Agricultural research grants address cost, efficiency

July 19, 2018 @ 12:45 p.m.

Cost and efficiency are high on the list of concerns for Alabama farmers and equally high on the list of priorities for Auburn University researchers.

The Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station’s Production Agriculture Research, or PAR, grants program, now in its second year, is committed to finding timely solutions to problems that prevent the state’s farmers from being profitable.

Administered through the AAES with USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Hatch funding and matching state appropriations, the PAR program is funding nine research projects this year, with a total commitment of $446,138.

“These projects address needs identified by farmers, commodity groups and other agricultural stakeholders in Alabama, and cost and efficiency are at the top of everyone’s list,” said Henry Fadamiro, associate dean for research for the College of Agriculture and associate director of the AAES.

Among those stakeholders is the Alabama Farmers Federation, the state’s largest farm organization.

 “I am excited that Auburn University is continuing this effort to address real-world production challenges and opportunities for Alabama farmers and timber owners,” said Brian Hardin, director of governmental and agricultural programs for the federation and a member of the PAR proposal review panel.

The projects selected for funding show the diversity of the state’s agriculture and the issues that need to be addressed across all areas, Hardin said.

“Alabama farmers are fortunate to have the expertise of these researchers at Auburn University and the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station,” he said. “Even more though, we are fortunate that the administration and faculty are paying attention to how they can help people be profitable on their farms and land. That is the ultimate mission of the land-grant university.”

The grants program is a first of its kind for the AAES, in that it focuses specifically on production agriculture, Fadamiro said. Last year, the program supported 15 projects, with a total commitment of $622,000.

Many of the two-year, $50,000 PAR grants support combined research and extension projects that address current farming problems in a timely manner through applied research..

“This is an opportunity for College of Agriculture and AAES faculty to work on solving or providing immediate solutions to production challenges,” Fadamiro said.

For central Alabama’s fledgling new kiwifruit industry, a serious concern is winter freeze damage in young orchards.

“Winter freeze injury is not a significant problem on mature vines, but vines have proven to be susceptible in the establishment phase,” said Jay Spiers, Department of Horticulture associate professor and lead kiwifruit researcher. “This issue has deterred us from establishing cultivar trials and small commercial plantings throughout the region.”

Currently, producers use overhead sprinklers and/or microsprinklers for freeze protection, and, while that works for spring frosts, it is not a good control option during hard winter freezes. In his PAR project, Spiers will test the efficacy of several different trunk protection strategies for winter freeze protection.

He will present his results at grower and scientific meetings, where it will be applicable for kiwifruit and citrus producers and other stakeholders faced with management decisions on winter freeze protection.

In another new PAR initiative,  the Alabama Animal Waste and Nutrient Management team at Auburn, the Alabama Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Soil and Water Conservation Committee will work together to find ways to improve  on-farm phosphorus management and minimize phosphorus runoff.

While applying manure to agricultural lands can improve soil health and promote nutrient cycling, phosphorus mismanagement can lead to eutrophication of waterbodies and jeopardize their designated use.

“We will evaluate phosphorus retention and release rates of Alabama soils under different management practices and determine the ability of soil to act as source or sink of phosphorus to the environment,” said project leader Rishi Prasad, extension animal-systems environmental specialist, and Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences assistant professor.

The project also aims to develop a soil test–based decision support tool for assessing the risk of environmental phosphorus loss from agricultural lands.

Another PAR grant project, looks to stem economic losses from reduced animal gain and reproductive performance in endophyte-infected tall fescue forage systems. The fungus costs the U.S. beef industry more than $1 billion per year.

Study leader Kim Mullenix, Department of Animal Sciences extension assistant professor, said endophyte-infected tall fescue is the predominant perennial forage ecotype in north Alabama and the Black Belt region, where more than 60 percent of Alabama beef operations are located.

“As tall fescue matures during the early summer months, the endophyte produces high levels of ergovaline, a plant chemical compound that has negative impacts on animal performance,” she said. “Alternative forage systems are needed to improve animal production potential and extend the grazing season in regions otherwise dominated by cool-season species.”

In her two-year grazing project at the Black Belt Research and Extension Center in Marion Junction, Mullenix will determine the forage production, nutritive value and animal performance characteristics of alternative warm-season grasses in replacement-heifer production systems.

Meanwhile, School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences professor Terry Hanson will be leading a project to solve the Alabama catfish industry’s big-fish problem.

