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Genetic Puzzle-Solver Wins Early Career Honor

CALS researcher Dr. Benjamin Reading at NC State's Pamlico Aquaculture Field Lab in Aurora, N.C.

A new research award honors Assistant Professor Benjamin Reading of the Department of Applied Ecology in his pursuit of solutions to a problem that has puzzled scientists and breeders for generations: What causes some hybrid offspring to perform better than their purebred parents?

Reading is a recipient of the 2016 New Innovator in Food and Agriculture Research Award from the nonprofit Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, joining eight other early-career scientists from across the country. The Foundation will award a total of $4.8 million over five years for the winners’ research in five of the Foundation’s priority research areas.

As one of two recipients pursuing the area of sustainable farm animal productivity, resilience and health, Reading plans to use cutting-edge artificial intelligence to determine the genetic factors responsible for this hybrid phenomenon, called “heterosis,” in hybrid striped bass. If successful, this research will not only help transform fish production and breeding, but could also impact agriculture more broadly.

“This is an important time for agriculture research,” Reading said. “More than 9 billion people are projected to be on the planet by the year 2050, and aquaculture is one of the solutions to feeding all of these people in the future.”

The New Innovator in Food and Agriculture Research Award is designed to provide the early investment needed to launch early career faculty members into successful careers in food and agriculture. Applicants were required to demonstrate a commitment to mentoring, supporting the Foundation’s interest in inspiring future generations of agricultural and food scientists.

Reading has already received international interest in his work, giving invited talks in China and Japan. He received his Ph.D. from NC State in 2008, worked here as a post-doctoral researcher and research assistant professor, then was appointed assistant professor in January 2015. For a look at his hands-on work helping to boost production in the eastern North Carolina agricultural community, check out this feature in CALS Magazine.

“I am confident that these awards will propel the inaugural class of New Innovators in Food and Agriculture Research down the fast track to success in their respective fields,” said Sally Rockey, executive director of the Foundation. “I look forward to following their progress toward transformative food and agriculture discoveries.”

This research will be supported in part by contributions from the Lapaz Fund and the William White Estate, as well as Premex, Archer Daniels Midland Company, Local’s Seafood, the Pennsylvania Striped Bass Association and various hybrid striped bass farmers.

Learn more about the New Innovator Class of 2016 on the Foundation’s website.