College of ACES
College News

Swanson honored as The Kraft Heinz Company Professor in Human Nutrition

Published April 21, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – Kelly S. Swanson, a world-renowned comparative nutritionist, was honored during an investiture ceremony for The Kraft Heinz Company Professorship in Human Nutrition in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Illinois on April 20.

Swanson, also a professor in the Department of Animal Sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at U of I, began the new appointment Jan. 1, 2017.

Swanson’s laboratory studies the effects of nutritional intervention on health outcomes, identifying mechanisms by which nutrients impact gene expression and host physiology, with primary emphasis on gastrointestinal health and obesity. His research of both basic and applied target areas studies rodents, dogs, cats, and humans.

“I have known Dr. Swanson for 20 years. I was an assistant professor in 1997 when Kelly arrived at the University of Illinois to pursue a Ph.D. in the Division of Nutritional Sciences. In the comparative nutrition field I have witnessed his transition from neophyte to highly decorated teacher and researcher,” said Rodney Johnson, director of the Division of Nutritional Sciences. “I am very proud to claim Kelly as a faculty colleague in the Division of Nutritional Sciences and the Department of Animal Sciences. It is especially gratifying that he is a product of interdisciplinary training provided by the Division of Nutritional Sciences, one of the academic units supported by The Kraft Heinz Company.” 

Over the past decade, Swanson has established an internationally recognized research program, highlighted by more than $11.5 million in research support, some 100 invited lectures in 11 countries, and more than 140 peer-reviewed publications. He has received 12 research and teaching awards, including those from the American Society for Nutrition and the American Society of Animal Science.

Swanson became an assistant professor in the College of ACES in 2004, was promoted to associate professor in 2009, and full professor in 2014. He received the 2014 University of Illinois Campus Distinguished Promotion Award, honoring exceptional scholars whose contributions have been extraordinary in quality of work and overall achievement.

The human nutrition professorship benefits an individual with expertise and academic abilities in a field of research that directly contributes to understanding human health and disease and is a faculty member in the Division of Nutritional Sciences. The funds may be used for research by or on behalf of the individual appointed to the professorship.

Two other individuals have held the professorship to date: George Fahey (2006–2011) and   Kelly Tappenden (Jan. 2012–Dec. 2016).

In addition to the professorship, The Kraft Heinz Company Human Nutrition Endowment provides support for fellowships and experiential learning for graduate students in the Division of Nutritional Sciences. It also funds scholarships for undergraduates in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition.

Robot may be ‘game changer’ for crop growers, breeders

Published April 21, 2017
ABE postdoctoral researcher Erkan Kayacan left and Agricultural and biological engineering professor Girish Chowdhary
Agricultural and biological engineering professor Girish Chowdhary, right, is working on the $3.1 million project, along with postdoctoral researcher Erkan Kayacan.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - A semiautonomous robot may soon be roaming agricultural fields gathering and transmitting real-time data about the growth and development of crops, information that crop breeders – and eventually farmers – can use to identify the genetic traits in plants likely to produce the greatest yields.

A team of scientists from the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois is developing the robot in partnership with researchers from Cornell University and Signetron Inc.

Inspired by the autonomous rovers used to search collapsed buildings and other dangerous environments, the agricultural robot is propelled on continuous tracks, or miniature tank treads, which enable it to navigate through dry or muddy fields. Researchers guide it using GPS and a laptop computer.

Traveling between the crop rows, the robot uses hyperspectral, high-definition and thermal cameras, weather monitors and pulsed laser scanners to capture phenotypic information – such as the stem diameter, height and leaf area of each plant – and assess environmental conditions, such as the temperature and moisture content of the soil.

The robot stores the data in its onboard computer and transmits it in real time to the grower’s computer. Scientists use the data to create a 3-D reconstruction of each plant, develop predictive models for the plant’s growth and development, and estimate the biomass yield for each plant and the entire plot.

“Immediate access to the data is very important for crop breeders in the U.S.,” says U. of I. agricultural and biological engineering professor Girish Chowdhary. “It’s very important for them to see and visualize the data. If the data are available to the breeder quickly, then they can make actionable decisions” that enhance production.

Although the researchers currently are using the robot to assess fields of energy sorghum, a crop used in biofuel production, they say the robot would perform equally well with other tall-growing row crops such as corn and wheat, and possibly with soybeans before the plant canopy closes.