“For some time now, there has been a surplus of big catfish, or fish greater than 4 pounds in pond inventories for which catfish processors have been unable to identify a viable market,” Hanson said.

Subsequently, processors are paying half price for fish between 4 to 6 pounds and nothing for fish larger than 6 pounds, resulting in lost revenue for commercial catfish farms.

“Our research seeks to determine the cost of different management strategies toward long-term management of the big-fish problem in the Alabama aquaculture industry,” he said. “Catfish aging techniques will be employed to determine the age of different size classes of fish in commercial ponds to provide much needed information on harvest efficiency.”

Data from the study will provide management solutions towards solving the big-fish problem, he said.

The titles of and lead investigators on the five remaining projects that received 2018 PAR grants follow.

  • Derive “double cash” from trash: Co-production of single-cell protein as aquafeed along with the lactic acid production from paper mill sludge: Yi Wang, assistant professor, Department of Biosystems Engineering, $50,000.
  • Assessment of profitability of irrigation in crop production and acreage expansion in Alabama: Denis Nadolnyak, associate professor, Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, $50,000.
  • Evaluation of summer annual forage mixtures for grazing and baleage production in Alabama: Leanne Dillard, assistant professor, Department of Animal Sciences and Department of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Sciences, $49,983.
  • Agrometeorological monitoring and forecasting for sustainable water and agronomic management: Di Tian, Department of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Sciences, $49,975.
  • Value-added building blocks from locally abandoned biomass for advanced food packaging materials, Maria Soledad-Peresin, School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, $49,762.The 2018 PAR grant call for proposals included several improvements that were based on feedback from stakeholders.

“In their grant proposals for this year, we specifically asked faculty members to consider project outcomes and impacts,” Fadamiro said. “We also asked for stakeholder involvement in developing the projects. We didn’t want faculty thinking about projects in a vacuum, so we asked them to work with stakeholders from the conception of the project, and we requested letters of support from stakeholders.”

In addition, projects that will be based at one of the 15 AAES outlying research units required letters of support from the unit director.

These changes, Fadamiro said, raised the quality of all proposals received.

“Almost all the proposals submitted this year could have been funded had the dollars been available, because they all were specific and relevant to the goals of the program.”


Jay Spiers, Department of Horticulture associate professor, is leading a research project that will test the efficacy of several different trunk protection strategies for winter freeze protection of kiwifruit and citrus crops.

Lall receives advisory board's Advancement of Research and Scholarship Achievement Award

July 09, 2018 @ 1:12 p.m.

At its recent spring meeting, Auburn University’s Research and Economic Development Advisory Board selected Pradeep Lall, the McFarlane Endowed Professor in Auburn’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, as the 2018 recipient of its Advancement of Research and Scholarship Achievement Award. The award recognizes Lall for his research achievements in the fields of harsh-environment electronics and flexible electronics.

The advisory board is made up of more than 40 industry professionals from across the country who actively support Auburn’s research efforts. The group established the award in 2014 to recognize significant research and scholarly activity that exemplify and advance Auburn’s research and scholarship mission. The recipient of the annual award receives a $25,000 grant to further his or her research.

Lall, director of Auburn’s NSF Center for Advanced Vehicle and Extreme Environment Electronics, is the author or co-author of two books, 14 book chapters and more than 500 journal and conference papers in the field of electronics reliability, safety, energy efficiency, and survivability. He serves on the NextFlex Institute’s technical council and governing council. Lall spearheaded research efforts in flexible electronics and led Auburn’s proposal team for the NextFlex Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Institute.

A fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or IEEE, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Lall has received numerous awards for his research. He is the recipient of the IEEE Sustained Outstanding Technical Contributions Award in 2018 and the National Science Foundation Schwarzkopf Award for Technology Innovation in 2016. With significant funding from public-private partnerships, Lall’s work has proven beneficial to the aerospace and automotive industries and in military vehicles and defense systems.

“The Research and Economic Development Advisory Board has made a great choice in honoring Dr. Lall with this award,” said Jennifer Kerpelman, Auburn’s interim vice president for research. “He is a very accomplished researcher with a strong track record, and his work is a great asset to Auburn University,” she added.

