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North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University
Mind, Body & Soul:
I NSI D E
Confronting Obesity in a Faith Community
> Room for improvement in biotech education > Bioenergy Center turns grass into gas > Tackling the wheat bran challenge
19 Plant tissue culture
North Carolina A&T State University Agricultural Research Program in the School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences Dr. Harold L. Martin Sr., Chancellor Dr. Bill Randle, Dean, School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences; Administrator, The Cooperative Extension Program; Director, Agricultural Research Dr. Shirley Hymon-Parker, Associate Dean, Agricultural Research Dr. Antoine Alston, Interim Associate Dean, Academic Studies Dr. Fletcher Barber Jr., Associate Administrator, The Cooperative Extension Program Willie T. Ellis Jr., Associate Dean, Administration Produced by Agricultural Communications: Interim Director: James Parker Writer: Laurie Gengenbach Editors: Alton Franklin, Cathy Gant Hill, Laurie Gengenbach Photographer: James Parker Graphic Designer: Joshua Loftin Video Producer: Ron Fisher Technical Assistance: Teresa McRae & Stephen Charles Send change of address and correspondence to: Laurie Gengenbach Agricultural Research Program C. H. Moore Agricultural Research Station Greensboro, NC 27411 On the cover: Dr. Meeshay Williams-Wheeler, a child development expert, is leading a study of dietary habits of African Americans in a rural faith community, with an emphasis on reducing childhood obesity. Pew provided courtesy of Church Interiors Inc. of High Point. 7,000 copies of this public document were printed on recycled paper at a cost of $9,852.00, or $1.41 per copy. North Carolina A&T State University is a land-grant, doctoral research university and AA/EEO employer. Distributed in furtherance of the acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. Employment and program opportunities are open to all people regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability. North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture and local governments cooperating.
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The School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences provides opportunities for individuals from diverse backgrounds to achieve excellence in the food, agricultural, family and environmental sciences through exemplary and integrative instruction, and through scholarly, creative and effective research and Extension programs.
9 Biotech education
22 Tropical tree study
< 25 Undergraduate research
A magazine of the Agricultural Research Program in the School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University
4 Keeping the faith Family and consumer sciences researchers combine service with science to address childhood obesity in a rural North Carolina church community.
pportunities in biotech education O improvement in high schools.
An A&T survey indicates opportunities for
12 Bran new world Scientists and food engineers at the Center for Excellence in Post-Harvest Technologies are tackling the challenges of wheat bran. 16 Grass into gas biofuels industry. 19
A&Tâ€™s new Bioenergy Center will develop protocols and skills to fuel the emerging
22 Moringa research in agriculture and health.
Plant tissue culture improves efficiency of horticultural efforts.
A&T researchers are reporting preliminary data on potential of moringa
25 Undergraduate Research Scholars Program The Agricultural Research Program provides opportunities for students in the School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences to develop twenty-first-century skills. 30
SAES undergraduate research posters and presentations
Administrator’s Desk Ag research integrates with learning
recent article in USA
research and education. With projects
Today on record-breaking
that include livable design standards,
enrollment in the nation’s
grape pomace, food safety and poultry
agriculture schools confirmed
feed, these students exemplify the
everything we’ve been seeing here
connection between research and
in N.C. A&T’s School of Agriculture
education. Not only have these
and Environmental Sciences:
experiences given them opportunities
Enrollment continues to grow in
to learn, the research projects have also
our ag-related majors, mainly
enabled these undergraduates to make
because it’s becoming increasingly
genuine contributions to advance their
clear to young people that these
chosen disciplines, and to develop new
degrees provide a clear path to
knowledge relevant to North Carolinians
good paying jobs after graduation.
I attribute this enrollment trend to
the fact that the agricultural sciences
Program began in 2010 and has proven
curricula are highly hands-on and
to be a huge success: Every one of the
experiential, which means our faculty
students who have participated are
infuse their classroom instruction
now pursuing productive careers in
with knowledge about contemporary
agrisciences, either as graduate students
research discoveries in the agrisciences.
in top universities or working for
Some examples follow, in this issue of
combine hands-on laboratory and social
Most notable is our cover story
The Undergraduate Research
Our other academic programs also
on the connection between the food
sciences research with readings and
environment and obesity. According
lectures. It’s because of this combination
to the Centers for Disease Control and
that, by the time our students graduate,
Prevention, obesity is now the biggest
they have a firm grasp on how theory
health threat facing America, with
applies to the everyday needs of
65 percent of our population either
agribusiness and society. We believe this
overweight or obese. Several students in
preparation is why our graduates are
our Department of Family and Consumer
so readily recruited into rewarding jobs
Sciences are participating in an obesity
by industry, schools and government
intervention and study being led by Dr.
Meeshay Williams-Wheeler. The students
are learning consumer sciences research
states in this issue of Re:search’s article
and outreach methods, including how to
on biotechnology education: “When
design an intervention program, and how
you can use all your senses, that’s what
to conduct and analyze surveys for the
provides the best learning.”
benefit of a faith community in Halifax
I couldn’t agree more.
County that is, itself, seeking education
As you peruse this issue of
on nutrition and healthy lifestyles.
Re:search, I invite you to consider that
you are not only reading about scientific
Four profiles about student
As Dr. Chastity Warren English
participants in our Undergraduate
discovery in the public interest, but also
Research Scholars Program also
about how we prepare students for 21st-
underscore the connections between
Thought for food
Chancellor shares views on N.C. A&T’s role in
helping to feed the world in the 21st century.
greater visibility, as well as an opportunity to capture the attention of our constituents, as we continue to for International Food and Development (BIFAD), a talk about the strategic importance of our institution seven-member body comprising university chancelas a land-grant, doctoral research university. We’ve lors and business leaders who advise the United States had one meeting, in March, and one of the things we Agency for International Development (USAID) on discussed is that the agricultural universities who are agriculture and higher education issues pertinent to partners with USAID have to have sustained intervenfood insecurity in developing countries. Here’s how the tion in developing countries, both through educational chancellor views A&T’s role in issues surrounding global programs and Extension in working with farmers, and hunger and economic opportunity. Comments have been so there are great education and research opportunities edited for length. for faculty and student participation in these programs. What was your reaction to learning that President USDA increasingly promotes the development of Barack Obama wanted you to serve on the Board for local, community based food systems in the United International Food and Development? States — while USAID promotes strengthening I saw it as a great opportunity for our University smallholder farms in developing nations — as part and for other 1890 land-grant institutions to both gain of the answer to feeding a growing world population. How do these trends affect A&T? “The responsibility of being a land grant is not the agriculture school’s We’ve recently had alone. All our other core academic units — engineering, technology, quite a bit of conversation and debate in this combusiness, education, nursing, arts and sciences — all have a role munity in response to our to play in delivering on the mission to integrate public education political leaders’ request in the technical and agricultural sciences with collaborative, for permission to build a interdisciplinary research and outreach through Cooperative connecting road through Extension. Obviously the School of Agriculture and Environmental the University research Sciences is the centerpiece of that, but we all have a role to play.” farm. Prior to that, the University and school of agriculture leadership Chancellor Harold L. Martin had been discussing how Sr., who was the featured to integrate our assets, speaker at A&T’s 2012 small-farmer appreciaincluding the farm, to tion program, is a recently strengthen our land-grant appointed advisor on global mission. As part of these food issues. conversations, we’ve had an opportunity to share publicly some of the plans we’ve been discussing, and are now firming up, for an urban community food complex, using the farm as an even larger laboratory to not only educate our own students, but also the broader community of citizens who n October 2012, President Barack Obama appointed
N.C. A&T Chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr. to the Board
continues on page 33 3
video Re: email@example.com
information Re: 4
Drs. Sharon Warren Cook, left, and Meeshay Williams-Wheeler compare notes at the research site, First Baptist Church of Enfield.
Family and consumer sciences researchers combine service with science to address childhood obesity in a rural North Carolina church community.
High cholesterol and cardiovascular disease claimed the life of Paulette Garrett’s father at age 49. Now, the Enfield, N.C., mother wants to make sure her 9-year-old daughter avoids a similar fate. That is why, she says, she gladly enrolled in an N.C. A&T community-based participatory research project. “Cholesterol, high blood pressure are hereditary. As she gets older, I want her to avoid that,” Garrett said, while enjoying a fresh-fruit cup in the fellowship hall of First Baptist Church of Enfield, a small, African-American church with a congregation from the town and surrounding Halifax County. It was early on a Sunday afternoon in March, following a youth-led worship service attended by an A&T research team, which had made the 2½-hour trek
from the University’s campus in Greensboro to join the worship service and enroll volunteers afterward. As one of 20 families in the Healthy Halifax Project, Garrett and her daughter will receive health assessments and instructions on healthy food preparation and physical activity. In return, she and other volunteers agree to visits from researchers and students in their homes at meal preparation times, and on food shopping trips. During these visits, team members will interview them while also providing research-based healthy lifestyle education. The Rev. Alvin Harmon and Assistant Minister Evangeline Grant welcomed A&T’s research team, they said, because its goals are in keeping with the church’s own.
Travella Free, Cooperative Extension associate, left, and Dr. Meeshay Williams-Wheeler, right, guide Ananiyah Jeffries, 3, through a seed-planting exercise at N.C. A&T’s Child Development Laboratory. Williams-Wheeler developed the course, Nutrition and Gardening Education for Young Children, by drawing on research gleaned from the laboratory and research literature on childhood development and obesity.
