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Newly funded ARS research at Albany, Calif., may lead to novel ways to keep fresh produce free of norovirus. Click the image for more information about it.

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Norovirus Proposal Nets Top Research Funding

By Marcia Wood
October 22, 2007

Figuring out how to prevent norovirus from clinging to fresh fruits and vegetables ranked as the top-scoring research proposal in the annual Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Postdoctoral Research Associate Program.

Norovirus causes an estimated 23 million cases of gastrointestinal disease in the United States each year. Some of these outbreaks have been associated with fresh produce, according to ARS research microbiologist Peng Tian. His norovirus research proposal topped more than 300 other entries submitted by ARS scientists nationwide in the annual competition for special funding.

In all, 50 scientists in ARS—the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency—will each receive $100,000 to fund two years of research by a postdoctoral associate they'll recruit and mentor. As the author of the top-ranked proposal, Tian will receive an additional $20,000.

This program gives promising post-docs an opportunity to work alongside high-achieving scientists who are tackling top-priority projects of national importance.

Tian will be honored at ARS' annual awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., in February 2008. He will receive a plaque naming him winner of the T. W. Edminster Award, given to the researcher who submits the highest-rated research proposal. The award is named after its founder, Talcott W. Edminster, a former ARS administrator.

Tian is in the agency's Produce Safety and Microbiology Research Unit, part of the ARS Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif. Other winners of the post-doc funding are based in labs in more than two dozen other states.

The studies being planned will span an impressive array of subjects and scientific disciplines. For example, the investigations will address the role of healthful fats in combating obesity; new options for protecting chickens, cows and other farm animals from diseases; and innovative ways to reduce the dust that's stirred up when stems, leaves and other plant leftovers are harvested for biofuels, instead of being left on the ground.

Other experiments will seek high-tech options to more quickly and accurately separate undamaged wheat or corn kernels from ones that insects or fungi have attacked.