Lall’s research focuses on the development of methods for assuring survivability of electronics to high shock forces, vibration and extreme temperatures. He is best known for his research in the areas of reliability and prognostics for electronic systems operating in harsh environments, such as:

  • Combined exposure to temperature and vibration under the hood of an automobile for electronics mounted on-engine or on-transmission;
  • Extreme cold or extreme hot environmental temperatures for prolonged periods of time experienced in military and defense applications;
  • High g-forces experienced by electronics inside missiles;
  • Corrosive attack of salt fog for electronics operating on ships at sea.

“Electronic systems have taken an increasingly important role in automotive design and operation,” Lall said. “Traditional automotive electronics at one time consisted of climate control and entertainment systems. Roll the clock forward to the present day, and automotive electronics have expanded to include driving assists such as antilock braking systems, traction control systems, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning systems and more. Failure of one of these systems is no longer an inconvenience; it may be critical to the safe operation of the vehicle.”

Dr. Pradeep LallPradeep Lall, McFarlane Endowed Professor in Auburn’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, has been named by Auburn’s Research and Economic Development Advisory Board as the 2018 recipient of its Advancement of Research and Scholarship Achievement Award.

Lall wins IEEE Outstanding Sustained Technical Contributions Award

June 21, 2018 @ 10:57 a.m.

Pradeep Lall, MacFarlane Endowed Professor in department of mechanical engineering, is the 2018 recipient of the IEEE’s outstanding Sustained Technical Contributions Award for outstanding sustained contributions to the design, reliability and prognostics for harsh environment electronics systems.  

The award recognized Lall’s seminal contributions to the field of harsh environment electronics. Lall is widely credited with the development of leading indicators of failure for prognostics health management of electronic systems to allow for early identification of faults that may impair system operation. Lall is the author and co-author of over 500 journal and conference papers in the field of electronics reliability, safety, energy efficiency, and survivability. 

"This award is recognition of Dr. Lall's international reputation and the impact of his contributions to state-of-the-art innovation," said Christopher B. Roberts, dean of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. "His work has positioned Auburn Engineering to be a leader in harsh environment electronics."

“Electronics is pervasive in today’s consumer products and many of the functions are safety critical”, Lall said. “Take present day automobiles -- electronics enables much of the safety critical circuitry in present-day cars," Lall said. "Examples include lane-departure warning systems, collision avoidance systems and park and drive assist systems. Given the level of criticality and the need for continued reliable operation, it is important that problems be identified much prior to catastrophic failure. Much of the electronics resides under the hood of the automobile where temperatures and vibration loads are very high. Ensuring survivability for sustained operation of electronics is a continuing evolving challenge with the miniaturization of electronics.” 

Lall joined the Auburn faculty in 2002 after a distinguished industry career at Motorola, where he worked on the development and manufacture of wireless products such as cellphones and two-way radios. 

Lall is a fellow of the IEEE. The award was conferred at the IEEE Electronic Components and Technology Conference (ECTC), a premier international event attended by more than 1,700 attendees in San Diego in May. Lall received $3,000 and a certificate for his achievements. IEEE is the world’s largest technical professional organization for the advancement of technology.  

Lall is also a member of the Technical Council and Governing Council of NextFlex and is director of the NSF Center for Advanced Vehicle and Extreme Environment Electronics at Auburn University. He has previously been recognized by the National Science Foundations-IUCRC’s Schwarzkopf Prize for Technology Innovation in 2016.  Lall is the recipient of The Alabama Academy of Science Wright A. Gardener Award, the IEEE Exceptional Technical Achievement Award, ASME-EPPD Applied Mechanics Award, SMTA’s Member of Technical Distinction Award, Auburn University’s Creative Research and Scholarship Award, the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering Senior Faculty Research Award, and 20 best paper awards at national and international conferences.


Media Contact: Teri Greene, tag0036@auburn.edu, 334-844-3591                                            


Pradeep Lall and Avram Bar-Cohen





Pradeep Lall, MacFarlane Endowed Professor at Auburn University, left. receiving the Outstanding Sustained Contributions Award from Avram Bar-Cohen, President of IEEE Electronic Packaging Society at ECTC 2018 in San Diego.




Presidential Awards for Interdisciplinary Research (PAIR) Announced

June 21, 2018 @ 10:43 a.m.

Auburn research teams are tackling local and global challenges ranging from housing affordability to advanced manufacturing of medical implants, thanks to a new $5 million investment in 11 groundbreaking projects designed to deliver practical, life-changing solutions.

“Auburn research is on the move,” said Auburn President Steven Leath. “Our world-renowned faculty are leading Auburn in our drive to solve problems, provide real-world benefits and serve the social good.”