“We believe in a holistic approach to ministry, to teach and reach the entire person, not just spiritually, but emotionally and physically, because a person that is physically healthy is a person that can become spiritually healthy,” Harmon said. Health ministries are nothing new in churches, which often see caring for the sick as a key part of their mission. Churchgoers say there’s a natural connection between the spiritual and physical realms: Fasting and self-sacrifice have frequently been spiritual practices in Christianity; habitually eating to excess has usually been viewed as sinful. However, nowadays, health-based ministries are expanding their reach to touch congregants old and young alike, as serious health issues associated with obesity begin to cross age boundaries. Health fairs, community gardens, healthy cooking classes and Zumba fitness classes are becoming more common in AfricanAmerican health ministries in North Carolina. Ecological systems Dr. Meeshay Williams-Wheeler, an associate professor in the SAES’s Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, leads the study, bringing to it her expertise in child development and family studies, and her knowledge of ecological-systems theory, a key concept in the family and consumer sciences discipline. Williams-Wheeler explains that the theory provides a framework for understanding how different nested layers in a child’s environment affect his or her
development — from the micro-level of immediate family, friends and church, to the macro, which could include such factors as the dynamics of a parent’s workplace. Leaving the academic language aside, WilliamsWheeler and her team convey these concepts to parents and parishioners, giving tips and ideas about ways they can shape their environment — at home and out in the community. “Even though people can only see what is in their immediate environment, what we’re trying to help them understand is that you also can be aware of what’s in the exo-system, outside your immediate environment, that affects you,” Williams-Wheeler said. “We’re not clinicians,” she continued. “Most of us are social researchers, so we’re really just trying to educate and to inform, and help them make wiser, more healthy choices working with what they have.” Healthy Halifax is an example of the growing emphasis on childhood obesity in the academic and research programs in A&T’s School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. In addition to leading the research project, Williams-Wheeler also developed a new classroom course, Nutrition and Gardening Education for Young Children, which draws students from psychology, nursing, food and nutritional sciences, child development and family studies, and other majors. “Research shows that if they grow it, kids will eat it,” Williams-Wheeler said. 5
Jenaya Wade, a graduate research assistant in N.C. A&T’s Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, conducts a survey with Zaniya Battle, 9, as the two meet in a room in the First Baptist Church of Enfield.
Some of the Healthy Halifax team’s early research efforts included three focus groups. The first drew 25 attendees; the second, 50; and the third, which incorporated a four-hour health and wellness seminar offering physical activities with children, drew 75. That growth in interest indicates that the community has been very supportive of the A&T project, Williams-Wheeler says, and adds that change is an incremental, slow process. Assistant Minister Grant concurs. A retired registered nurse, Grant started the church’s health ministry eight years ago, out of concern for the rising numbers of people she was visiting in the hospital with high blood pressure or diabetes, and stroke victims. Both she and Harmon point out positive, if small, changes. One example of a minor but positive change is the concerted effort at First Baptist to serve healthier snacks during fellowship gatherings, as a direct result of the research team’s visits, they said. Recently, someone in the women’s ministry started a weight-loss challenge. Church members also initiated efforts to work with the Enfield town administration to establish a fresh produce vending area for farmers. Zumba exercise classes also were held for a time. Both Harmon and Grant acknowledge the challenge of sustaining church programming with limited funding and volunteer-only support. 6
“We do what we can, and lead by example,” Harmon says. Poverty, access, obesity Halifax County lies within a cluster of economically disadvantaged counties in northeastern North Carolina, where a minimum of 33 percent, and, in some places, as many as 44 percent of children are growing up in poverty. Halifax County is one of North Carolina’s poorest, and unemployment was 13.6 percent in December 2012. The county ranks fifth in obesity rates and also has one of the state’s highest disease rates. In locales such as this, parents who are struggling to feed their families often rely on inexpensive, low-nutrient foods, which, although filling and satisfying in the short term, are unhealthy and fattening, with long-term health consequences. WilliamsWheeler said that during their focus groups, participants expressed concerns about the financial strain of maintaining a healthy diet, as well as a sense of discrimination in terms of access to fresh food. Participants frequently pointed out that the “better stores” always seem to be getting built a “few towns over,” Williams-Wheeler said. Although the town of Enfield itself is not a USDA-designated food desert, pockets outside its borders are. In rural regions such as this one, a food
Karsyn Green, left, and Meka Surgeon, are among the three-year-olds participating in a healthy foods activity with Dr. Meeshay Williams-Wheeler at N.C. A&T’s Child Development Laboratory.
desert is defined as a census tract in which residents must drive 10 miles or more to the nearest grocery store, whereas in urban tracts, it’s one mile or more. Harmon says that Enfield residents with cars or who live in walking distance to grocery stores have access to food – that is, assuming they can afford it. A bigger barrier than distance is poverty, he says. More than 80 percent of Halifax County children are on free or reduced-cost lunch programs. Some children may go the whole weekend with little or nothing to eat, Harmon said. Environmental factors limit people’s food choices all the more when they are economically disadvantaged, says Dr. Sharon Warren Cook, interim chair of the Department of Sociology and Social Work at A&T, and a key member of the research team. “I have a professor and mentor who always said to me, in my Ph.D. program, ‘Choice is a middleclass word.’ Meaning that money allows you to have choice,” she said. Participatory research In community-based participatory research projects such as the Healthy Halifax Project, the individuals under study are willing and equal partners in a collaboration with social scientists to solve a specific problem, within a specific context, Cook explained. Thus, its findings cannot always be generalized to other con-
texts. What works in Enfield probably wouldn’t work in inner-city Charlotte, she said. However, it might work in similar rural African-American faith communities, she added. The basis for choosing Enfield for study was a combination of need and the practicalities of gaining access to families with children. Cook was a member of the church during her childhood, and her parents still are. “Logistically, it made sense. It allowed us to establish trust and rapport early on,” Cook said. The obesity epidemic, like any social problem, demands a multifaceted approach. Complex problems in need of complex solutions are especially well suited to land-grant institutions’ tri-fold resource base of research, outreach and education to address agricultural, technical and social issues. Thus, in addition to researchers, the project includes Dr. Carinthia Cherry, nutrition specialist for The Cooperative Extension Program at A&T, who advises on the educational aspects for the project. Meanwhile, students majoring in family and consumer sciences, who are themselves preparing for social sciences and education professions, are augmenting their classroom learning through hands-on field work, as they learn how to prepare and conduct focus groups, one-on-one surveys, and data analysis. Dr. Valerie Giddings, chair of the Department of Family and 7
Tyrona Battle, right, a participant in N.C. A&T’s Healthy Halifax Project, fills out a survey with Kristin Battle, (no relation), an undergraduate research assistant. Faculty-led research projects within A&T’s School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences almost always contain an educational component for students to learn research methodology.
Consumer Sciences, is also on the team, bringing to it her expertise in designing social sciences surveys. The A&T research team for the Healthy Halifax Project is constantly mindful that lasting impact on the community is the ultimate goal, because they cannot always be there; the study is only of three years duration. Nevertheless, just one year into the project, they, as well as the ministers, Harmon and Grant, said they were beginning to see glimmers of positive trends developing. “They have actually altered their behavior in the church, and
that’s what we were looking for,” Cook said. “What we’d like to be able to infer from that is, if you have this kind of infusion, whether it is a teaching-training model about health and exercise and lifestyle, that one of the things that may occur is that you can get a group of people or community to make some lifestyle changes — and certainly if you approach them from a vortex of power like a community church.” Through snacks and meals provided at church, or through church-distributed fliers with healthy recipes, she said, “you slowly but surely impact the culture of health in that community.”
Above, Jala Whitaker, age 11, takes a water break during an outdoor physical exercise at First Baptist Church of Enfield. 8
>>> Opportunities in biotech education An A&T survey indicates opportunities for improvement in high schools.
more in the standard biology and chemistry courses in high school, because that’s when students are planning their college careers. Among those concerned about the issue is a faculty team in N.C. A&T’s Agricultural Research Program, who surveyed high school superintendents across the state on their perceptions of biotechnology. Published in the April 2012 issue of the Journal of Southern Agricultural Education Research, “An Analysis of North Carolina Public School Superintendents’ Awareness of Biotechnology and the Future of Biotechnology Education” reports on findings from 43 superintendents who responded to a survey that gauged their knowledge of biotech concepts, their perceptions of its benefits, and what they perceive to be barriers to acceptance of biotechnology. The survey finally asked them to weigh in on their opinions of the future of biotechnology education. “We wanted to get their opinions, because they are going to have to be the ones that support these types of curriculums if biotechnology is going to move forward and be sustained,” said Dr. Antoine Alston, the School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences’ interim associate dean for academic studies and coordinator of the Agriscience Education Program at A&T. Alston’s co-authors were Drs. Mulumebet Worku, Chastity Warren English and Guochen Yang.
he North Carolina Biotechnology Center reports that the state’s thriving biotechnology industry is now the fastest growing in the United States, and that employers say the skilled workforce found here is one of the major drawing cards. According to the Center, 90 percent of the biomanufacturing jobs provided by many of the state’s 530 biotech firms are filled by state residents — an indication that North Carolina is doing an excellent job of preparing a workforce to serve the manufacturing needs of the industry. Most of the options for students to learn and train for biotechnology careers occur in community colleges and universities across the state. Despite these encouraging trends, many educators feel that there are still too many gaps in biotechnology learning opportunities in the standard course of study at the high school level. While many middle schools offer biotechnology as an elective, fewer high schools appear to do so. Currently, the only area where biotechnology is strongly emphasized in high schools is as an elective course in career and technical education programs, and according to the Department of Public Instruction, just 20 of the state’s 484 high schools were teaching either Biotechnology & Agriscience Research I and II in 2011–12. Figures such as these lead some biotech education advocates to conclude that the subject ought to be emphasized
Christian Holloway of Yanceyville extracts a drop of DNA from a liquefied strawberry during a laboratory class at N.L. Dillard Middle School.
