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ARS Microbiologist Wins Outstanding Scientist Award / February 12, 2003 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Thomas E. Cleveland

National news release

News story about Cleveland’s research (Jan. 2001)


ARS Microbiologist Wins Outstanding Scientist Award

By Linda McElreath
February 12, 2003

BELTSVILLE, Md., Feb. 12—Microbiologist Thomas E. Cleveland, an international leader in the fight to eliminate harmful natural toxins from agricultural crops, has been named an “Outstanding Senior Research Scientist of 2002" by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Cleveland is the leader of the Food and Feed Safety Research Unit (FFSRU) at ARS’ Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans, La.

Cleveland’s research focuses on toxins called mycotoxins that are produced by fungi that can grow on corn, cotton, wheat and other agricultural commodities. Serious outbreaks can cause more than $1.5 billion in annual losses to producers.

“Dr. Cleveland’s leadership has helped bring cutting-edge biotechnologies such as genomics and proteomics into the fight against mycotoxins, and his successful strategies have become models that others now follow,” said Edward B. Knipling, ARS acting administrator. Knipling will present plaques to Cleveland and other award-winning ARS scientists in a ceremony today at the agency’s Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center here.

A genome is a collection of all of an organism’s genes, and genomics is the study of how genetic pathways are organized and genes are expressed. Genes produce mRNA, which directs the production of proteins, the building blocks of life. Proteomics is the study of the cellular function of proteins.

Under Cleveland’s direction, FFSRU researchers are using genomics to identify weaknesses in toxin-producing fungi and to devise gene-insertion technologies to enhance crop resistance to such fungi. They are using proteomics to identify toxin-resistance “marker” proteins in corn to aid corn breeders who’d like to grow hardier stock.

Cleveland has published 144 articles during his career. They document his groundbreaking research in cloning disease-resistance genes in plants and the discovery that aflatoxins B1 and B2 are produced by separate genetic pathway branches. Aflatoxins are a sub- group within the mycotoxin family, and they can cause sickness in humans and animals that consume them. Cleveland and his research team have developed a molecular understanding of the aflatoxin contamination process and continue to study the gene cluster responsible for contamination occurring.

Leader of his research unit since 1988, Cleveland has frequently been asked to serve as a genomics/biotechnology advisor by academia, ARS administration and industry. Recently, he led the development of an ARS Fungal Genomics Initiative for two important fungal species. Scientists may be able to stop the expression of genes that cause toxins to form once they understand how and why these genes “turn on” in the first place.

Cleveland is currently serving as an elected member of the U.S.-Japan Natural Resources Panel on Toxic Microorganisms and on the editorial board for an Annual Review in Applied Mycology and Biotechnology. He is also an Elected Fellow of the Society for Industrial Microbiology, and he is co-inventor on two U.S. patents describing antifungal gene technology--one already published and the other in the last stages of issuance. He received a U.S. Department of Agriculture Honor Award in 1998 as part of the Food and Feed Safety Group, for eliminating aflatoxin from food and feed supplies and preventing severe economic losses. He is also a member of the American Phytopathological Society.

A Leesville, La., native, Cleveland earned his bachelor of science degree in zoology from Louisiana Tech University in 1973 and his master’s in microbiology from the same university in 1975. He received his doctorate in plant pathology, with a minor in biochemistry, in 1980 from Louisiana State University. He currently resides in Mandeville, La.

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Last Modified: 2/11/2003
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