Today’s announcement is part of an initiative funded through the Presidential Awards for Interdisciplinary Research, or PAIR, that Leath created last year to propel Auburn to new levels of research and development distinction. The PAIR funding will span three years. Additional research topics include rural health disparities in poverty-stricken areas, treating the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, neuroscience research and graduate education, reducing carbon dioxide emissions or using them for other means, and other critical areas of human and environmental health.

Project teams were selected from three award tiers: Tier 1 for new teams, with funding up to $100,000 per year; Tier 2 for established teams, with funding up to $250,000 per year; and Tier 3 for high-impact teams, with funding up to $500,000 per year. All proposals received an in-depth evaluation from Auburn’s associate deans for research, and Tier 3 proposals were also externally evaluated. Top-evaluated proposals were those that most closely aligned with the goals of PAIR as stated in the program guidelines. From 101 proposals received, 11 project teams will receive funding (the two top-evaluated proposals per tier for up to three years of funding, as well as five additional, top-evaluated Tier 1 proposals for two years of funding with a third-year no-cost extension available).

Project teams to receive funding are:

Project: Creating better bio-medical implants for patients in need using additive manufacturing, or “3D Printing” (Tier 3; $1,275,000 total funding over three years)

The issue: Auburn researchers plan to develop improved implants/orthotics for those with neuromuscular and skeletal system needs through the process of additive manufacturing. This process, also known as “3D printing,” allows for more customizable implants for small animals and humans and the possibility of embedded drugs in implants to ward off infections that can sometimes follow implant surgeries.

The Auburn solution: Research will take place to ensure “3-D printed” biomedical implants will remain durable during use and conform well to a patient’s needs while serving as a reliable drug-delivery source that can offer injury-triggered pain relief. The additive manufacturing process also helps reduce implant production costs.

Project: Unlocking Home Affordability and Prosperity in Rural America (Tier 3; $1,275,000 total funding over three years)

The issue: Auburn researchers are focusing on helping those in poor, rural areas gain greater access to resources that will ultimately lead them to finding affordable housing options.

The Auburn solution: Auburn researchers will work toward the creation of a National Institute of Rural Prosperity that will foster partnerships to help rural residents more easily overcome barriers to home ownership, including mortgage lending, home insurance and local ordinances and policies.

Project: Reducing the burden of neurological disease by increasing fundamental knowledge about the brain and nervous system (Tier 2; $637,500 total funding over three years)

The issue: Auburn researchers will work to mitigate against mental, neurological and substance use disorders, which make up a substantial proportion of the world’s disease burden.

The Auburn solution: A team of experts in chemistry, physiology, development, degeneration, and imaging of the brain will collaborate to develop a neuroscience center to increase fundamental knowledge about the brain and nervous system and to use that knowledge to reduce the burden of neurological disease.

Project: A Mobile Mitochondria Laboratory (AU MitoMobile) to Lead the World in Measuring Bioenergetics in Natural Settings (Tier 2; $636,941 total funding over three years)

The issue: Because the successful study of genetic and environmental impacts on mitochondria (the energy-providing part of the cellular makeup of plants and animals) can be severely limited in a laboratory setting, Auburn researchers will collaborate to build a mobile laboratory to bring this research to field sites.

The Auburn solution: A team of evolutionary biologists, environmental biologists, exercise physiologists and engineers will develop a mobile laboratory for measuring mitochondrial energy production of vertebrates at remote locations, such as oil spill sites and other places where environmental disturbances have damaged the health of local wildlife.

Project: Rural African American Aging Research (Tier 1; $255,000 total funding over three years)

The issue: Auburn researchers will assess the psychosocial stressors that can contribute to the problem of rural African Americans having a lower life expectancy and a faster progression of age-related diseases. Research in this area has the potential to inform health-promoting interventions and polices and lead to health and social equity.

The Auburn solution: PAIR funding will be used to establish a sustainable research structure in east-central Alabama focused on improving health in that community and beyond by partnering with surrounding communities. The ultimate goal is to grow the scientific knowledge of how psychosocial risk factors can accelerate aging among African Americans.

Project: Reducing and reusing carbon dioxide emissions for useful means (Tier 1; $255,000 total funding over three years)

The issue: Auburn researchers seek to combat the dire environmental effects of carbon dioxide emissions through a plan to reduce such emissions and store or utilize them for other useful means.

