Solving Problems Through Research

Chung-Ho Lin is a research associate professor in forestry and lead scientist in charge of the bioremediation and natural products research program at the Center for Agroforestry

As an alum of the University of Missouri (MU), Chung-Ho Lin has worked for his alma mater his entire career in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR) in the School of Natural Resources. In that time, he’s become known as a problem solver of sorts, when it comes to a wide variety of research questions.

Lin, who is a research associate professor in forestry, is also the lead scientist in charge of bioremediation and natural products research programs at the Center for Agroforestry. Bioremediation is a process used to treat contaminated media like water, soil and other subsurface materials by altering environmental conditions.

“In bioremediation, we are trying to take advantage of what Mother Nature has to offer, to solve real-world problems caused by humans,” said Lin. “For example, in the Midwest we use a lot of herbicides. Often, we can find these herbicides in steams, surface water and ground water. We have found that heavy exposure to these chemicals have often caused chronic diseases in humans.

“Over the years we have thought about how we can use Mother Nature to get rid of these synthetic pollutants that are being done by human activity. If we try to use a traditional chemical clean-up, no one would be able to afford it on a large scale. That’s why we try to take advantage on what Mother Nature has to offer including plants, bacteria and enzymes to get rid of these pollutants.”

Lin has been involved in a wide variety of research projects in his career at MU, from  discovering a chemical compound in trees that can fight staph infections in humans, looking at landfills and their environmental impact, and discovering that black walnuts contain heart-healthy nutrients that can help with obesity and cardiovascular disease.  Lin says what he does is applied research; his main goal is to solve a problem that can directly impact the community.

“The ultimate goal is to serve the community,” said Lin. “There are always new problems that are needing to be solved. It could be an environmental issue or public health. We direct our resources to what the top priority is for the community.”

“Lin is a problem solver,” said Patrick Market, director of the School of Natural Resources. “His work has impacts in many disciplines, including medicine, public health, individual health, among others. He has a particular strength in envisioning practical outcomes to what may seem more purely scientific issues.”

Lin’s most recent project has been analyzing wastewater to understand the spread of COVID-19. Lin partnered with Marc Johnson, professor in the School of Medicine, to detect remnants of the virus that causes COVID-19 in samples of wastewater collected across Missouri. Lin has had the opportunity to collaborate with faculty across campus, as well as people throughout the country and even the world.

“One thing I really enjoy about being in academia, is that it gives me the flexibility to work with anybody in any field,” said Lin. “I’ve worked with pathologists, molecular biologists, engineers, even social scientists.

“It depends on the goal or mission of the project, but the University has an excellent platform for everybody to bring their expertise to the table.”

To honor his success, Lin was recently elected to the rank of National Academy of Inventors (NAI) senior member. The NAI senior member program is an exclusive award distinction created to showcase the innovative ecosystem at NAI member institutions such as MU, which provides the supportive environment to foster novel discoveries.

“Lin is constantly exploring novel and creative solutions to critical environmental and human health issues,” said Sarah Lovell, director of the Center for Agroforestry. “He has the intellectual power and seemingly endless energy to act on these ideas.”

Lin is also co-founder and lead scientist of Tiger Enzyme Solutions at MU. This program has created many innovations such as bioreactor technology to convert blood types to produce the universal donor type O. In addition to 17 patent applications that have been generated, Lin collaborates with and strengthens the economic impact of regional biotechnology companies such as Elemental Enzymes, SCD Probiotics, Proviera Biotech, Kelly Food Corporations and AgriGro.

“Being in academia, often research just gets published in publications,” said Lin. “Only a few people read these publications. When I make a discovery that can benefit society, I want it to get out to the community as quickly as possible. Even getting your publications out can take years.

“In order to bring the discovery to serve the community in a fast approach, is to create a product that people can benefit from. That is why the idea of Tiger Enzyme Solutions was created.”

The Tiger Enzyme Solution program not only is producing high-caliber technologies, but it also allows students to gain industry experience in the lab. Students learn how to give a pitch for the product, to raise funds, and more. It sets students up for success and gives them hands-on experience they can take into the real world.

“Chung-Ho is an outstanding mentor and collaborator,” said Lovell. “He is always encouraging others and sharing his resources and talents. Many of his students go on to have successful careers in industry and academia.”

Lin received his PhD from MU in 2002 and has worked here ever since. Lin says the thing he loves the most about MU is the wide range of disciplines the university has to offer.

“Having a wide range of disciplines, it is like a playground,” said Lin. “It allows for easy collaboration and there is always someone that can help.”