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Celebrating the work of life scientists

In last summer’s issue of Perspectives, we brought you a collection of articles about the impacts of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ agriculture programs, including its Extension and research efforts, with specific examples of how the work of the College has made a difference to North Carolinians. In this Winter 2012 issue, we turn to the College’s life sciences in recognition of the contributions and impacts those programs are making while bringing innovative solutions to the challenges facing our citizens locally, nationally and globally. CALS life scientists work mainly in six departments — Biology, Genetics, Environmental and Molecular Toxicology, Microbiology, Molecular and Structural Biochemistry, and Plant Biology. Here you will learn of the efforts of some of these experts — faculty members, students, alumni — in bettering human health and well-being, in preventing illness, in protecting the environment, in solving problems.

Biology’s Dr. Heather Patisaul is studying the effects of certain man-made chemicals on human health, particularly in early fetal and neonatal development. Biochemistry’s Dr. Dennis Brown and Dr. Raquel Hernadez, studying viral structure, have developed a vaccine that is effective against dengue fever, a tropical disease that annually infects millions worldwide. Microbiologist Dr. Hosni Hassan is working with CALS poultry scientist Dr. Matt Koci to develop a vaccine that would protect poultry — and thus the people who consume poultry products — from Salmonella. And food scientist Dr. Sophia Kathariou hopes to reduce severe food-related illness by identifying the lineages of two particularly problematic bacteria that contaminate food.

Dr. Amy Grunden of Microbiology and PlantBiology’s Dr. Heike Sederoff seek to answer the problem of diminishing petroleum reserves by findingnew ways to make fuels from plants and algae, while microbiologist Dr. Michael Hyman is studying howsoil microbes can be used to clean up fuel spills and protect groundwater fromcontamination.

Meanwhile alumnae Dr. Vickie Wilson (1999 environmental and molecular toxicologyPh.D.) and Kimberly Spence (2011 bachelor’s degree in biological sciences) have taken their CALS life sciences degrees in similar directions. Wilson is a branch chief in the U.S. Environmental ProtectionAgency’s Toxicology Assessment Division. Spence works with the Environmental Defense Fund in water resources and public policy, where lately she has focused on the potential natural resource and other effects if the fracking (natural gas accessing) industry comes to North Carolina.

Along with the reports ofthese efforts are revelations of a unique postdoctoral teaching program in our Biotechnology Program; activities by the Kannapolis Scholars Program to address the problem of childhood obesity; and preparations of a new course in genetic ethics by a Genetics Department graduate student. And there’s news about an innovative Department of Biology project to map the ants living in urban areas across the United States.

In an era of life sciences, our College is at the forefront.

Johnny Wynne, Dean
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

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