The Auburn solution: Researchers will work toward the development of an Alabama CO2 Utilization and Storage Center at Auburn University, with a goal of establishing Auburn as a leader in carbon dioxide utilization and storage research focused on best ways to capture CO2 emissions and convert them into helpful forms such as green fuels.

Project: Extra-virgin olive oil examined for uses in treating hallmarks of Alzheimer’s (Tier 1; $150,000 total funding over two years)

The issue: Auburn researchers are examining the consumption of extra-virgin olive oil for its potential to have a positive effect on the disease hallmarks of Alzheimer’s Disease. The research team is seeking to conduct more research into this area to determine the viability of findings for humans.

The Auburn solution: A multidisciplinary team will be assembled to conduct a pilot study on the positive effects of extra-virgin olive oil and to produce data for a strong human clinical trial to be submitted to funding agencies.

Project: Drugs from Dirt: Development and Characterization of Novel Antimicrobial Compounds (Tier 1; $150,000 total funding over two years)

The issue: Because many disease-causing organisms are resistant to current drug therapies, Auburn scientists are pursuing new approaches to the development of antibiotics.

The Auburn solution: Researchers will test and develop new therapeutic strategies for treating infectious diseases, through the study of antiobiotic-producing bacterial cultures they have discovered in soil. These are potentially life-saving antibiotics that could have application in human medicine, agriculture, and veterinary practice.

Project: Creating a Climate Information System to aid in planning for climate-related disasters (Tier 1; $150,000 total funding over two years)

The issue: Auburn researchers will create a climate service model that will help guide decision making in planning for climate-related disasters that can cause great economic and social damage.

The Auburn solution: A cross-disciplinary team of investigators will develop a science-based, Unified Climate Information System to better inform planning, policy and practices at regional, national and global scales. In addition to exploring emerging climate data, the research will seek to improve and integrate impact models for water quantity, water quality, crop growth and disease transmission simulations. The project also will include the creation of an interactive website platform, with all work being focused on the southeastern U.S. and being easily adaptable to other locations worldwide.

Project: Emerging Contaminants Research Team (Tier 1; $150,000 total funding over two years)

The issue: Auburn experts are conducting research into newly recognized environmental contaminants, such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which have not been studied sufficiently to determine their impact on the environment and their possible health risks to humans and wildlife.

The Auburn solution: This Auburn research team will use its expertise in civil engineering, pharmacology, aquatic sciences, and other key areas to collaborate on focused research into the effects of these and other previously understudied contaminants, to increase knowledge and public awareness of risk factors.

Project: Development of the AU-NASH Research Program (Tier 1; $150,000 total funding over two years)

The issue: Auburn researchers are seeking solutions to the problem of nonalcoholic steatotic hepatitis, or NASH, the most severe form of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and perhaps the most significant form of chronic liver disease in the world today, which has no current approved therapies available.

The Auburn solution: The research team will work to address this urgent, unmet medical need by developing a disease therapy program to increase positive outcomes for those suffering from liver disease.

For more details on each PAIR project and how Auburn is inspiring as a leading provider of life-changing research, creative scholarship and community engagement, visit auburn.edu/auburninspires.


research laboratory

Thomas honored for research on black women in computing

May 24, 2018 @ 1:52 p.m.

Jakita Thomas, Philpott-WestPoint Stevens Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering, was awarded a Best Paper Award at the 2018 conference for Research on Equity and Sustained Participation in Computing, Engineering and Technology.

The paper, “Speaking Truth to Power: Exploring the Intersectional Experiences of Black Women in Computing,” examined the experiences of 11 black women in computer science.

Thomas’ research found that these women experienced discrimination, unrealistic expectations from others, isolation, sexism and racism, but despite these obstacles, they stayed committed to the computing discipline. These women continued in the field by remaining true to their personal and professional goals, having effective mentors and inspiration from their fathers, according to the study.

“Improving diversity in computing is an important initiative right now,” said Hari Narayanan, chair of the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering. “Dr. Thomas’ research in this area is crucial because it examines why black women persist in computing, rather than why they leave the field. Her work will help identify ways to encourage and retain talented students from underrepresented groups in our field.”

Co-authors of the paper include Nicole Joseph of Vanderbilt University, Arian Williams of Mississippi Valley State University, Jamika Burge of Capital One and Auburn computer science graduate Chan’tel Crum.

Thomas joined the Auburn Engineering faculty in 2016 after a six-year stint on the faculty at Spelman College. She began her career as a researcher at IBM Research – Almaden. Thomas is also the recipient of a National Science Foundation CAREER Award and a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.


