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USDA's Agricultural Research Service Honors Scientists of the Year

Contact: Jan Suszkiw

BELTSVILLE, MD, April 24, 2024 — For pioneering studies on Influenza A Viruses in swine, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist Amy L. Baker is the agency's Distinguished Senior Research Scientist of the Year for 2024. Baker, a research veterinary medical officer at the ARS National Animal Disease Center (NADC) in Ames, Iowa, is one of 12 total ARS researchers who were honored April 23 for their scientific achievements.

“We’re so proud to recognize the outstanding achievements of these 12 scientists. They exemplify the scientific excellence and innovation that our agency seeks in delivering solutions to agricultural challenges nationally and abroad,” said ARS Administrator Simon Liu.

Baker joined the NADC in 2004 and today serves as lead scientist in the center’s Virus and Prion Research Unit in Ames. Among her accomplishments, Baker’s research on the 2009 H1N1 pandemic virus in pigs helped the swine industry address food-safety concerns in export markets. Baker went on to draw national and international acclaim for her sustained research excellence investigating the pathogenesis, diagnostics, vaccinology and interspecies transmission of Influenza A Viruses (IAV) in swine.

Baker’s systematic genetic and antigenic characterization of IAV revealed previously unrecognized diversity and established a baseline in the United States for monitoring ongoing evolutionary changes in the viruses, as well as the relatedness of U.S. isolates to those found in swine in other parts of the world. This information has also been pivotal to the improvement of commercial swine influenza vaccines.

Baker’s expertise in IAV and interspecies transmission has led to numerous speaking invitations, advisory positions and collaborations, including with USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—particularly in response to the ongoing exchange of IAV between people and pigs. Under Baker’s leadership, the NADC’s Virus and Prion Research Unit directly contributes swine IAV genetic and antigenic data to the World Health Organization’s influenza vaccine composition meetings, which are held twice annually to inform decisions on strain selection for future human influenza vaccine production.

ARS also named four 2024 Area Senior Research Scientists of the Year. They are—

ARS is also honored scientists who are in the early phases of their careers. The early-career awards recognize the achievements of ARS researchers with the agency for seven years or less.

This year, the top award in this category, the Herbert L. Rothbart Outstanding Early Career Research Scientist of 2024, goes to Revathi Shanmugasundaram (“Reva Shan”), a research biologist at ARS’s Toxicology and Mycotoxin Research Unit in Athens, Georgia (Southeast Area). Shan is being recognized for her groundbreaking work in evaluating mycotoxin levels in feed, which significantly impacts poultry-related food safety along with poultry health and productivity. Additionally, Shan is recognized for her innovative approach in developing nanoparticle vaccines to neutralize multiple mycotoxins in animal feed.

ARS honored four other Area Early Career Research Scientists. They are—

The agency also announced its 2024 ARS Technology Transfer Award winner. This Award recognizes individuals or groups who have done outstanding work in transferring technology to the marketplace.

This year’s winner is the Phosphorous Transport Reduction App Team, consisting of Jim R. Frankenberger and Chad J. Penn—both at ARS’s National Soil Erosion Research Laboratory in West Lafayette, Indiana. Phosphorus that leaves agricultural fields in runoff or drainage water can end up in water bodies like lakes and streams, compromising water quality and causing harm to aquatic life.

The team developed a software application named the P-Trap that makes it easier for users to select, design, build and evaluate phosphorus removal systems that would work best with a specific farm operation. The team’s push to expand awareness and adoption of phosphorus removal systems also extended to furnishing content for a series of training modules and providing consultations and on-site demonstrations, including on how to recycle captured phosphorus from runoff. 

Penn also lent his technical expertise to the American Society of Agronomy and the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, which developed the training modules with support from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Together with NRCS, Penn worked to devise a national standard allowing for cost-sharing of the removal systems under the agency’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

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 U.S. agricultural research results in $20 of economic impact.