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USDA Microbiologist Honored by Research Agency / February 7, 2001 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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USDA Microbiologist Honored by Research Agency

By Ben Hardin
February 7, 2001

PEORIA, Ill., Feb. 7—Christopher D. Skory, a microbiologist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service here, has won an agency award for his research on bioengineering microorganisms that may be used to convert agricultural materials into more highly valued products.

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USDA’s chief research agency, named Skory as an “Early Career Research Scientist of 2000." He’s based at the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research (NCAUR) here.

Dr. Skory has developed innovative research in fungal molecular biology. For example, he recently developed strains of the fungus Rhizopus oryzae that may one day be used for the industrial production of lactic acid from renewable resources.

Lactic acid is the building block of polylactic acid (PLA) plastic. The plastic is similar to polyethylene terephthalate or PET used in packaging.

Skory has applied for a patent on his invention which may help usher in widespread use of truly biodegradable plastic milk jugs and soda bottles that don’t hang around landfills for ages. Some of the new strains are being tested for their potential through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with Archer-Daniels-Midland Company of Decatur, Illinois.

Lactic acid and its derivatives have many uses other than for plastics. For example, lactic acid is commonly used in foods ranging from soda to sausages because it preserves, enhances flavor or imparts desired acidity. Derivatives of lactic acid such as the solvent ethyl lactate can also be used in manufacturing electronic products, cosmetics textiles, paints, adhesives, de-inkers and degreasers. Environmentally friendly, chlorine-free ethyl lactate some day could supplant most of the present 3.8 million-ton market for petroleum-derived solvents.

In other research, Skory’s made several important biotechnological discoveries that are being used by other scientists to learn how aflatoxin, a contaminant of grains and nuts, is produced by the fungus Aspergillus parasiticus. And he’s now involved in developing novel strategies that use bioengineered plants and microorganisms to improve the economics of converting agricultural biomass to fuel ethanol.

Skory was selected as the top young scientist in the ARS Midwest Area. He is one of eight “early career” scientists of the year to be recognized in a February 7 awards ceremony at the agency’s Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, Beltsville, Maryland. Each scientist will receive a plaque, a cash award and additional research funding.

“Early career” awardees have done research of potentially major impact while being with ARS 7 years or less and have received their highest academic degrees in the last 10 years.

A native of Midland, Michigan, Skory received a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree fromWestern Michigan University and a doctorate in food science from Michigan State University, E. Lansing. Since joining ARS in 1995, he has authored or coauthored 16 publications.

Scientific contact: Christopher D. Skory, USDA-ARS, National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, Peoria, Ill., phone (309) 681-6275; fax number (309) 681-6427;

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