Media Contact: Chris Anthony, chris.anthony@auburn.edu, 334.844.3447                                            

Jakita Thomas, Philpott-WestPoint Stevens Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering at Auburn University

Dr. Jakita Thomas

Auburn Engineering faculty participating in NSF’s STEM for All Video Showcase

May 17, 2018 @ 10:51 a.m.

Alice Smith and Jeff Smith, faculty members in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, are featured in the 2018 STEM for All Video Showcase funded by the National Science Foundation. The event is being held online through May 21 at stemforall2018.videohall.com.

The presentation, entitled “NASA Academy of Aerospace Quality,” highlights work conducted by the two faculty members to create an open-access Internet-based quality assurance training platform for those involved in aerospace research, technology development and space payload design and development. The project is funded by NASA.

“NASA AAQ is an innovative platform that teaches critical aspects of quality engineering and quality assurance through 50 educational modules available to academics, students and commercial space service providers,” said Alice Smith, the Joe W. Forehand/Accenture Distinguished Professor.

Now in its fourth year, the annual showcase will feature more than 200 innovative projects aimed at improving STEM learning and teaching, which have been funded by NSF and other federal agencies. During the weeklong event, researchers, practitioners, policy makers and members of the public are invited to view the short videos, discuss them with the presenters online and vote for their favorites.

The theme for this year’s event is “Transforming the Educational Landscape.” Video presentations cover a wide range of topics including science, mathematics, computer science, engineering, cyberlearning, citizen science, maker spaces, mentoring, informal learning, professional development, research and evaluation, Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core. The videos highlight initiatives for students of all ages - kindergarten through graduate school, as well as those for adult learners.

Last year’s STEM for All Video Showcase is still being accessed, and to date has had more than 51,000 unique visitors from more than 189 countries.


Media Contact: Chris Anthony, chris.anthony@auburn.edu, 334.844.3447                                            

NSF Stem for All 2018 logo featuring images of scientists at work

Auburn University researchers study longleaf pine drought resilience

April 05, 2018 @ 2:11 p.m.

Longleaf pine ecosystems may be the key to creating more drought-resilient forests, according to a study that Lisa Samuelson, Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station researcher and Alumni Professor in Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, is conducting.

“Due to the challenges related to climate and water availability, a better understanding of ecosystem behavior is needed to improve the management and conservation of our forests,” Samuelson said. “The goal of this study is to gain a better understanding of longleaf pines’ role in creating resilient forests for the future.”

Longleaf pine once was one of the most extensive forest ecosystems in North America, covering an estimated 90 million acres. Today, due to overharvesting or forestland conversion to farming or development purposes, less than 4 percent of longleaf pine forests remain.

Samuelson, who is also director of Auburn’s Center for Longleaf Pine Ecosystems, an entity dedicated to the species’ restoration, conservation and management, said the reduction in the amount of longleaf communities has incurred many ecological consequences including loss of plant and wildlife species. Besides preserving these species’ habitats, rejuvenation of the once-abundant pine also may improve overall forest health due to its ability to withstand drought.

“There is increased interest in the restoration of longleaf pine forests, not only for forest products but for a variety of important ecosystem services and, more recently, as a species resistant to disturbances associated with changes in climate,” Samuelson said. “Our research will provide information on the current and future vulnerability of longleaf pine to drought.”

The study site is an 11-year-old longleaf pine plantation owned by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and managed by The Nature Conservancy. Samuelson’s objective is to explore the longleaf pine’s drought adaption patterns and its resilience in relation to its ecosystem. Basically, she and her research team are manipulating drought to study its effects.

“Our study is unique in that we are removing precipitation to study drought effects,” she said. “Whereas most studies utilize irrigation to remove drought effects, we are creating drought.”

To remove about 40 percent of the water that typically would hydrate ground in the experimental plots, the researchers have installed rainfall exclusion troughs that catch precipitation and transport it away from the trees’ roots.

Keeping detailed records of soil moisture dynamics, the scientists then use extensive monitoring equipment, including sap-flow probes and 30-foot-tall scaffolding, to examine above- and below-ground mechanisms that control tree growth and survival. The team monitors total tree health in the absence of hydration, including stand transpiration, leaf physiology, soil and ecosystem carbon fluxes, needle and shoot phenology, photosynthesis and phenology.