Survey results The survey indicates that superintendents are generally aware of basic concepts of biotechnology, (more than 50 percent of them gave correct answers to 15 of the 19 factual questions). A battery of true-false questions included: “Biotechnology is defined as the use of molecules from living organisms to create new products” (true); “Pharmaceutical companies currently market drugs that were developed using biotechnology” (true); “Genetically modified bacteria, fungi and plants can clean up toxic waste sites in a process called bioremediation” (true); and “Traditional livestock and crop production does not use crossbreeding or cross-fertilization” (false). The survey also highlights what respondents perceive as barriers to wider acceptance of biotechnology. Topping the list of constraints were ethical and religious concerns, as well as lack of education about the benefits of biotechnology. Concerns about equal access to the benefits of biotechnology, and issues involving labeling of genetically modified foods were also high on the list of perceived barriers. Among the benefits of biotechnology that superintendents ranked highest were “development of unique products,” “increased crop yields,” “more accurate criminal investigations,” “economic savings for consumers,” “improved methods to fight bioterrorism,” and “more effective pharmaceuticals.” 10
There seemed to be wide agreement among superintendents that industry and universities need to be involved in an advisory capacity in curriculum development at the state level — something that Alston agrees with and also recommends. “I would like to see biotechnology become part of the core curriculum, or a re-engineering of the biology course to have more emphasis on hands-on biotechnology,” he said. Biotech connects students with life Biotechnology is often described as the “toolbox” of the biological sciences. In education, that means it’s also a toolbox of hands-on laboratories, using living cells and biological material that can make biology and biochemistry come alive for students. English, a former middle school biotechnology teacher who is now an assistant professor in A&T’s Agricultural Education Program, recollects how exciting and meaningful biotech laboratories were to her students. Among the labs that she recalls impressing students most was one in which students coughed in a petri dish of growing medium. They were able to come back days later to observe bacteria growing. Another was a finger printing lab, which introduced students to some of the tools used in forensic science. “When students use all their senses, that makes some of the best learning. That’s what biotechnology is,” English said.
Stephanie Hollifield, an alumna of A&T’s Agricultural Education Program who now teaches at N.L. Dillard Middle School in Yanceyville, concurs with Alston’s assessment. “You can talk about DNA all day long, but until they see it, they don’t understand it fully,” Hollifield said one day in March, as she prepared a strawberry DNA extraction lab for her seventhgrade biotechnology class. Using nothing more complicated than ethanol, dish soap and some smashed strawberries, Hollifield guided the students through the extraction process, which culminated in students getting to manipulate the gooey strands of DNA for themselves. Rachel Barnwell of Prospect Hill said DNA did not look anything like her expectation. “I thought it would look like a seed, but it was gooey and clear,” she said. Deoxyribonucleic acid did not appear to be what Francisco Yanez of Yanceyville expected either. It’s important to understand the molecule, he said, because, “if there’s a disease that we can add or subtract to the DNA of, then it can help fight disease.”
Biotechnology resources for schools Kathleen Kennedy, the vice-president for education and training for the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, agrees that there is room for improvement in high schools. “Despite all we do, we know we still don’t reach all of them. It occupies a little corner of the standard course of study, but it’s still up to the individual teacher to see its value. It’s underutilized as a pedagogical tool,” Kennedy said. Still, the opportunity for high school and middle students is improving, thanks in large part to the Center. Kennedy estimates that a minimum of 500 North Carolina teachers at all levels are now teaching biotechnology in some form each year; that 130–140 teachers take advantage of the Center’s
Biotech 101 Biotechnology is the use of plant, animal and fungal cells or cell products such as DNA, proteins and enzymes, to make products and solve problems for society and industry. As an academic discipline, it draws on the pure biological sciences, such as genetics, microbiology, molecular Hannah Mackiborski, left, and Kamille Corbett smash a strawberry during biology, biochemistry, embryology and cell a DNA extraction lab. biology. It also uses knowledge and methods from chemical engineering, bioprocess professional development workshops; and that 325 engineering, information technology, biorobotics and teachers take advantage of the Center’s program proother sciences. As such, it is as an integral aspect of viding free laboratory supplies. 21st-century economy and education — and thus One possible reason so few agricultural education meshes well with the agricultural and technical teachers offer the stand-alone elective course in bioemphasis at N.C. A&T and the nation’s other landtechnology, Kennedy observes, is that they might not grant universities. have confidence in their ability to teach the subject. “One of the things that concerns me is that Meanwhile Alston is convinced that biotechnology with all the emphasis on STEM, we’re still not really is here to stay, and that more education will be needed. seeing the push for biotechnology education at the “Biotechnology is something that increasingly high school level like it should be,” Alston said. affects all of humankind, and whether you are into “Biotechnology just has so many implications for a biotechnology or not, you need to at least be aware 21st-century society that it’s important that our pubof it. I really think that it is important that the public lic schools and education system are on top of this is educated about biotechnology in order to make and at the cutting edge.” informed decisions about their own lives.” 11
Bran new world
Scientists and food engineers at the Center for Excellence in
Post-Harvest Technologies are tackling the challenges of wheat bran.
rowse any grocery store bread or cereal aisle and consumers’ love-hate relationship with dietary fiber can’t be missed. Bright food labels proclaiming ever higher “grams per serving” fight for attention. Despite such ongoing marketing efforts, high fiber can be a hard sell with consumers, as evidenced by reports that most Americans still don’t consume enough of it. However helpful dietary fiber may be in combating obesity, warding off cardiovascular disease, preventing diabetes — and even in preventing colon cancer — the fact remains that most consumers still put taste and texture over health when deciding what to have for breakfast or dinner. USDA reports that the average American adult eats only about 14 grams of fiber daily, which is far less than the 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men recommended by the agency’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Given that Americans don’t get enough naturally occurring dietary fiber, food product manufacturers often add it to breads, cereals and other grain-based processed foods. However, doing so in a way that appeals to consumers isn’t as simple as it sounds. The problem with added fiber is that it doesn’t combine well with other ingredients and can have a some-
what short shelf life. Off-putting flavors, dark colors and unpleasant texture have always posed a challenge to food manufacturers, and have deterred many consumers who prefer fluffy, smooth and white over gritty, brown and heavy. Confronting this dual challenge of health and palatability are food scientists at the Center for Excellence in Post-Harvest Technologies (CEPHT), housed at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis. Through basic science and novel approaches to food engineering, two CEPHT scientists are striving to develop high-fiber products for the food industry that not only win over consumers, but also could produce even stronger protection against disease than the unprocessed, whole version. Their current focus is on wheat bran, because wheat is the most prevalent grain in the American diet. In the future, they intend to apply what they’ve learned about wheat bran to fibers from other grains, including oat and corn. The chemistry of bran Dr. Shengmin Sang is a pioneer in wheat bran research, overseeing studies that are now moving ever closer to producing a complete chemical profile of its most bioactive components. Sang, lead scientist for functional foods at
Re: Dr. Shengmin Sang, left, and Dr. Guibing Chen examine a loaf of whole wheat bread.
CEPHT, described some of the progress his team has made. Some of his biggest achievements to date include deciphering the chemical structure of more than 50 of the most prevalent compounds in wheat that are also believed to be the most important for health. His research team has also reported on the effectiveness of several of these compounds in preventing colon cancer in cell cultures and animal models. “No one has ever really had a picture of what exactly is in the wheat bran, as far as what are the major phytochemicals, and whether they are the bioactive compounds or not. We’ve made a lot of progress. We’re almost there,” Sang said. In the process of unlocking the chemistry of wheat bran, Sang is adding new evidence to theories about how wheat bran really functions in colon-cancer prevention. Until recently, the theory has held that the physical properties of bran fiber are primarily responsible for its health benefits. Such properties include bulking, which curbs hunger, and absorption, which reduces fats and carcinogens that can accumulate in the colon from digested meat protein. Now, new studies in phytochemistry indicate that the bioactive
chemicals in wheat bran may also play just as important a role in cancer prevention, if not more so, says Sang, whose studies support this expanded view of wheat bran’s function in health. Research capacity Many of Sang’s achievements are due to the exceptional combination of expertise in biology, biotechnology and natural product chemistry in the Center, as well as to the advanced, state-of-the-art facilities at the North Carolina Research Campus. Thanks to these human and physical resources, Sang and his team are able to convert a sample of raw wheat bran into crude liquid extracts and then separate the samples into purified compounds. With the aid of powerful Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), researchers can figure out the chemical structures of these compounds. The purified compounds are then tested for effectiveness against cancer in petri dishes containing human colon cancer cells. In addition, Sang’s lab chemically synthesizes minor plant components or compounds that are too difficult to purify from the raw sample, and then tests their activities. To date, his team has identified more than 50 major
Scientists examine the texture of unprocessed wheat bran.
