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Ag Scientists Garner Federal Tech-Transfer Awards

By Marcia Wood
April 21, 1999

SALT LAKE CITY, April 21--Six scientists from Agricultural Research Service laboratories in Alabama, California, Florida and Maryland today will receive 1999 Awards for Excellence in Technology Transfer from the Federal Laboratory Consortium, meeting here this week.

The FLC is honoring 15 federal scientific teams and individuals at its annual meeting. The consortium, a network of more than 700 federal research laboratories, helps move technologies from these labs into the marketplace.

"The Federal Laboratory Consortium is recognizing six of our scientists for their research and accomplishments in transferring new technology to industry. The scientists' efforts are leading to new vaccines for poultry and catfish, a new fruit-fly lure and a new system for safeguarding the quality of pistachios," said Floyd P. Horn. Based in Washington, D.C., Horn is administrator of ARS, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific agency.

A trade group in Alabama and companies in five states--California, Delaware, Missouri, Oregon and Texas--and in Japan have licensed ARS technology or entered into cooperative research and development agreements (CRADAs) with ARS as a result of the scientists' work.

Horn said discoveries by ARS microbiologist Hyun S. Lillehoj in Beltsville, Md., "should lead to more effective vaccines against poultry diseases such as coccidiosis. Worldwide, this disease annually costs poultry producers an estimated $600 million." Lillehoj’s laboratory-built molecules for detecting natural immunity in chickens are licensed to Chemicon International, Inc., Temecula, Calif.

Other molecules she built reveal potentially vulnerable coccidia proteins. These are now being investigated--as possible targets of a new vaccine–under a CRADA with a poultry vaccine company. In other work, her CRADA with Novus International, Inc., St. Louis, Mo., may yield a new approach for vaccinating day-old chicks against coccidiosis. Lillehoj's CRADA with Nippon Zeon, Inc., Kanagawa-Ken, Japan, may result in a biotech-based tactic for vaccinating the birds against that disease and others.

Microbiologist Phillip H. Klesius and molecular biologist Craig A. Shoemaker with ARS in Auburn, Ala., invented a safe, effective vaccine for protecting channel catfish against enteric septicemia, or ESC. This bacterial disease causes losses of up to $50 million annually to U.S. catfish farmers.

"The vaccine is expected to reduce growers’ reliance on antibiotics that might otherwise end up in water supplies or the food chain," Horn said. Klesius and Shoemaker conducted tests of the vaccine under a CRADA with the Alabama Catfish Producers, Montgomery, Ala. The work led the way to a CRADA and exclusive license for the vaccine with InterVet, Inc., Millsboro, Del.

Chemist Robert R. Heath with ARS in Miami, Fla., developed a new attractant for use in the U.S. and abroad to detect and monitor potential infestations of Mediterranean and Mexican fruit flies--before populations of these crop pests have a chance to build up.

"The attractant has been tested in the U.S. and in more than a dozen countries, for use in survey traps, for example," Horn said. "States like California and Florida run survey traps year-round for early detection of these flies. They can infest more than 200 different fruit and vegetable crops and can cost millions of dollars to eradicate."

CONSEP, Inc., of Bend, Ore., and Plato Industries, Inc., Houston, Tex., have licenses to manufacture the attractant, Horn said.

In Albany Calif., ARS chemist Thomas F. Schatzki and agricultural engineer Thomas C. Pearson developed an automated system that packinghouses can use to find--and remove from their production lines--pistachios containing aflatoxin, a contaminant. The team’s high-speed, digital-signal-processing software and hardware are linked to sorters equipped with digital image cameras instead of conventional color sensors.

"This system allows highly accurate, real-time sorting of the nuts. That reduces losses from sorting errors, ensures edibility and increases marketability of the pistachios–especially in countries with stringent aflatoxin standards," Horn said. Prototypes are being tested at a major pistachio processing plant in central California.