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Amy Vincent
ARS veterinary medical officer Amy Vincent.
Feng Gao
ARS physical scientist Feng Gao.

Agricultural Research Scientists Honored for Their Federal Service

By Jan Suszkiw
June 4, 2019

WASHINGTON DC, June 4, 2019—Amy L. Vincent and Feng Gao, both scientists with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), received the Arthur S. Flemming Award on Monday for their outstanding scientific achievements in the fields of animal health and remote sensing, respectively.  

Vincent is a veterinary medical officer with the ARS National Animal Diseases Center in Ames, Iowa. Gao is a physical scientist with the agency’s Hydrology and Remote Sensing Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland.

They were among 12 total award recipients from across the Federal government who were honored Monday during a recognition ceremony on the campus of George Washington University (GWU). Together with the Arthur S. Flemming Commission, GWU’s Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration presents the awards annually in recognition of the outstanding achievements of Federal employees with three to 15 years of service.   

"It's quite an honor to have two of our researchers honored for their achievements in the same year," commented ARS Administrator Chavonda Jacobs-Young. “Dr. Vincent and Dr. Gao are very deserving of this prestigious award and embody ARS's commitment to leveraging the very best that science, technology and talent have to offer in tackling critical needs areas."

Among her achievements, Vincent led in profiling the genetic evolution of swine influenza type A viruses (IAV) and how this affects the animals' immune responses to the pathogens. She also initiated a global nomenclature (naming) system to expedite vaccine selections, strain identification and comparisons, and studies of viral evolution and "mixing," whereby influenza strains from different host species exchange their genes.

Starting in 2008, Vincent also led the way in establishing a national IAV surveillance system in collaboration with USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The USDA surveillance system remains successful today, allowing stakeholders to analyze and monitor emerging swine influenza strains, as well as learn how they evolve genetically and compare to past virus strains that have circulated within the U.S. pig population.

This capability proved critical in 2009, when Federal and State public health officials used the surveillance system to orchestrate a multi-faceted response to U.S. outbreaks of H1N1, a new influenza strain that caused flu illness in both pigs and people and cost the U.S. pork industry over $1.58 billion in lost revenues from April to December of that year. Vincent’s contributions include developing a model system for selecting the most effective vaccines to use and avoiding strain-mismatches that can exacerbate rather than mitigate influenza symptoms in affected swine.

Gao was recognized for his outstanding work in the use of satellite imagery data to facilitate field-scale monitoring of crop and pasture conditions, water use and fluctuations in the balance of radiative energy resulting from land cover changes.

Gao is internationally recognized for his expertise in integrating data from different satellite remote sensing systems and overcoming drawbacks inherent to using them individually to produce high-resolution images and other useful data products. For example, his development of an algorithm for combining imagery from the Landsat/Sentinel-2 and MODIS/VIIRS systems into a single product enabled daily views of the Earth’s surface and the creation of vegetative indices. The indices, in turn, have helped improve monitoring of crop conditions and yield at a spatial resolution of 30 meters (the equivalent of a single pixel representing an area of ground 30 meters across).

In addition to the algorithm, known as STARFM, Gao developed a useful program known as the Data Mining Sharpening (DMS) tool. Together, STARFM and DMS have allowed for the creation of field-scale maps of water use as part of the GRAPEX project in collaboration with the Ernest and Julio Gallo Winery in Modesto, California. The aim is to explore satellite-assisted timing of irrigation for optimal grape yield and quality. The impact of Gao’s work is international in scope and includes close collaboration with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, U.S. Geological Survey and other partners.

Flemming awards are presented to winners in one of five categories. Vincent was recognized in the Social Science, Clinical Trials and Translational Research category, while Gao was honored in the Applied Science and Engineering category.

The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific in-house research agency. Daily, ARS focuses on solutions to agricultural problems affecting America. Each dollar invested in agricultural research results in $20 of economic impact.