compounds in wheat bran, and tested most of them for their anti-cancer effects. Some of them have been shown to be especially effective against the growth of human colon cancer cells, and could potentially serve as chemicals used in pharmaceuticals or nutraceuticals for cancer prevention. Considering that there are hundreds of individual phytochemicals present in any given raw sample of food, the work taking place in Sang’s lab is a remarkable accomplishment, but the work at CEPHT doesn’t stop at chemistry. One of its goals is to develop protocols for industry to use in improving food products for health and disease prevention. Food engineering To make that goal a reality, Sang works with Dr. Guibing Chen, lead scientist for food engineering at CEPHT. Chen has been making progress on a novel approach to bran processing that relies on a technology known as microfluidization, which is used in pharmaceuticals and nanotechnology to produce particles at the micron and nano scale, where they become more bioactive. Chen thinks microfluidization could be appropriate for foods such as bran because the process not only appears to enhance the function of healthful chemicals identified in Sang’s lab, but also makes the bran fibers less detectable, and therefore more appealing to consumers. It is also potentially more economical than other approaches, and doesn’t involve any chemicals, Chen says. Consumers don’t realize it when they read a food label, but the process of making bran fibers more palatable and more nutritious is a feat of modern food engineering. A variety of techniques are used, including soaking fibers in alkali solutions, squeezing them through extruders, pounding them through ball mills or pulverizing them with ultrafine grinders. All have varying degrees of success, depending on the desired application. Chen’s experiment in microfluidization involves an ultra-high-pressure instrument that forces bran fibers, suspended in water, through tubes the width of a human hair. When they emerge at jet-propulsion speeds from the ends 14
of opposing tubes, the fibers collide. The result is light, porous particles, virtually undetectable to human senses. Although not nearly as small as nanoparticles, the microfluidized bran particles are still microscopic in size. From 10 to 15 of them would fit on the period at the end of this sentence. Chen reports that this process makes bran fiber better able to absorb water and oil. Preliminary findings suggest the structure also appears to make the beneficial phytochemicals, including antioxidants, more readily absorbed during digestion. That means potential exists for a product with greater nutritional value as well as more consumer appeal. “Our goal is to achieve optimal bioavailability of bioactive compounds identified by Sang’s group,” Chen says. Personal nutrition The work taking place on bran raises the question: if nutritional science already knows that wheat bran is good for us, why not just recommend that people eat their 25 grams per day and be done with it? Why delve so deep into the chemistry of food? Sang explains that the deeper purpose behind his work connects to the overarching purpose of the North Carolina Research Campus, which is to understand the connection of diet with disease. One of the ultimate goals behind the work in food chemistry, plant science, genomics, proteomics, metabolomics and product development at the Campus is to develop better functional foods, and to make strides in the new field of personalized nutrition. Improvements are needed, because the connection between diet and disease has always been extremely difficult to get a handle on. Epidemiology, the approach used, is a tedious, long process that requires recruiting a large population, interviewing them about what they eat, how much and how often, and then following up years later to find out what diseases have developed, and drawing a correlation between their dietary habits and their health status. This method has long been recognized as an imperfect tool, since accuracy depends on individual participants recollecting their food intake and
having a good knowledge of what ingredients make up the foods they eat. Today, the advancing sciences of genomics and metabolomics — subjects which are also pursued in other labs at the North Carolina Research Campus — mean that nutritional science is developing better methods for understanding how specific foods affect individuals. But to do so, the science needs a better knowledge of the bioactive components in food. That’s where Sang’s functional foods lab enters the picture. Sang’s ultimate goal is to produce information that could enable medical professionals to more easily detect food consumption in individuals — a process he describes as a “targeted metabolomics approach to identify phytochemicals and their metabolites as the exposure markers to reflect food consumption.”
The end result would be tools for epidemiologists or clinicians to use to accurately identify a person’s diet from blood or urine samples, and also tools to create personalized nutrition based on individuals’ genetic profiles. The field of personalized nutrition is still in its infancy, but researchers at the North Carolina Research Campus are optimistic, and have predicted it will be a commonplace practice in another 20 years, or even less. While Sang’s lab continues work on the science of personalized nutrition, Chen’s lab is intent on making that science available to consumers. “If you have research, you can claim that a product contains some concentration of bioactive compound to reduce disease. Otherwise you cannot. So this research can result in providing consumers with information on the benefits of functional foods,” Chen said.
Dr. Shengmin Sang, left, and Dr. Guibing Chen examine data from their experiments on wheat bran.
Grass into gas N.C. A&T’s new Bioenergy Center will develop protocols and skills to fuel the emerging biofuels industry.
gricultural scientists at N.C. A&T are
used as feedstock for so-called “second generation”
making progress toward helping North
or “cellulosic” biofuels has become the focus for
Carolina and the nation develop a
research. Such feedstocks are cheap, abundant
biofuels industry reliant on municipal
and, like miscanthus grass, can be grown on land
so researchers worldwide are working to improve the efficiency of turning cellulosic biomass such as
University’s most recent achievement in alternative
grasses and woody waste into fuel.
energy research comes in the shape of a $5 million
grant from the National Science Foundation to
we are using them, are going to be gone in the next 50 years, and the remaining will be very expensive
thermochemical transformation of biomass into
to get out of the ground. Therefore we have
hydrogen and liquid transportation fuels.
maybe 40 or 50 years to make this thing happen,”
says Shahbazi, who also serves as director of the
are also much more difficult to process into fuels,
A&T scientists have built substantial expertise and research capacity in the burgeoning field. The
unsuitable for food crops. The downside is that they
can be grown on marginal land. In recent years,
fund a Bioenergy Center, dedicated to researching
solid waste, animal waste or nonfood crops that
as corn are fairly easy to convert into ethanol and
Holistic problem solving
other liquid fuels, but governments everywhere
now recognize that food crops are not a sustainable
entity, is composed of many existing facilities and
alternative for fuel, particularly in light of recent
faculty members at A&T. The Center exemplifies
droughts and global population growth — not to
how agricultural and technical research from the
mention the ever-increasing cost of corn, which in
nation’s land-grant universities use holistic, applied,
2012 reached a record-breaking $8 per bushel.
interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving.
The journey from grass into gas that is taking place
Biomass represents the best alternative to
“We know the reserves underground, at the rate
petroleum for transportation and hydrogen fuel
Biological Engineering Program at A&T.
cells, says Dr. Abolghasem Shahbazi, director of the
new Bioenergy Center. To be sustainable, however,
“Every state has biomass in some form or other, so
biofuels must rely on garbage, animal waste or
everyone can participate in this biofuels industry.”
“It will be good for everyone,” he continued.
nonfood crops, Shahbazi adds. Sugary foods such
Consequently, inedible plant matter that can be
The Bioenergy Center, an administrative
Dr. Lijun Wang, left, explains how a downdraft gasifier was constructed for use in research on conversion of nonfood biomass into biofuels. Looking on are Dr. Ransford Baidoo, center, and Dr. Abolghasem Shahbazi.
through the Bioenergy Center is a case in point.
that are necessary for the purification of hydrogen,
so that it will be usable for fuel cells. Meanwhile,
That journey begins in a field of miscanthus
grass growing near the swine research unit at
biological engineers in the nanotechnology school,
the University Farm. The location is intentional:
including Drs. Shahbazi and Lijun Wang, are
swine waste is used to fertilize the miscanthus.
investigating new approaches in Fischer-Tropsch
Students and faculty in the Natural Resources and
technology to efficiently turn syngas vapors into
Environmental Design and Biological Engineering
liquid transportation fuels.
programs will study fertilizer rates, leading to recommendations for North Carolina farmers who
are also growing miscanthus. When mature, at
At every stop along the journey, students majoring in
about 12 feet high, the grass is cut and dried, then
natural resources, chemistry, biological engineering,
loaded into a gasifier at the farm, where, under
economics, chemical engineering and computer
heat and pressure, it is transformed into vapors
sciences will have opportunities to work closely
known as “syngas.” The process produces hundreds
with faculty mentors, applying expertise from their
of cascading chemical reactions. Thus, biological
specialty areas to the same goal: affordable, efficient
engineering faculty and students are studying ways
biofuels processing technology.
to narrow the mountain of data that will be produced
to find the parameters that will produce the most
of the Biofuels Center,” Shahbazi said. “Hundreds of
syngas with the least amount of energy. Computer
students will benefit.”
modeling will be required, which will entail calling on
the skills of A&T faculty with expertise in that field.
Abrokwah, who received his master’s in chemistry
from A&T and worked for a time as a chemist for a
Then, from the gasification lab, some cylinders
“Education is one of the most important aspects
Richard Abrokwah is one of those students.
of syngas take a short trip down from University
North Carolina biodiesel firm before pursuing a Ph.D.
Farm on McConnell Road to the chemistry and
in N.C. A&T’s Energy and Environmental Systems
chemical engineering labs on A&T’s main
Program, says he enjoys the opportunity to help advance the bioenergy industry. He
campus. Others take a turn down
echoes others in the Center, who say
Lee Street to A&T’s biological
biofuels hold the best promise for
engineering laboratories at the Joint School of Nanoscience and
addressing environmental issues,
Nanoengineering, which is
especially global warming and
housed at Gateway University
climate change. One of the biggest
challenges facing biofuels and
hydrogen production today is the
In the chemistry
laboratories, Dr. Debasish
need for affordable metal catalysts
Kuila’s team uses the
that will improve yield and fuel
syngas to test catalysts
quality without deteriorating from
they design to improve
chemical reactions, Abrokwah
the efficiency of steam
“As a chemist, I could
syngas into hydrogen.
go into pharmaceuticals or
In the chemical
chemical engineering, but
engineering labs, Dr.
my professional interest is
team is testing
My passion is for developing
the catalysts that
Kuila’s team has
catalysts for hydrogen
production,” he said.
the design of
there are so many facets to
A sample of tar, a byproduct of biofuels gasification.
“There are jobs because
bioenergy. Even petroleum 17
industries are doing research in alternative fuels,”
you need to find the optimum operating conditions.
That’s what we are trying to do here,” he said.
