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Animal Disease Research Tops List of Postdoc Awards

By Sean Adams
November 21, 1997

Improved tests to diagnose sheep and mule deer diseases top the list of 50 proposals selected by the Agricultural Research Service for its 1998 Postdoctoral Research Associate Program. ARS, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific agency, has allocated $2.5 million to fund projects selected from more than 300 proposals by researchers.

“It’s another way for us to get the most out of limited research funds,” said ARS associate administrator Edward B. Knipling. “We were impressed, as we are each year, with the high quality of the proposals.”

Each scientist whose proposal was accepted will receive $50,000 to hire a postdoc for one year for high-priority, high risk research. As part of the agency’s outreach program to attract minority scientists, ARS will supply a second year of funding for postdocs who are African American, Hispanic or Native American citizens.

This year’s top-ranked proposal is for improved tests for early diagnosis of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), diseases that infect the brains of sheep, deer, mink and elk. One form of TSE--bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)--has afflicted cows in Great Britain, causing serious economic consequences in that country.

Microbiologist Katherine O’Rourke at the agency’s Animal Disease Research Unit in Pullman, Wash., will lead the TSE project. For submitting the top proposal, O’Rourke will receive the agency’s T.W. Edminister Award. It provides full funding for a second year of postdoc research. These are among the other proposals selected for funding:

— Orville Levander at the agency’s Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center in Beltsville, Md., will test a theory that nutritional deficiencies in selenium or vitamin E could make people more susceptible to certain viral infections.

— David M. Peterson at the Cereal Crops Research Unit in Madison, Wis., will measure levels and antioxidant activities of key cancer-fighting compounds in cereal grains. The researchers will focus on flavonoids and other antioxidant chemicals in oats and barley.

— Arthur Miller at the Eastern Regional Research Center in Wyndmoor, Pa., will focus on a new type of Salmonella bacteria that emerged in 1996. The new strain, S. typhimurium, Definitive Type 104, has been linked to contaminated chicken, pork sausages, milk and beef. The scientists will study the organism’s survival potential and its resistance to antibiotics.

Scientific contact: Edward B. Knipling, associate administrator, Agricultural Research Service, USDA, Washington, D.C., phone (202) 720-3656