USDA Scientists, Engineers, Grantees Honored at White House with PECASE Awards

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USDA Scientists, Engineers, Grantees Honored at White House with PECASE Awards
Seven USDA scientists and engineers and grantees were honored at the White House today as recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The PECASE is the highest honor bestowed by the United States government to outstanding scientists and engineers who are beginning their research careers and who show exceptional promise for leadership in science and technology.

“The innovative work by USDA scientists, engineers and grantees are helping to produce an agricultural renaissance in this country,” said Scott Hutchins, Deputy Under Secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Research, Education, and Economics mission area. “These awardees represent the true spirit of scientific innovation, and they help ensure a bright future for agricultural research and our nation.”

“We’re very proud of Sean Parks and David Bell, whose work has advanced our understanding of rapidly changing forest ecosystems and the long-term benefits of wildland fire,” said USDA Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen. “This research helps us better manage both forests and wildfires.”

The USDA-related awardees were as follows:
Agricultural Research Service: Heather Allen at the National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa; Jo Anne Crouch at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland; and Sara Lupton, at the Edward T. Schafer Agricultural Research Center in Fargo, North Dakota.Forest Service: Sean Parks, Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula, MT; and David Bell, Pacific Northwest Research Station in Corvallis, OR.

National Institute of Food and Agriculture (grantees): Megan O’Rourke, Virginia Tech University, Blacksburg, Virginia; and Jennifer Kao-Kniffin, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.

Allen is a microbiologist and an international expert on antibiotic resistance gene ecology and swine gut microbial communities. Her work has significantly contributed to our scientific understanding of the effects of agricultural practices on foodborne pathogens and antibiotic resistance genes in food-producing animals. She discovered that swine gut microbiota harbors diverse antibiotic resistance genes regardless of the antibiotic treatment administered. Her studies also have defined the effects of antibiotics on the swine gut microbiome in ways that can be applied to humans as well as other hosts.

Crouch is a molecular biologist whose work has been key to understanding the global diversity of fungal pathogens that cripple horticultural plants, turfgrass and cereal crops. She has developed molecular markers, diagnostic assays, genome tools, and taxonomic resources that are used to combat downy mildew, boxwood blight, dollar spot and other plant diseases threatening crops across the United States and worldwide.

Lupton, who is a research chemist, is internationally recognized for her research about the fate of chemical contaminants in cattle, swine, and poultry as well as their byproducts, waste systems, and feed sources. Her contributions have informed decision-making by regulatory agencies and promoted consumer confidence in the food supply and domestic milk and meat production practices.

Bell is a research forester whose work focuses on understanding the drivers of recent rapid changes in forest ecosystems across the United States. He links field data on plant growth and mortality to remote data that capture large-scale shifts in vegetation patterns to develop robust predictions of forest change and vulnerability. His work is providing critical insights on the interacting drivers of forest change and is essential for planners and decision-makers managing forest resources for an uncertain future.
Parks is a research ecologist who primarily focuses on wildland fire. His research has substantially expanded our scientific understanding of how previously burned areas influence the ignition and spread of subsequent wildland fires and how climate influences fire regimes. His findings have helped land management agencies better appreciate the longer-term benefits of wildland fire, as opposed to the short-term costs, and has provided insight into how forest vegetation and fire regimes may respond to climate change. Much of Parks’ research is conducted in designated wilderness, which provides an excellent natural laboratory.

Dr. O’Rourke is an Assistant Professor of Sustainable Food Systems who examines the value of biodiversity in agriculture and the environmental impacts of different food systems. Her research topics include links between agriculture and climate variation, ecological pest management, genetically modified crops, the emerging local food movement, and agricultural policy impacts.

Dr. Kao-Kniffin is an Assistant Professor of Horticulture whose research has focused on how soil microorganisms interact with soil root zones in improving plant productivity. Her project aims to identify and characterize microbial communities and crop genes that function coordinately to enhance nitrogen use efficiency, improve soil health, and increase crop production.
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