plant pathology at Oregon State University.

“In sum, Scott is a highly supportive mentor who promotes the success of lab members through active engagement and setting a high bar for excellence in research.”

Antje Heese Receives 2021 Outstanding Undergraduate Advisor Award at Celebration of Excellence

Antje Heese, associate professor of biochemistry, received the 2021 Outstanding Undergraduate Advisor Award as part of CAFNR’s Celebration of Excellence. She was honored at the 2022 in-person ceremony Tuesday, April 19.

Heese received her master’s degree in plant physiology and biochemistry from Ruhr-Universität in Germany and her PhD in botany and plant pathology from Michigan State University. She joined the University of Missouri as an assistant research professor in 2006.

“Professor Heese builds personal connections with her students, such that they are empowered to broach difficult topics related to their academic standing, physical or mental health,” says Michael Chapman, director of the Division of Biochemistry.

“This is attested by many students, Younis Dabbagh reporting: ‘Dr. Heese was someone who helped me find my own way in life… In April of 2019 two of my closest friends passed away unexpectedly. Dr. Heese was there for me, to remind me that you don’t have to be tough all the time. She pushed me to seek help even though I wanted no part of it, knowing that in the long run that I would be eternally grateful for it. Two years later, I’m in a much better state than I have ever been… graduated from Mizzou and landed an incredible full-time job. Dr. Heese is someone who shows an undying compassion to the students she looks out for.’”

Numerous students recall their time as Dr. Heese’s advisees to be life-changing personal investments of her time. Her colleagues expand upon her willingness to put the time and effort into ensuring each of her students’ academic success.

“Antje is an advisor in the true sense of the word,” says Shari Freyermuth, director of undergraduate education and advising, and associate teaching professor in biochemistry. “At whatever level students come to her and with whatever concerns, she works to guide them to find their own definition of success.”

Marie Dickerson Receives Outstanding Staff Award as Part of 2022 Celebration of Excellence

Marie Dickerson is the 2022 recipient of the Outstanding Staff Award, presented by the CAFNR Staff Advisory Council as part of CAFNR’s Celebration of Excellence April 19. Marie, a research specialist senior, has worked in the Division of Biochemistry for 10 years.

Since 2015, she has served as building coordinator for buildings managed by Biochemistry, as well as supported undergraduate teaching laboratories with preparation for faculty-designed activities. She is the departmental liaison to MU Environmental Health and Safety, a critically important job when each lab has safety protocols that must be meticulously followed and kept up to date.

Marie serves as point person for maintenance and repair of scientific instruments, as well as for infrastructure needs. She served as departmental liaison to the campus COVID-19 team, helping develop procedures and protocols for re-occupation of labs and common-space instrument rooms in summer 2020, in addition to ensuring lab equipment remained functioning when campus was closed.

“The work she does assists faculty, staff and students alike,” her nominators said. “She had the foresight to research and order KN95 masks for all of CAFNR so our students could come back in-person to labs, farms and other experiential learning opportunities. In short, she was the single person most responsible for the Department fulfilling its responsibilities in teaching and research through the pandemic.

“She does all of this with no fanfare. She does tasks without having to be asked; she can sense what will be in the best interest of others and takes the initiative to do it. She goes above and beyond daily to ensure the safety and security of the work environment for all of Biochemistry.”

Three IPG Faculty Listed Among 2021 Highly Cited Researchers

Ron Mittler, professor of plant science and technology; Bing Yang, professor of plant science and technology; and Shuqun Zhang, professor of biochemistry; all part of the Interdisciplinary Plant Group (IPG) at the University of Missouri, have been recognized by the Web of Science list of Highly Cited Researchers for 2021. 

This list recognizes world-class researchers selected for their exceptional research performance, demonstrated by production of multiple highly cited papers that rank in the top 1 percent by citations for the field and year.

Biochemists Receive New TRIUMPH Funding Initiative Through MU School of Medicine

A new pilot grant program led by Senior Associate Dean Bill Fay announced 30 awards to School of Medicine (SOM) investigators, including multiple awards to MU Biochemistry faculty. Four biochemists are principal investigators on a TRIUMPH award, and four others are co-investigators. This program is part of the SOM’s initiative to transform research at MU by promoting advances in translational research and precision medicine. An additional key aim of TRIUMPH is to promote the success of the NextGen Precision Health Institute, scheduled to open in fall of 2021. The awards were announced March 2021.

The maximum size of the awards is $100,000, covering a period of two years. The Biochemistry-associated faculty and award titles are:

  • Lesa Beamer (PI); John Tanner (co-I). Unified view of inherited metabolic diseases: enzyme dysfunction phenotypes.
  • Mark Hannink (PI); Gary Weisman (co-I). Molecular Mechanisms of Drug Resistance in Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma.
  • Xiao Heng (PI); Xiaoqin Zou (co-I). A novel platform for peptide design with applications to targeting antibiotics resistance.
  • Thomas Quinn (PI); Gary Weisman (co-I). Novel use of P2X7 receptor antagonists to protect salivary glands in PSMA-617 targeted radiotherapy for prostate cancer.
  • Lixing Reneker (PI, Ophthamology); Dennis Lubahn (co-I). The estrogen’s role in age-related dry eye disease (DED).
  • Olga Baker (PI, Otolaryngology). Building a better saliva substitute.