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Agency Scientists Win Top Research Awards / February 3, 1999 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Agency Scientists Win Top Research Awards

By Jill Lee
February 3, 1999

WASHINGTON, Feb. 3--Autar K. Mattoo, a plant physiologist and biochemist, has been named 1998 “Distinguished Senior Research Scientist of the Year” by the Agricultural Research Service for groundbreaking research in plant metabolism that could help improve the supply and quality of the world's food supply. ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific agency.

“Dr. Mattoo’s research established the concept that growth regulators called polyamines control some crucial plant hormones. These hormones govern leaf decay and fruit ripening,” said ARS administrator Floyd P. Horn. “Better understanding of these polyamines can lead to fruits and vegetables that mature at more convenient times for growers."

"Dr. Mattoo also developed methods to extend the shelf life of tomatoes and other crops," Horn added.

Mattoo has served as research leader of the Vegetable Laboratory at ARS' Beltsville (Md.) Agricultural Research Center since 1997. Before that, he headed the center's research in plant molecular biology.

Horn will present awards to Mattoo and 15 other agency scientists of the year at a Feb. 10 ceremony in Beltsville. The scientists will receive plaques and cash awards. In addition, as the agency's Distinguished Research Scientist of the Year, Mattoo will receive $40,000 in additional research support.

In addition to Mattoo's other accomplishments, Horn said, "he designed a novel concept of protein regulation by light, using a protein critical to photosynthesis. He also developed an ultra-sensitive test to detect residual herbicides in soil and water. His research opened new areas worldwide in understanding how plant metabolism is regulated.”

Mattoo has published more than 170 research papers during his career.

In 1969, he received his doctorate in microbiology and, in 1965, a master’s degree in biochemistry from Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda, India, graduating summa cum laude. He earned two bachelor’s degrees in chemistry, botany, zoology and geology from Jammu and Kashmir University in Kashmir, India, in 1962 and 1963.

Mattoo has also served as an adjunct professor of biological sciences with the University of Maryland. In 1995, he received a $100,000 North Atlantic Treaty Organization grant for high technology to improve plant production and reduce hunger.

At the Feb. 10 ceremony, ARS will also honor three “Outstanding Senior Research Scientists for 1998, four "Area Senior Research Scientists of the Year" and eight "early career" scientists of the year.

The three "Outstanding Scientists of the Year” will receive $25,000 in additional research support. They are:

  • Deepak Bhatnagar, geneticist, ARS Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans. He will be honored for leadership in protecting the world’s food supply from aflatoxin. This natural contaminant in corn and other grains is produced by the fungus Aspergillus flavus. Bhatnagar has been instrumental in building a research team to understand the fungi's molecular biology, a key to better prevention and control of aflatoxin outbreaks.
  • Katrina Cornish, plant physiologist, Western Regional Research Center, Albany, Calif. She will be recognized for creativity as a researcher especially in studies of the biochemistry of natural rubber and in developing hypo-allergenic latex from guayule, a native shrub of the desert southwest. Guayule has shown promise as an alternative to the Brazilian Hevea rubber tree, the world's primary source of natural latex. Many people have serious--even life-threatening--allergies to Hevea latex.
  • Veterinarian Donald E. Corrier, Food Animal Protection Research Laboratory, College Station, Texas, is being honored for research to improve food safety of poultry products through competitive exclusion. In this technique, benign microorganisms are used to colonize an animal’s body to protect it from disease and ensure that it does not introduce pathogens into the human food supply. A product called PREEMPT was developed from this approach and is now commercially available.

The four "Area Senior Research Scientists of the Year," who will receive $15,000 in additional research support, are:

  • Robert H. Busch, a geneticist with ARS’ Plant Science Research Unit in St. Paul, Minn., will be honored for his wheat breeding research and technology transfer efforts. He is scientist of the year for the agency's Midwest Area, which includes ARS labs in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin.
  • Michael J. Kasperbauer, plant physiologist, Coastal Plains Soil, Water and Plant Research Center, Florence, S.C. He will be honored for improving the yield of field-grown crops. He is the scientist of the year for the South Atlantic Area, which includes Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina and Virginia, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Physiologist Henry C. Lukaski heads the Mineral Nutrient Functions Laboratory at ARS’ Grand Forks (N.D.) Human Nutrition Research Center. He will be honored for his work on body composition analysis and his support of younger scientists. He is the recipient for ARS’ Northern Plains Area, which includes Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.

ARS also is honoring scientists who are just building their careers. An "Early Career" awardee is recognized for making outstanding research contributions despite being with the agency seven years or less and having received the highest degree within the last 10 years.

This year, the top award in this category will go to animal physiologist John R. Dobrinsky as “Herbert L. Rothbart Outstanding Early Career Scientist of 1998.” Dobrinsky works at ARS' Germplasm and Gamete Physiology Laboratory in Beltsville, Md. He is being honored for devising the first reliable methods for ultracold storage of swine embryos. This tool will help advance breeding of swine around the world. As the outstanding early career scientist, Dobrinsky will receive $25,000 in additional research support.

Seven “Area Early Career Scientists of 1998" are also being honored. Each will receive $10,000 in additional research support.

  • Vijay K. Juneja, microbiologist, Food Safety Research Unit, Wyndmoor, Pa., for research in detecting and inactivating food-borne pathogens such as Salmonella.
  • Lisa Gail Neven, entomologist, Fruit and Vegetable Insect Research Unit, Wapato, Wash., for resourceful and creative research in developing alternatives to methyl bromide for pest control.

Individual news releases on each awardee are available on request to Jill Lee of ARS Information Staff, phone (301) 504-1627, fax (301) 504-1641, lee@asrr.arsuda.gov.

For photos available, contact ARS Photo Unit by phone at 301-504-1609 or e-mail to arsphoto@asrr.arsusda.gov.

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