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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.”

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.

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.

Shari Freyermuth Receives Allan W. Purdy Award at 2019 Celebration of Excellence

Shari Freyermuth, associate teaching professor and director of undergraduate advising in biochemistry, and assistant dean for academic programs and director of student services in CAFNR, received the Allan W. Purdy Award for Distinguished Service at CAFNR’s 2019 Celebration of Excellence awards ceremony, held Thursday, April 11.

Freyermuth also received the 2015 MU Excellence in Advising Outstanding Faculty Advisor Award, the 2015 MACADA Faculty Advisor Award (state recipient), and the 2016 NACADA Region 7 Excellence in Advising Award in the faculty category (seven-state region). She has received both Outstanding Teaching and Advising awards in CAFNR. Freyermuth also advises the Biochemistry Club.

“Dr. Freyermuth is a true example of a student advocate,” said Laura Friedrich, CAFNR coordinator of student services. “If a student has questions, wants to explore the opportunities in the College or is just plain lost in their academics, I know we can always forward the questions to Dr. Freyermuth. The student will get their questions answered and have a positive outlook on how to move forward.”

Scott Peck Receives Distinguished Researcher Award at 2019 Celebration of Excellence

Scott Peck, professor of biochemistry, received the Distinguished Researcher Award at CAFNR’s 2019 Celebration of Excellence awards ceremony, held Thursday, April 11.

After an outstanding career overseas, Peck joined MU in 2005 as an associate professor of biochemistry. He has served as a professor of biochemistry since 2016. Peck has published 54 peer-reviewed publications and eight book chapters. He has received more than $14 million in external grants and funding since 2005. Peck was recently names a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the American Society of Plant Biologists.

“Scott is also a very committed mentor who has the professional training of his students uppermost in his mind, an essential ingredient of an excellent researcher,” said Walter Gassmann, professor of plant sciences. “Through research seminars, poster presentations at venues such as Life Sciences Week, and joint lab meetings, I’ve been very impressed by the quality of mentoring Scott provides to researchers in his lab.”

Ed Coe and Doug Randall Honored at St. Louis Academy of Science Awards

Two CAFNR researchers were honored at the 25th Annual Outstanding St. Louis Scientists Awards Thursday, April 4. Ed Coe, professor emeritus, plant sciences, was awarded the 2019 Peter H. Raven Lifetime Achievement Award. Doug Randall, professor emeritus, biochemistry, and director emeritus, Interdisciplinary Plant Group, received the 2019 Trustees Award.

Ed CoeSince its inception in 1856, the Academy has promoted connecting science and the community, and the recognition of the impressive scientists of St. Louis. Each award-winner represents an “extraordinary caliber of expertise,” according to their website. The Academy focuses the region’s attention upon individuals, institutions and corporations known worldwide for their scientific contributions to research, industry and quality of life. In every category, preference is given to candidates who also have a record of excellence in communicating with the public, mentoring colleagues, or leadership in the field of science or industry.

The Peter H. Raven Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes a distinguished career of service in science, engineering or technology. The research of Coe, pictured at left, has led to numerous, fundamental insights into plant genetics, which have far-reaching impacts on science and society, according to his awards bio.

Doug RandallThe Trustees Award recognizes outstanding contributions in keeping with the Academy of Science mission of promoting the understanding and appreciation of science. Through exceptional leadership and communication, their impact crosses geographic boundaries and enriches private, public and academic sectors. Randall, pictured right, has a highly distinguished career as a pioneering plant biochemist and an influential leader in the advancement of plant science, according to his awards bio.

For more information about the awards and honorees, please visit the Academy’s website.

Antje Heese Receives Outstanding Undergraduate Mentor Award and Ann K. Covington Award

Antje Heese, associate professor of biochemistry, received both the 2018 Outstanding Undergraduate Mentor Award from the MU Office of Undergraduate Research, and the Ann K. Covington Award from the MU Fellowship Office, which honors faculty who have served as mentors to undergraduates seeking nationally competitive fellowships. She was honored at the MU Excels celebration on April 30 for the Covington Award, and earlier in April for the Undergraduate Mentor Award. She was one of only two faculty members at the university to receive both awards.