Once collected, the soil moisture data will be used to create predictability scales for regional and seasonal drought patterns, and the tree-growth/health data will contribute to the development of parameters and models that simulate longleaf pine growth under varying climate and fire regimes.

Ultimately, the research data will benefit the overall effort to improve the management of Southern forests, Samuelson said.

Dr. Lisa Samuelson, director of Auburn’s Center for Longleaf Pine Ecosystems and Alumni Professor in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences (photo by Rebecca Long)

Auburn’s College of Veterinary Medicine conducting clinical trial on new melanoma drug

April 05, 2018 @ 3:30 p.m.

Dogs, like their human companions, can be susceptible to skin cancer, and the Oncology Service at Auburn University's College of Veterinary Medicine could use the help of man's best friend in launching a clinical trial to test a new melanoma treatment drug.

"This study is designed to test a new drug that may be useful in treating melanoma, or skin cancer, which most commonly occurs in the mouth in dogs," said Dr. Bruce Smith, a professor in the Department of Pathobiology and director of the Auburn University Research Initiative in Cancer, or AURIC.

"The drug, called MMX, is a peptide, which is a chain of amino acids, the basic building blocks of all proteins," Dr. Smith said. "This study seeks to measure the effect of this drug on these tumors. We are currently taking patients to participate in the clinical trial."

Dog owners who are interested in enrolling their pets into this clinical trial must do so through the Oncology Service at the college's Wilford and Kate Bailey Small Animal Teaching Hospital.

They can be referred by their primary veterinarian, according to Dr. Smith. The treatment, as well as surgery to remove any tumor left at the end of the trial, will be provided at no cost to the owner.

The trial initially is about a five-week program, Dr. Smith said. It involves the dog owner bringing the animal in for an initial evaluation.

"The melanoma is measured, the drug is administered, and we begin a series of treatment and monitoring the tumor to measure its response," Dr. Smith said. "The dog will need to visit Auburn weekly for five weeks. In addition, owners will administer the peptide daily at home and keep a logbook about their dog while it is being treated."

Dr. Smith said this drug is not chemotherapy, but rather, a protein-based medication that has been tested on dogs in a clinical setting with no known side effects.

"It appears to act quickly to shrink the tumors," Dr. Smith adds. "It has been under testing in a clinical setting for about 10 years and now, it is ready to be tested for FDA approval."

Dog owners who believe their pet might be a candidate for participating in this clinical trial can contact the Oncology Service at the Bailey Small Animal Teaching Hospital at 334-844-6000. More information about this clinical trial can be found on the Oncology Service website.

The study is an example of Auburn faculty working toward life-changing solutions to meet pressing global health issues.


Dr. Annette Smith, left, the Robert and Charlotte Lowder Distinguished Professor in Oncology with the Department of Clinical Sciences, and Dr. Bruce Smith, a professor in the Department of Pathobiology and director of the Auburn University Research Initiative in Cancer, or AURIC, are shown with a canine patient in an exam room at the Wilford and Kate Bailey Small Animal Teaching Hospital.The Oncology Service at the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine is launching a clinical trial to test a new melanoma treatment drug for dogs. Dr. Annette Smith, left, the Robert and Charlotte Lowder Distinguished Professor in Oncology with the Department of Clinical Sciences, and Dr. Bruce Smith, a professor in the Department of Pathobiology and director of the Auburn University Research Initiative in Cancer, or AURIC, are shown with a canine patient in an exam room at the Wilford and Kate Bailey Small Animal Teaching Hospital. (Photo by Mitch Emmons)

Auburn professor plays role in mapping peanut genome

February 22, 2018 @ 11:40 a.m.

Professor Charles Chen in his lab, displaying peanuts

Auburn Professor Charles Chen was part of the Peanut Genome Consortium—an international team of scientists—that unveiled the map of the cultivated peanut’s entire genome, marking the completion of a rigorous five-year research project.


New and improved peanut varieties could be coming growers' and consumers' way more frequently in the future with the successful mapping of the crop's genetic code.

The Peanut Genome Consortium—an international team of scientists that includes Auburn University's Charles Chen—unveiled the map of the cultivated peanut's entire genome in January, marking the completion of a rigorous five-year research project.

The genetic breakthrough will allow scientists to pinpoint beneficial genes in cultivated and wild peanuts and use those in breeding new varieties. These traits can lead to greater yields, lower production costs, lower losses to disease, improved processing traits, improved nutrition, improved safety, better flavor and virtually anything that is genetically determined by the peanut plant.

