Virginia Tech leads the way in agricultural biotech and bioscience initiative

By Amy Loeffler

Man holding three piglets

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 and bioscience are emerging industries that blend 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 industries received a boost when Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced plans for a Virginia Bioscience Initiative in 2014. The effort has the state’s research universities and the private sector working together to catalyze the growth of the emerging industries.

The agricultural bioscience initiative is part of Gov. McAuliffe’s broad effort to create a New Virginia Economy that seeks to overhaul the state’s economy on several fronts.

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

Faculty members in the college perform agricultural technology and biosciences research that runs the gamut from developing alternative sources of energy to increasing swine production.

Assistant Professor of Animal and Poultry Sciences Kiho Lee is developing ways to increase hog production using gnotobiotic, or germ-free, animals to develop genetic pathways that maximize feed to increase muscle mass and producer profits.

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

“As Virginia’s leading research university, Virginia Tech is already at the forefront of a lot of agricultural biosciences research and development.” – Saied Mostaghimi, Associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Virginia Tech biological systems engineering Ph.D. graduate Joe Rollin and Professor Percival Zhang are creating revolutionary alternative energy systems using the abundant agricultural resource of corn stover to create zero-emission 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 these industries in the commonwealth.”

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