USDA awards more than $2 million in grants to seven Tennessee State University Ag professors

By Joan Kite

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded more than $2 million in teaching, research and extension capacity building grants to seven Tennessee State University professors in the College of Agriculture.

The funds will be dedicated to developing research and extension activities designed to increase and strengthen food and agricultural sciences through integration of teaching, research and extension.

The seven professors, who competed in a competitive grant writing process, are Suping Zhou, Ankit Patras, Aliyar Fouladkhah, Jason de Koff, Aditya Khanal, Matthew Blair, and Hongwei Si.

“I am proud of our faculty who garnered seven awards worth more than $2 million from this highly competitive grants program,” said Dr. Chandra Reddy, dean of the college. “This is pretty much the maximum amount any institution can be awarded in one year from this particular grants program.  These research projects not only advance scientific knowledge but also train undergraduate and graduate students and prepare them for the job market.”

Zhou, a research professor in the Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (DAES), was awarded $499,999 to determine aluminum’s effects in the soil used to grow tomato plants and how growth can be improved. The project includes the creation of a Tomato Cyber Lab that will allow scientists to manage and share omics data in compliance with Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Re-usable (FAIR) principles and enable participants in different geographic locations to access instruments in real-time. This project is a collaborative effort between TSU and Delaware State University.

Patras, an assistant professor in DAES, was awarded $499,764 to further his research in food safety. Patras is specifically seeking to develop a continuous flow-through ultraviolet light-based system for the non-thermal pasteurization of liquid foods such as cranberry juice. The industrial implementation of this technology will help food companies comply with the FDA Food Safety and Modernization Act, which aims to strengthen the safety of our food system. Formal education programs for graduate and undergraduate students, as well as non-formal education programs for community stakeholders, will be developed.

Aliyar Fouladkhah, an assistant professor in DAES, is working on a collaborative effort to create a cadre of extension agents and faculty who will educate small and under-served farm communities in FSMA compliance ensuring their agricultural businesses can remain profitable. In addition, the $349,788 grant will help fund a FSMA needs assessment of producers and processors and create outreach materials for emerging entrepreneurs.

Jason de Koff, an Extension associate professor, was awarded $249,147 to help create a novel educational program that will train farmers, Extension agents, and students in drone technology and its applications in agriculture. An educational curriculum will be created to be shared with other agencies and institutions.

Aditya Khanal, an assistant professor in DAES, received $230,313 for his three-year project researching agritourism and its benefits to Tennessee. Khanal will examine and determine best business practices and the affects of demographic and socio-economic factors in this emerging industry. The project seeks to estimate the economic impacts of agritourism to the Tennessee economy.

Matthew Blair, a research associate professor in DAES, was awarded $100,000 to train with a USDA mentor at the Soil, Plant and Animal Nutrition Laboratory in Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Blair seeks to increase his knowledge in legume genetics research, an area in which he specializes.

Hongwei Si, an associate professor in the Department of Human Sciences, received $100,000 to help fund his participation in the ongoing NIFA/USDA project, “APOA2 Gene, Diet, Inflammation and Gut Health,” at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts. Si’s long-term research goal is to investigate the effects and mechanisms of healthy foods on the prevention of chronic diseases in cells, animals and humans.

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