Findings provided by Abrokwah and other
“To produce biofuels at the best price and quality,
researchers will be published and shared with
industry and scientific communities. Economic
nevertheless growing more than 8 percent a year,
Despite the high cost, the industry is
analyses, led by Dr. Lyubov Kurkalova, will also be
according to the Department of Energy (DOE). The
conducted, because an ultimate goal for the Bioenergy
DOE reports there are more than 20,000 biofuels
Center, in addition to educating bioenergy scientists,
jobs in the nation. Checking the want ads in trade
is to improve the efficiency of biofuels production
publications such as Biofuels Digest indicates that
for industry. Therefore, A&T scientists involved in the
the greatest need is for seasoned and experienced
project intend to produce protocols that can be used
scientists and managers.
by industry for efficient transformation of biomass
to syngas, as well as transformation of syngas to
has been organized with North Carolina’s
The Bioenergy Center’s research program
hydrogen and liquid transportation fuels.
emerging biofuels industry in mind. In Sampson County, Chemtex is planning to build the nation’s
Bringing costs down
first cellulosic ethanol plant, using miscanthus
Although research has made strides and the cost of
grass, grown on fields fertilized with hog waste
production is coming down, it still costs about twice as
as its feedstock. The Biofuels Center team
much to make a gallon of biofuel as it does to make a
anticipates that information it gathers can help
gallon of gasoline, which is why research is still needed,
that industry, and others like it, take root and
grow, Shahbazi said.
In addition to the scientists mentioned in this article, the interdisciplinary research team involved in the Bioenergy Center also includes: Dr. Keith Schimmel, associate professor of chemical engineering and chair of the Department of Energy and Environmental Systems (EES); Dr. Yevgenii Rastigejev, assistant professor of math/EES; Dr. Vinayak Kabadi, professor of chemical engineering; Dr. Jianzhong Lou, professor of chemistry; and Dr. Divi Venkateswarlu, associate professor of chemistry. Find out more about the Bioenergy Center at www.ncat.edu/research/bioenergy/index.html
Dr. Lijun Wang, seated, and Dr. Abolghasem Shahbazi discuss data derived from their biofuels study, at their laboratory in the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering.
Shootlets of Alexandrian laurel take shape in the N.C. A&T tissue culture laboratory.
Propagation Protocols Plant tissue culture improves efficiency of horticultural efforts.
Potentially profitable plants Yang knew both these plants had commercial potential. Alexandrian laurel currently sells for about $29 for a gallon-sized container. Galax, meanwhile, can fetch 20 cents per leaf in the floral trade, but to date, good-quality galax can only be found in nature, which limits its potential. Another issue confronting galax in recent years is overharvesting for export markets. The U.S. Forest Service now restricts harvest for several weeks during the year to protect the natural resource for people in the region who depend on it for supplemental income. Yang says there is still a long way to go before galax is domesticated for cultivation, although he has made progress. He recently reported on temperature, light, pH and other factors that promote optimal germination of the seeds.
filler greenery. Challenge reared its head yet again a few years ago, when Janice Nicholson, owner of Gethsemane Nursery and Gardens in North Carolina, approached Yang with another tough nut to crack. Her request was how to propagate the lovely-but-recalcitrant landscape ornamental commonly known as Alexandrian laurel (Danae racemosa L. Moench).
Dr. Guochen Yang says there’s nothing he likes better than a challenge. Give him a desirable ornamental plant that defies efforts to propagate by conventional means, and that’s the research project he’s likely to sink his teeth into. That is precisely what happened some 20 years ago, when his advisor at the University of Nebraska cautioned Yang against doing his dissertation research on propagating the fiveleaf aralia through tissue culture. Too difficult to accomplish in such a limited time frame, he was told. Nobody had ever attempted such a feat. That’s all he needed to hear. By the time he graduated two years later, freshly minted Ph.D. in hand, Yang had presented the university’s landscaping department with 150 fiveleaf aralia plants, and had published a protocol for rapid propagation through tissue culture that can be used by any nursery to this day. “I like the challenge of a recalcitrant plant that has commercial potential but is very difficult to propagate conventionally,” he says. His eagerness to embrace challenge happened again after he joined the faculty at N.C. A&T and the Cooperative Extension center in Yancey County asked him to domesticate galax, a wild-growing Appalachian native with glossy leaves attractive to florists for use as
Dr. Guochen Yang checks a fully-established Alexandrian laurel at the N.C. A&T University Farm.
Although galax research is still in the early stages, any progress is good news to Adam McCurry, an A&T agriculture and natural resources technician stationed at the Yancey County Extension Center. He says galax has potential as a secondary crop for growers in the mountains, where land isn’t suitable for conventional row crops. McCurry pointed out that the research labs in land-grant universities such as A&T are, and always have been, the starting place for practically all of today’s commercial crops. “Research like (Yang’s) has the potential of moving galax up the rung on that ladder. Someone has done that for all the crops that we now grow,” McCurry said. Still, much work remains before galax would be ready to root in a greenhouse or test in an open field, Yang says. Positive results Alexandrian laurel has responded better to Yang’s propagation methods than galax, and A&T’s Division of Research and Economic Development has applied for patent protection on the process. The plant is another favorite of florists, who appreciate its bright green, arching branches that last up to a month in arrangements. Landscapers also find it desirable as a shade-loving, deerresistant evergreen, with marble-sized red berries that brighten the landscape between Thanksgiving and Christmas. 20
However, the plant is difficult to find at an affordable price, due to the difficulty in germinating, its resistance to rooting from cuttings, and its snail’s pace in growth and development. It can take six years to get Alexandrian laurel to a marketable size. With the cost of maintaining a greenhouse at $10 to $15 per square foot, per year, it’s easy to see why the plant has never quite lived up to its commercial potential. Once established in the landscape, however, Alexandrian laurel grows at a normal rate, and its shoots can be cut each year to use in floral arrangements, just as with similar evergreens. “If we could get them to a saleable size more quickly, I think there would be a very strong market for it,” Nicholson said, describing several conditions that need to be met before a plant is deemed commercially viable. “You’ve got to get it so nurseries feel it’s worth our time, and so people will feel it’s worth investing in it, and then you’ve got to have a reliable supply.” Yang says the propagation challenge has been resolved. In the glow of dozens of fluorescent tubes lighting shelves of petri dishes in his lab in Carver Hall, he shows how. Each dish or plexiglass box contains a colorless gelatin-like growing medium sprouting tiny green globs, most of them no larger than a pinky fingernail. Yang opens the Alexandrian laurel incubator and pulls out a box holding four such globs. Closer inspection reveals scores of minuscule sprouts. Each glob came from one seed, and each of those tiny sprouts is a potential plant, he explains.
Using conventional propagation, that same seed would take up to 18 months to germinate and six years to grow into a single marketable, gallon-sized container plant. That is, if it germinated at all. Seeds from Alexandrian laurel typically have a 20 percent germination rate. Yang, though, has increased the rate up to 80 to 100 percent and reduced the timeframe to just 2½ months. Another advantage is that dozens of plants can be induced to grow from just one seed, he says. Advantages of plant tissue science Plant tissue culture, a specialty within plant biotechnology, began in the early 1900s with experiments on growing plants from a few cells. The technology gathered steam in the 1960s, as scientists made new discoveries about plant hormones and the behavior of different plant cells, and developed new techniques for keeping cells growing and reproducing in the laboratory. Today, a single technician in a modern tissue culture lab can produce unlimited numbers of plants by nicking off a sliver from a single stock plant that takes up no more than a square foot or two of greenhouse space, and then apply tissue culture protocols that researchers such as Yang have published. Plant tissue culture requires far less labor, energy, and resources than conventional propaga-
tion. Other advantages include the potential to rescue rare and endangered plants, and to aid in developing new cultivars that will be needed for food, as global warming alters the planet’s climate, Yang explains. Plant pharmacology is also beginning to apply tissue culture and plant biotechnology to its need for plant components from medicinal plants. Bioreactors enable the industry to quickly and efficiently cultivate and harvest the same amount of plant compounds, using far less energy than growing acres of medicinal plants would require. However, getting a wild plant to a state where it can be propagated and grown with tissue culture requires years of painstaking research to find the right protocol. Light, nutrients, plant hormones, pH, growth medium, temperature and many other variables are involved in coaxing a few cells to reproduce in a bioreactor, or coaxing a recalcitrant seed to reliably germinate and produce dozens of plantlets. All these factors help explain why jobs in plant biotechnology are plentiful and expected to increase, Yang says, adding that even during the recent economic slowdown, companies were continuing to hire graduates with experience in plant biotechnology. “For students who want to work hard, the jobs are definitely there,” he said.
Yang checks germination of Alexandrian laurel seeds in test tubes.
Moringa research A&T researchers are reporting preliminary data on potential of moringa in agriculture and health. moringa has antibacterial, antifungal, anti-parasitic
have been mainstays of traditional medicine
and anti-inflammatory properties. One study found
and nutrition in Asia and Africa for many years.
that moringa products significantly reduce blood
In the past decade, moringa has also earned consid-
sugar in men taking 8 grams (about 1½ teaspoons)
erable interest from the burgeoning nutraceutical
of powdered leaf a day for 40 days. Studies have
industry, as well as from the phytochemical research
found that moringa leaves increased milk produc-
tion in cows and in breast-feeding women, and also
that extracts used as a foliar spray on vegetable
American researchers have also taken an inter-
crops improve yields.
the claims about moringa reported in other regions
shells can be ground up and used as an inexpensive
of the world can be validated in North Carolina, and
aid in water purification because ground shells
they have secured a seed grant from USDA’s Evans-
seem to attract contaminants in polluted water and
Allen program to gather preliminary data on its
then coagulate into larger particles that are more
performance as a crop, as well as its nutritional and
easily filtered. Because of moringa’s many reported
therapeutic effects on livestock and its applications
attributes, combined with the fact that it is a hardy
in food safety.
and fast-growing tree that requires little water or
fertilizer, it has won the favor of some international
est in recent years, including a team in N.C. A&T’s Agricultural Research Program. They want to see if
he leaves and roots of moringa, a tropical tree,
inga does indeed offer an astonishing array of ben-
development agencies, which see it is an effective
efits for health, environmental protection and crop
weapon against malnutrition and a potential cash
production. Many scientists have reported that mor-
crop for developing nations.
inga’s leaves are nutritionally complete, meaning
that they contain virtually all the vitamins, minerals
market nutraceuticals, moringa is often touted as
and amino acids (the building blocks for protein)
the “miracle tree.” Researchers on the moringa
that are required to sustain human life. Studies
project at A&T are taking a wait-and-see attitude
published mainly in Asian journals report also that
before seconding such claims, but given the amount
Studies from other regions suggest that mor-
Moringa advocates also report that the seed
To its advocates, and especially to those who
Dr. Radiah Minor, left, and Dr. Joshua Idassi examine moringa seedlings in one of N.C. A&T’s greenhouses. Moringa is a tree that is being researched for its potential as an animal feed crop for North Carolina.
of interest moringa has generated in recent years, they
specialist with The Cooperative Extension Program at
agree it is worth closer scrutiny.