"This project gives us the tools to accomplish a lot of different things," said Chen, a plant breeder and geneticist in the College of Agriculture's Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences and head of Auburn's peanut breeding and genetics program.

"Genetic improvement will now occur more quickly and more efficiently, and farmers will benefit greatly from the gains this research allows," Chen said. "This advancement gives scientists around the world a map that can be used to unlock the genetic potential of the peanut plant."

The discovery is a significant boost for Auburn's peanut breeding program, the youngest of its kind in the Southeast. The program's first runner peanut variety—AU-NPL 17—was officially released in 2017 and is already winning accolades for its high yields, resistance to disease, longer shelf life and healthy traits.

Limited supplies of AU-NPL 17 seed should be available to U.S. farmers in 2019. Alabama is the second largest peanut-producing state in the U.S., with 225,000 acres planted in 2017.

"We're working on new varieties that will incorporate improved disease resistance and drought tolerance, and the mapping of the genome helps tremendously with the basic science," Chen said.

An added advantage of the project is that it increases Auburn's capability to train graduate students, providing more resources and advanced technology, he said.

In 2012, The Peanut Foundation, with industrywide support, launched the International Peanut Genome Initiative, the largest research project ever funded by the industry. Peanut growers, shellers and manufacturers footed the $6 million bill.

Peanuts are a staple in diets across the globe, from the Americas to Africa and Asia. They are also a key ingredient in ready-to-use therapeutic foods that treat severe acute malnutrition and a crop that farmers in developing countries rely on for personal and community economic well-being.

"Mapping the genetic code of the peanut proved to be an especially difficult task, but the final product is one of the best [genome maps] ever generated," Steve L. Brown, executive director of The Peanut Foundation, said. "We now have a map that will help breeders incorporate desirable traits that benefit growers, processors and, most importantly, the consumers that enjoy delicious and nutritious peanut products all over the world."

Bob Parker, National Peanut Board president and CEO, agreed.

"Peanuts are already more sustainable and affordable than any nut available today, and consumers choose them for their flavor and familiarity," he said. "I don't know that any of us can fully articulate what this advance means to our ability to grow more peanuts with fewer resources to feed the world. But I'm excited just thinking about the promises ahead of us."

The Peanut Genome Consortium was comprised of scientists from the U.S., China, Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, India, Israel and several countries in Africa. In addition to Auburn's Chen, the U.S. research team included University of California-Davis, University of Georgia, Texas A&M University, North Carolina State University and University of Florida researchers, along with scientists at USDA–Agricultural Research Service labs in Tifton and Griffin, Georgia; Stillwater, Oklahoma; Ames, Iowa; and Stoneville, Mississippi and from the National Center for Genome Resources in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Researchers with the Huntsville-based HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology coordinated the assembly of the final peanut genome.

The entire report is available on the Peanut Foundation website at www.peanutfoundation.org.


Auburn University expands research engagement with state, regional and national partners

December 01, 2017 @ 11:01 a.m.

Auburn University President Steven Leath has launched a new research and development program to drive collaboration with leading businesses, industries and government agencies.

The Presidential Awards for Interdisciplinary Research, or PAIR, will provide $5 million in the next three years to support Auburn researchers in building competitive teams that will advance major technology developments, scientific discoveries or scholarly advances with broad economic, health or societal impact.

“PAIR is one of our first steps in a more aggressive strategy as a partnership university,” said Leath, whose background is in research. “By fueling cross-discipline research and scholarship, we’re sending a signal to industry and government that Auburn is open for business.”

Auburn researchers seeking PAIR funding will define an integrated interdisciplinary research effort distinguished by intellectual excellence, scholarly advances, innovative discoveries or technological developments.

“By boosting our internal investment, we’re helping Auburn scientists, engineers and researchers engage on a larger scale with those who want and need university expertise,” said John Mason, vice president for research and economic development.

A similar program, launched while Leath was president of Iowa State University, successfully funded research and partnership collaboration in such areas as health sciences and food security. Proposal criteria and other program information are available at https://cws.auburn.edu/ovpr/pm/pair.

Auburn University President Steven Leath has launched the Presidential Awards for Interdisciplinary Research, or PAIR, that will provide $5 million in the next three years to support Auburn researchers in building competitive teams that will advance major technology developments, scientific discoveries or scholarly advances with broad economic, health or societal impact.