Tag Archives: FST

Virginia Tech leads the way in ag biotechnology initiative

Kiho Lee

Kiho Lee, who is working with pigs to increase muscle mass, is one of the many scientists working in agricultural biotechnologies and biosciences.

Agricultural biotechnology is an emerging industry that blends the artistry of molecular science with agricultural production to boost productivity and improve plants, animals, and microorganisms using techniques that are not possible with traditional crossing of related species alone.

The industry received a shot in the arm when Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced plans for a Virginia Bioscience Initiative in 2014. The effort would leverage the state’s research universities and the private sector to catalyze the growth of the emerging industry in the commonwealth.

The ag bioscience initiative is part of Gov. McAuliffe’s broad effort to create a New Virginia Economy that seeks to overhaul the state’s dependency on what has traditionally been federal funding. The program’s goals include raising the profile of the Virginia bioscience industry, enhancing incentives for bioscience businesses, using existing assets to create new opportunities, developing a bioscience workforce, and promoting commercialization of university research.

And the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is well-positioned to meet the needs of the nascent industry.

Faculty members in the college perform myriad ag technology and biosciences research programs that run the gamut from developing alternative sources of energy to increasing swine production.

In the Department of Food Science and Technology, Assistant Professor Andrew Neilson is working on infusing food with nutraceuticals like cocoa flavanols — compounds that greatly lower blood sugar levels and prevent weight gain in mice that are fed a high-fat diet.

Virginia Tech biological systems engineering graduate Joe Rollin and Professor Percival Zhang are creating revolutionary alternative energy systems using the abundant agricultural resource of corn stover to create zero-emissions hydrogen fuel.

“As Virginia’s leading research university, Virginia Tech is already at the forefront of a lot of agricultural biosciences research and development,” said Saied Mostaghimi, associate dean of research and graduate studies in the college. “We look forward to helping grow this industry in the commonwealth even further.”

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Food safety programs help keep the public healthy

A fairgoer learns about pressure cooker safety from an Extension agent at the State Fair of Virginia.

A fairgoer learns about pressure cooker safety from an Extension agent at the State Fair of Virginia.

Every year, 1 in 6 Americans — 48 million people — get sick from foodborne diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. The diseases not only cause suffering and hardship for individuals and their families, they also take a toll on the federal and state budgets.

In Virginia, the estimated economic loss from foodborne illness ranges from $13 to $25 million annually. Virginia Cooperative Extension’s food safety initiative prevents foodborne illnesses, thereby reducing their cost to the public and the government.

“If a manager or someone goes through our program and prevents foodborne illness, then there’s a dollar value,” said Renee Boyer, Extension specialist and associate professor of food science and technology. “I think it’s important to know that Extension agents across the state are trained to deliver these training programs, and, all in all, they’re hoping to reduce foodborne illness and reduce cost in the state of Virginia.”

Training programs are one of the biggest weapons for fighting foodborne diseases. In 2013, Extension offered 22 food manager food safety certification courses, 33 employee food safety certification courses, and 24 general safe food handling and preparation courses. Extension also provides training for temporary food servers and events, such as when a church hosts a barbecue dinner as a fundraiser.

Extension tailors its training programs to meet the needs of the individual audience while covering the tenets of food safety, which include cleaning and sanitation techniques, separating food to prevent cross-contamination, and keeping foods at the right temperature.

Extension is also expanding its food safety training to new audiences, such as farmers markets, in order to maximize its impact. In the future, Extension would like to hire and train more agents who are dedicated to promoting food safety.

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