A&T. Together with Minor, the team is studying mor-
inga’s health effects on goats, sheep, pigs and cows at
“Without proof, we should not believe claims
made on its behalf, but on the other hand, I also feel
the University Farm, and also in mice.
there is enough anecdotal evidence that it’s worth
pursuing,” says Dr. Radiah Minor, an animal sciences
at A&T, is comparing the phytochemicals from extracts
researcher who is leading the study. Her own findings,
of moringa taken from plants grown in Ghana, in
which she developed in mouse models with Dr. Jenora
Winston-Salem and at the University Farm. Plant phy-
Waterman, also in the Department of Animal Sciences,
tochemicals, or “metabolites,” are the result of a plant
Jahangir Emrani, assistant professor of chemistry
reacting to various stressors in its environ-
indicated anti-inflammatory effects on the
ment, whether from heat, pathogens,
or soil chemistry, he explained. It’s
“So far, the anecdotal reports
outnumber the scientific, and
a happy accident that the same
before we can recommend it
components that function to
as a crop, we need to know
protect the plant are also
more about how it performs in
often the same chemicals
North Carolina, and before we
that can be used in therapies for animals or humans.
can claim any health benefits, those have to be scientifically validated,” she said.
Ground moringa leaves
“Plants don’t produce
these chemicals because we want to use them to treat dis-
ease,” Emrani said.
Dr. Leonard Williams, microbiologist and
lead scientist for food safety research at A&T’s Center for Excellence in Post-Harvest Technologies,
“They produce them for their own
bases his optimism about moringa’s potential
And the kind of metabolites plants produce, as well as the amount, is a function of the
on the published reports, some of which
pathogens and climatic stressors to
his own lab at the North Carolina
which they are exposed. For this
Research Campus are beginning to
reason, the same plant spe-
cies that is grown in different
“It could potentially serve
regions can have a widely
as a natural alternative for
different chemical profile,
many medical conditions
he said, which explains
associated with chronic infec-
why research needs to be
tions, antimicrobial resistance
conducted on North Carolina-
and other public health-related
issues,” Williams wrote in an editorial published in the February 2013
liminary data he’s collected so far,
issue of the Journal of Medicinal and
after running moringa crude extracts
Meanwhile, Dr. Malumebet “Millie” Worku has
grown moringa plants. Emrani is impressed with the pre-
through high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC).
gathered data in vivo (in animal studies), and recently
reported some encouraging preliminary data suggest-
many peaks, it looked like a forest,” he said, describing
ing that moringa has an anti-inflammatory effect on
the graph the instrument produced. Emrani estimated
some species, but that much more study is needed.
about 50 peaks, each one corresponding to a different
Other animal researchers collaborating on the mor-
compound of interest. The chemical structure of each
inga study are Drs. Abraham Woldeghebriel, and Niki
compound, and how they function in health remains to
Whitley, who is both a researcher and an animal science
be seen, and would take much more research to discover.
“Oh my goodness, my chromatogram had so
Dr. Radiah Minor prepares a sample of moringa.
Cooperative Extension role Agricultural research such as the type taking place at A&T is, almost by definition, highly integrated and interdisciplinary. Successful projects combine the tripartite mission of research, education and outreach that are the hallmarks of A&T and its sister land-grant universities across the United States. Projects include basic and applied science in laboratories and field trials, usually representing diverse disciplines; classroom education which gives students hands-on experience in real-world research methods, and outreach to farms and other agricultural industries through Cooperative Extension.
The moringa project is a prime example. While
animal and food scientists gather data on moringa’s health attributes, Dr. Joshua Idassi, natural resources specialist for The Cooperative Extension Program, is approaching it from the standpoint of production agriculture. Although it is a tropical tree, moringa grows so fast that it could serve as an annual in integrated agroforestry systems, Idassi says during a tour of his agroforestry demonstration site at the University Farm.
In one section of demonstration, rows of
These moringa seedlings could grow into a tree as tall as 20 feet. Its nourishing leaves are harvested and used as nutritional supplements for humans, or feed for animals. Crushed seeds are also valued for oil or for use in water purification.
dormant pecan trees alternate with rows of leafless twigs sticking up from the ground — the only sign left of the previous year’s moringa alley crop. Nearby, a 20-by-30-foot high-tunnel holds the dried remnants of 80 to 100 moringa trees. Idassi explains that as spring approaches, he will be looking very carefully for signs of new shoots emerging from what appear now to be dead plants. The hope is to develop cold-hardy varieties that can withstand North Carolina winters with little protection.
“Now we know we can grow them here,” he
says. “But the question is, how can we optimize production?”
Idassi is planning a larger, multidisciplinary
research project that will enable him to answer that question, and others, including how moringa functions in animal health.
“There is already a market for it overseas and
on the Internet, so we think it could be a good alternative crop,” he says.
Dr. Joshua Idassi confers with Dr. Radiah Minor.
Undergraduate Research Scholars Program The Agricultural Research Program provides opportunities for students in the School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences to develop 21st-century skills. For information on applying to the program, please contact the Agricultural Research Program at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Discovering career options
Research is all about discovery. For Alani Adkins, a senior majoring in food and nutritional sciences, research has also meant discovering life options that she never knew existed. As a teen, she never considered a career in science, but after getting a taste of it as an Food and nutritional sciences major Alani Adkins, right, works with Dr. Salam undergraduate research scholar in the Agricultural Ibrahim on a food microbiology experiment. Research Program, Adkins now thinks research and specialty is food safety and probiotics, has solidiproduct development, with a focus on food fied a reputation in A&T’s ag school for drawing safety, might very well be in her future. That’s forth young talent in food sciences, and for giving quite a departure from just a few years ago, many young scientists opportunities for hands-on when she thought she’d go to a two-year culinary research projects. In fact, it was Ibrahim who first school after high school, and study to become a spotted promise in Adkins, and encouraged her pastry chef. to apply to the demanding, but highly rewarding, Her mother encouraged her to get a fourUndergraduate Research Scholars Program. year degree instead and Adkins agreed. As she “I always look for really serious students who reflected on her undergraduate experience, are interested in advancing in their professional Adkins said she had no regrets. Food safety, a life,” he said. “Food microbiology is a small comfield that relies on microbiology, is particularly munity of scientists. We all know each other, so interesting to her. it’s important to have a good reputation in the “If you work for industry, you get to help a field for producing top-notch students.” lot of people, instead of just one,” Adkins said. During the program, Adkins discovered and She developed the career focus while workreported on the effects of cinnamon and caffeine ing in Dr. Salam Ibrahim’s food microbiology lab in reducing E.coli bacteria. Before she could do in Carver Hall, a place that is always buzzing that, however, she had to learn how to create with bright students. Ibrahim, whose research bacterial cultures, how to get them to survive and
reproduce in the lab, and how to develop mutant strains. Naturally, she also learned the importance of safe lab protocol. “You have to be very careful in a lab,” Adkins said. “Things you take for granted like touching your face or scratching an itch, you can’t do.” The experience also involved travel to a professional conference in San Jose, Calif., to report her findings, a summer internship at Michigan State in East Lansing, and writing a manuscript in hopes of getting published. Again, Adkins says, she has no regrets about having to work so hard. Having the research experience has opened more financial aid options, she said. Now, she is looking forward to graduate school. Maybe even a Ph.D. is in her future, she says. “Since I’m doing research, I’ve found I have more opportunities,” she said.
People in places Erin Daniels discovered that asking a compelling question can be as important in landscape architecture research as coming up with a solution.
Her experience as an undergraduate research scholar brought that lesson home. “I kept coming back to her (Daniels’ faculty mentor, Anna Reaves, assistant professor of landscape architecture) with really broad topics, like ‘green infrastructure,’ or ‘stormwater management,’ and she said, ‘That’s really broad; I need you to come up with a topic that you can really quantify.’ ” The task was especially challenging because, unlike many other agricultural and environmental sciences disciplines, landscape architecture does not have a substantial body of research literature to draw upon for inspiration. So Daniels spent her early weeks in the program reading everything and anything about current issues in the field. That’s when she stumbled on an article about livable communities, a concept that the landscape architecture profession is struggling to develop methods for measuring. “I thought, ‘that’s interesting. I don’t hear them saying the same thing about campuses. I wonder if you can actually determine if a campus is livable, or if you can even evaluate livability?’ At the time, I didn’t even know if there were standards.”
Landscape architecture major Erin Daniels, foreground, and Assistant Professor Anna Reaves, discuss Daniels’ design for the livable campus.
Daniels set about finding out, and learned that there are indeed objective standards for measuring site performance, including Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) as well as a set of standards known as Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES). Both sets of guidelines assist designers in creating landscapes and buildings that function well from environmental and economic perspectives, as well as from the standpoint of human well being. However, Daniels discovered them to be somewhat lacking in methods for evaluating livability from the subjective standpoint of those who use the space. To address this gap, she researched methods to gauge how people perceive livability, using the A&T quad as a model, since it is a popular outdoor gathering space for students. Along the way, she had to photograph and draft illustrations of the space, create a survey, compile the data from student responses, and prepare a professional presentation, which she delivered to the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture in Austin, Texas. She also had to go through the A&T University’s Institutional Review Board training and application process, which is a requirement for any student or scientist who involves human subjects in their research. The result of her survey indicated that A&T students find the quad to be livable, based on the rating system Daniels developed to measure comfort, and opportunities for relaxation, discovery, fun and passive and active engagement. That result is, in itself, an interesting piece of information, but not as significant as the real purpose of her project, which was to propose a starting place for the profession to develop a method for determining campus livability. That’s where her project is likely to have its greatest impact. Undergraduate research scholars are expected to contribute new knowledge to their disciplines, and Daniels succeeded in doing so, observed Reaves. “I learned from her that this is an area that is really lacking in our field,” she said. Daniels, meanwhile, says she learned that reading and communication are as important to research as investigation. The Undergraduate
Research Scholars Program also helped solidify her desire to focus on community design. “This project has shown me that community, and what the community thinks matters. Too often it happens, like it’s happening up the street, where there’s a large parcel where they’re building a really large bank, and we’re all wondering, ‘Why a bank? Why not a park or a playground, or community gardens or something?’ They didn’t ask the community, and that’s something I want to change, to get people more involved in what actually happens in their community.”
Research experience broadens options for scholars The Undergraduate Research Scholars Program has broadened the career options available to Vacques Hines of Maxton, an animal sciences major who will be attending the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine in fall, 2013. Now that he understands more about research methodologies, he might even consider getting a master’s or a Ph.D. at some point, he says. “It’s been a really good experience, and I would recommend it to anybody who is willing to work hard,” he said, while taking a break from counting oocysts (parasite eggs) in the laboratory animal research unit in Webb Hall. The activity was the culminating task in a morning spent collecting and labeling chicken fecal samples at the Poultry Research Unit at the University Farm, followed by a trip back to Webb Hall. There, he weighed and mixed each sample into liquid solutions; mounted the solutions onto glass slides; and, finally, peered into a microscope to count the eggs and record the numbers. Coccidiosis is a common parasite found in poultry, and counting the number of oocysts is a good method for gauging the overall health of a bird, he explained. But there was a larger purpose than an academic exercise. The overarching purpose was to learn more about the effectiveness of an antibiotic-free poultry feed that N.C. A&T is developing from exotic mushrooms. Hines was participating in an ongoing research project 27
Vacques Hines, right, an animal sciences major, and Dr. Willie Willis, left, discuss a poultry feed experiment.
involving a multidisciplinary team that includes microbiology, mycology, and animal science researchers such as him. Leading the project is Dr. Willie Willis, a poultry scientist and Hines’ faculty mentor. Studies thus far indicate that poultry feed that has been inoculated with certain species of mushroom spawn can improve animal health, Willis said, adding that Hines’ work has added new knowledge to the endeavor. Such activities as this one are all in a day’s work for undergraduate research scholars in the School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. In addition to learning laboratory protocol and techniques, Hines said the experience helped him improve his writing and speaking skills. Among the duties of an undergraduate research scholar are writing up results and presenting them to the scientific community at seminars and professional conferences. Hines attributes much of his academic success to the supportive environment in the Department of Animal Sciences. “I enjoyed being surrounded by people who 28
had the same interests as I did, and wanted to succeed in life,” he said. Although he won’t be part of the continuing research into mushroom-based poultry feed, because he’ll be busy pursuing a doctorate in veterinary medicine (DVM) over the next four years, Hines said it’s nevertheless satisfying to know that the work he has conducted at A&T might one day help poultry farmers and consumers who are concerned about antibiotic residues in food. “To me, the best thing is seeing the results of research,” he said.
Research becomes valueadded experience for scholar Ivy Smith’s experience as an Undergraduate Research Scholar didn’t stop with a bachelor’s in food and nutritional sciences. It also paved her way into N.C. A&T’s master’s program in the same discipline. The undergraduate experience expanded her mind and opened new doors to her future, she says.
“Food science is so much broader than I first thought. There are so many opportunities, new fields to be developed and grow in,” she said. The Aggie experience also provided opportunities to sharpen skills that she expects to need in a future career in research or food product development. As an undergraduate research scholar, she interned at Cargill Kitchen Solutions, and traveled to major cities across the United States to present her research at professional conferences. Her independent research project has concentrated on the health attributes of grape pomace, an underutilized wine industry byproduct. Pomace comprises the peels, stems and seeds that are left over after the juice is pressed from grapes for winemaking. To the dismay of winemakers who realize that pomace is packed with fiber and antioxidant polyphenols — the biochemicals in grapes that confer health and give them color and flavor — wineries have few uses for pomace after that point. Smith’s research didn’t stop at just reporting on the healthful attributes of pomace. With the ongoing help of her faculty mentor, Dr. Jianmei Yu, Smith conducted research in food product development that uses grape pomace as an ingredient in a bread recipe, then evaluated the sensory quality and consumer acceptability of the breads containing pomace at A&T’s sensory testing laboratory. She reported encouraging results. For instance, the flavor of some samples met with a generally favorable response from the 15-member focus group, which also indicated the color was not off-putting. The purpose of Smith’s project, like all agricultural research at A&T, is more than an academic exercise, explained Yu. Through documenting the healthful attributes in food, industry can use that information to make wise marketing and product development decisions. Pomace is but one example of the valueadded research taking place in A&T’s food-science labs for the benefit of North Carolina farms and agricultural industries. Work continues on improving the value of peanuts, including hypoallergenic peanuts, a project that Yu also
leads. Previous studies in the food science labs have found alternative uses for pecan shells, sweet potato skins and other food industry byproducts. If food or beverage industries one day take an interest in pomace, consumers could benefit from the fiber and nutrients found in pomace, and North Carolina’s wine industry could find a market for this underutilized byproduct of the grape press, Yu said.
Ivy Smith, right, a food and nutritional sciences major, and Dr. Jianmei Yu work in the lab on a grape pomace project.
“There are more than 100 wineries in North Carolina, most of them small. If they could find a market for pomace, it could provide additional revenue,” she said. Undergraduate research is a valuable opportunity to provide real-world experience that not only builds technical skills, Yu added, but helps students learn to be organized and responsible, as well as to work independently and think critically, all of which are important to employers. Smith agrees with that assessment, saying the experience helped her grow. “I feel everyone should do some kind of research. If you’re willing to work, there’s a place for you here,” she said. 29
Posters and Presentations Agricultural Research Program at
N.C. A&T State University SAES undergraduate research posters and presentations The School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences provides opportunities for undergraduates to engage in independent, hands-on research, under the guidance of faculty mentors. Following are posters and presentations that undergraduates completed in the 2012–13 academic year: Department of Family and Consumer Sciences Antimicrobial activity of caffeine alone or in combination with cinnamon against Escherichia coli O157:H7 in laboratory medium, and survival and changes in cell morphology of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in the presence of caffeine
Alani Adkins, R. Gyawali, Dr. R. Minor and Dr. Salam A. Ibrahim, faculty mentor
In these two projects, Adkins and other researchers in Dr. Salam Ibrahim’s Food Microbiology Laboratory tested caffeine and cinnamon against E. coli O157:H7. They found that each substance had some effect on reducing the growth of E.coli, but that the two substances together were more effective than either one alone, thus suggesting that the combination could deliver a synergistic effect. Food safety is an ongoing emphasis in N.C. A&T’s food science laboratories, and Ibrahim’s students often research and report on various natural products that can be used to minimize food-borne pathogens. Develop a Comprehensive Laboratory Medium for the Routine Enumeration of Bifidobacterium in Probiotic Samples Amira A. Ayad, R. Gyawali, S.H. Abu Hafsa, D.A. Gad El-Rab and Dr. Salam A. Ibrahim, faculty mentor
The purpose of this study was to develop a laboratory growth medium for bifidobacteria, which is a genus of healthful microbes used in probiotic foods and animal feed. One of the issues in researching bifidobacteria is the difficulty in getting samples to survive in the laboratory. The medium developed by students in this project was successful in enabling samples to survive. Developing a food protection and defense educational curriculum for students Marcella Cheek-Crook, Mehrdad Tajkarimi, Rabin Gyawali, Saeed Hayek and Dr. Salam A. Ibrahim, faculty mentor
This project is aimed at creating a new college curriculum to educate food sciences students about safeguarding food supplies from bioterrorist threats. During the project, Cheek-Crook assisted in developing high school workshops, reference materials and three college courses on this topic. She and 30
Ibrahim’s team also developed a reference manual on food protection and defense, and delivered workshops to high school students. Impacts of Food Proteins on the Thermal Stability of Polyphenols Extracted from Muscadine Grape Pomace Shuang Ji, Zhenglin Luo and Dr. Jianmei Yu, faculty mentor
In food product development, the interaction between food ingredients plays a vital role. In this study, Ji and other researchers investigated the interaction between components of grape pomace and four food proteins (including albumin, egg white, soy protein and whey protein), as well as the effect of these proteins on the stability of flavonoids and anthocyanins — two types of healthful phytochemicals that are found in pomace. This study shows that some food proteins can be used as carriers and protectors of grape pomace polyphenols during functional food development and thermal processing. More study will be conducted to investigate the influence of food proteins on the individual polyphenols of grape pomace extract. Comparison of dietary fiber and polyphenol composition of grape pomaces from four grape cultivars grown in North Carolina Ashley McMillan, Ivy Smith, Dana Lucas and Dr. Jianmei Yu, faculty mentor
Grape pomace is a common and underutilized byproduct of North Carolina’s growing wine industry. In this study, McMillan and other students working on Dr. Jianmei Yu’s food science research team characterized some of the important properties of grape pomace, which is a substance comprising the peels, stems and seeds that remain after pressing the juice from wine grapes. Researchers identified the amount of dietary fiber and healthful phytochemicals found in pomace from four different wine grape cultivars. They concluded that grape pomace could serve as a source of dietary fiber and antioxidants in functional food development to reduce some health risks and increase the shelf life of the products.
Ayleena Daniels models a newspaper dress designed by Keisha Liburd during a recyclables fashion show organized by Fashion X-cetera, a student organization for fashion merchandising and design majors in the School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. In preparation for the show, students conducted research into ways the fashion industry is “going green,” a trend which includes sourcing renewable and sustainable raw materials that are used in fiber processing, dying and printing.
chickens. The study suggested that neither the amount of spawn nor incubation time adversely affected the performance traits of the birds. The feed could be a healthier feed alternative for poultry confinement operations that rely on sub-therapeutic antibiotics. Evaluation of the Effect of Probiotics on Gastrointestinal Parasite Levels in Goats Tiffany Martin and K.B. Gyenai, M. Tajkarimi, Dr. Salam A. Ibrahim and Dr. Malumebet “Millie” Worku, faculty mentor
Department of Animal Sciences Oral Presentations:
Antioxidants Reduce Swine Housing Dust-Mediate Stress and Toxicity in Porcine Tracheobronchial Epithelial Cells Caresse L. Gerald, with C.N. McPherson, T.C. McDaniels, and Dr. Jenora T. Waterman, faculty mentor
Agricultural dust can pose health issues for animals and workers, especially in confined animal feeding environments. Gerald and other students conducted experiments with porcine epithelial cells to examine the potential of the herb sorrel to ease inflammation of airways. In the process, they learned methods in molecular biology and statistical analysis. Findings indicated that feed supplements containing sorrel may reduce inflammation caused by dust in swine confinement facilities. Effect of Incubation Time and Level of Fungus Myceliated Grain Supplemented Diet on Growth and Health of Broiler Chickens Vacques Hines, with Dr. O.S. Isikhuemhen, Dr. Salam A. Ibrahim, J. Jackson, S.L. Hurley and Dr. Willie Willis, faculty mentor
In this study, Hines and faculty continued to experiment with an antibiotic-free poultry feed that N.C. A&T is developing, through incorporating mushroom spawn into grains. Prior research has shown that the mushroominoculated feed confers health benefits on broiler chickens, but that the incubation time the feed has to undergo can change other properties of the feed, including protein content. Thus, in this study the researchers sought to discover if different incubation times and levels of mushroom spawn had any effect on the health of the
Meat goats represent the fastest-growing livestock industry in North Carolina, and N.C. A&T researchers are working on providing the industry with solutions to the management issues that farmers encounter, including parasites. In this study, Martin and other researchers on Worku’s research team examined the effect of probiotic treatments on the levels of common goat parasites. Although the results showed that the six-animal treatment group experienced an increase in parasites compared to the control group, researchers concluded that further studies with more animals are needed. Poster presentations:
Learning and Optimizing ELISAs for Evaluation of Immunoglobulins in Mouse Serum Kiana Chrisp and Dr. Radiah Minor, faculty mentor
Through testing samples of moringa tea on mouse blood serum, Chrisp learned how to use ELISA assays, which are laboratory kits used for detecting proteins and antibodies in samples of blood serum. In the process, she produced a procedure that could be applied in further studies on moringa, which is a tree that N.C. A&T researchers are studying for potential applications in animal nutrition and natural therapeutics. The study is part of the ongoing effort by animal scientists at A&T to achieve a better understanding of animal immune systems. The overarching goal of such research is to promote healthier livestock, give the livestock industry better tools for producing superior breeding stock, and ultimately, to reduce the over-reliance on antibiotics in livestock industries. Growth and Back Fat Thickness of Berkshire (Sus Scrofa) Reared Outdoors Kendra Esparza-Harris, Freddrianna McElveen and Dr. S.-H. Oh, faculty mentor
Posters and Presentations This project is a continuation of N.C. A&T’s ongoing research into management strategies for pasture-raised pork production. The objective of this study was to evaluate several performance traits of Berkshire pigs that had been farrowed outdoors and raised in deepbedded hoop houses. Esparza-Harris and McElveen compared the performance of litters farrowed in different seasons, and reported that the fall/winter farrowing produced better survival rates and higher birth and weaning weights than the spring/summer farrowing. Comparison of Outdoor Farrowing Huts Based on Temperature Vulnerability Freddrianna McELveen, K. Esparza-Harris, W. Choi, N. Nassif and Dr. S.-H. Oh, faculty mentor
In recent years, a niche market has developed for pasture-raised pork, but there is little research on management techniques for producers seeking to serve this market. One of the issues livestock producers must contend with is heat stress on the animals. Therefore, one of the most important factors in outdoor management systems is shade. In an effort to provide more research-based recommendations for growers, McElveen and Esparza-Harris collected data on three common styles of shade huts for swine. The research team they were part of logged temperature, humidity and other variables, and then developed a model from the data that could be applied toward evaluating the performance of shade huts in different environments. Comparing Growth and Feed Intake of Piglets born of Sows that Consumed Yeast Culture and Oat Supplemented Diets
Mykea McKnight, Kristen Locke and Dr. Radiah C. Minor, faculty mentor
Research indicates that diets of mothers affect growth and health of their young and the healthful attributes of feed containing probiotics have been documented. Furthermore, prebiotics are also known promote health. Therefore, McNight and Locke studied the effect on offspring of oat (a probiotic) and yeast (a prebiotic) in the sow’s feed rations. The study found that piglets born of sows that consumed oat, but not yeast, weighed more at birth and lost less weight during the two weeks post weaning, compared to piglets born of sows that were fed conventional rations. In addition to giving students the opportunity to practice research methods, the study provides additional evidence that probiotics could be beneficial in livestock production. Evaluating Pellet and Mash Myceliated Grain Diets on Performance of Young Broiler Chickens Mark Paylor and Dr. W. Willis and Dr. O.S. Isikhuemhen, faculty mentors, and F. Anike
Paylor and other researchers continued to study a grain-with-added-mushroom poultry feed that is under study at N.C. A&T as a potential alternative to conventional poultry feeds that contain antibiotics. One facet of the study was a comparison of pelleted and mash mushroom feed with conventional pellets and mash feeds, without mushrooms. Researchers reported that feed conversion and body weights were improved with both pelleted feeds, and no significant effects were observed from the addition of mushroominoculated feed. The study adds to the knowledge base that is being developed around mushroom-grain poultry feed.
A “Socrates” cucumber variety is grafted onto a disease-resistant “Triumph” cucumber rootstock at the N.C. A&T University Farm, where research continues on vegetable grafting as a means to increase yield and reduce soilborne diseases.
continued from page 3 are interested in techniques for growing foods organically in urban settings. That would allow us to create a center of excellence in this area. This connects, in my mind, back to our land-grant mission and the opportunities we have to develop collaborations through USAID, BIFAD and other land-grant universities. Does agricultural biotechnology play a role in the future of our food and energy needs? Yes. Through my involvement as former co-chair, and now as a member of the state’s Agricultural Biotechnology Advisory Council, and certainly with agriculture generating $70 billion annually and employing 17 percent of our workforce in North Carolina, I’ve seen that our political community fully understands and embraces the importance of agriculture to our state, and clearly understands the growing opportunities through ag biotechnology. A recent study predicts agricultural biotechnology contributing upwards of $30 billion on an annual basis to our state’s economy. And so, just as BIFAD focuses on ways universities can help developing nations, this council has focused on developing strategies to take full advantage of the universities in our state, which includes two great land-grant institutions, A&T and N.C. State, to generate new biotechnology industries. In your public comments, you frequently mention A&T’s legacy as an 1890 land-grant institution. Why is that important? One concern I had as we were developing our strategic plan is that a number of our constituents had forgotten that we are a land-grant institution. The question I get is, ‘Should we be embracing that so aggressively as part of who we are?’ I say, ‘absolutely.’
I mention it all the time. But the point I want to make is that the responsibility of being a land grant is not the agriculture school’s alone. All our other core academic units — engineering, technology, business, education, nursing, arts and sciences — all have a role to play in delivering on the mission to integrate public education in the technical and agricultural sciences with collaborative, interdisciplinary research and outreach through Cooperative Extension. Obviously the School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences is the centerpiece of that, but we all have a role to play. Has your involvement with USAID through BIFAD given you any new perspectives on the direction for A&T’s future? It’s not BIFAD that’s caused me to think more strategically about our mission. It was working with our Board of Trustees and the leadership team here that caused me to think more about the incredible opportunities we have here. When you think about land-grant institutions’ history, their contributions to helping to extend the industrial revolution, develop business, cultivate land for food production, and provide the firstever public education to our citizens, land-grant institutions took the lead. Even today, as we find ourselves needing to become increasingly more competitive in a global marketplace, and because of opportunities emerging in agribusiness, the challenge of feeding a growing world, commercialization of technology and innovation, and in focusing on the quality of health, land-grant institutions even today are as important to the future of our nation and the future of our world as they’ve ever been.
Chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr. 33
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A magazine of the Agricultural Research Program in the School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University
A&T student Shelby Christie models a design by Cierra Ross, a School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences’ fashion merchandising and design major. New styles were presented during “Recyclicious,” a recyclables fashion show organized by the student organization Fashion X-cetera in fall 2013. Garments for the event were constructed from paper, plastics and other recyclable materials. In preparation for the show, students conducted research into ways the fashion industry is “going green,” a trend which includes sourcing renewable and sustainable raw materials that are used in fiber processing, dying and printing. Students also had to research on-trend silhouettes and colors.