The robot is a “game changer” for both crop scientists and farmers, automating the labor-intensive phenotyping processes of farming and crop development, said Stephen P. Long, the director of the project and the Gutgsell Endowed University Professor of Crop Sciences and Plant Biology at Illinois.

“For producers, it’s going to accelerate the rate at which we can improve the genetic material. We can now select material much more rapidly and select many more plants as well, so we can eventually deliver to the farmer a far more productive bioenergy crop,” Long says.

“One of the big advances of the last few years is that we can now determine the complete DNA blueprint of each plant. But how do we use that? What we need is to be able to describe a plant as it grows. You could do that perhaps with an army of people, but now the robot can do all of that for you. We can combine the phenotypic information about how the plant’s performing with the genetic blueprint and identify the combination of genes we need to get the best plant possible,” Long says.

Chowdhary, whose research focus is field robotics, is modifying the robot’s current design to reduce its width so it can maneuver more easily between crop rows. He also plans to install a sensor system for detecting and avoiding obstacles.

To reduce the production costs associated with the robot’s current metal and track construction, Chowdhary’s team is exploring the feasibility of producing some of the components via 3-D printing.

“We are targeting a cost to the breeder of $5,000 to $10,000, which means we will have to get the manufacturing cost significantly below that,” Chowdhary says. “An agricultural robot that costs just $5,000 is a totally new concept. Agricultural equipment today typically costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. Bringing the cost of our robot below $5,000 will be in itself a significant achievement for our team.”

Unlike the robots used in factories, agricultural robots must be weather resistant, Chowdary says. The underlying technologies – the algorithms, the mechanical design and the human-robot interaction devices that provide robustness – are useful in many other industries, including defense, surveillance and scientific exploration.

The team expects to have a prototype built within two years and begin manufacturing thereafter, with the goal of having the robot on the market by 2021.

The robot project is funded with a $3.1 million grant from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s Transportation Energy Resources from Renewable Agriculture program, a unit within the U.S. Dept. of Energy.

 

Swanson honored as The Kraft Heinz Company Professor in Human Nutrition

Published April 20, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – Kelly S. Swanson, a world-renowned comparative nutritionist, was honored during an investiture ceremony for The Kraft Heinz Company Professorship in Human Nutrition in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Illinois on April 20.

Swanson, also a professor in the Department of Animal Sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at U of I, began the new appointment Jan. 1, 2017.

Swanson’s laboratory studies the effects of nutritional intervention on health outcomes, identifying mechanisms by which nutrients impact gene expression and host physiology, with primary emphasis on gastrointestinal health and obesity. His research of both basic and applied target areas studies rodents, dogs, cats, and humans.

“I have known Dr. Swanson for 20 years. I was an assistant professor in 1997 when Kelly arrived at the University of Illinois to pursue a Ph.D. in the Division of Nutritional Sciences. In the comparative nutrition field I have witnessed his transition from neophyte to highly decorated teacher and researcher,” said Rodney Johnson, director of the Division of Nutritional Sciences. “I am very proud to claim Kelly as a faculty colleague in the Division of Nutritional Sciences and the Department of Animal Sciences. It is especially gratifying that he is a product of interdisciplinary training provided by the Division of Nutritional Sciences, one of the academic units supported by The Kraft Heinz Company.” 

Over the past decade, Swanson has established an internationally recognized research program, highlighted by more than $11.5 million in research support, some 100 invited lectures in 11 countries, and more than 140 peer-reviewed publications. He has received 12 research and teaching awards, including those from the American Society for Nutrition and the American Society of Animal Science.

Swanson became an assistant professor in the College of ACES in 2004, was promoted to associate professor in 2009, and full professor in 2014. He received the 2014 University of Illinois Campus Distinguished Promotion Award, honoring exceptional scholars whose contributions have been extraordinary in quality of work and overall achievement.

The human nutrition professorship benefits an individual with expertise and academic abilities in a field of research that directly contributes to understanding human health and disease and is a faculty member in the Division of Nutritional Sciences. The funds may be used for research by or on behalf of the individual appointed to the professorship.

Two other individuals have held the professorship to date: George Fahey (2006–2011) and   Kelly Tappenden (Jan. 2012–Dec. 2016).

In addition to the professorship, The Kraft Heinz Company Human Nutrition Endowment provides support for fellowships and experiential learning for graduate students in the Division of Nutritional Sciences. It also funds scholarships for undergraduates in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition.

News Source:

Rodney Johnson, 333-2118

Bi-State Compost School offered

Published April 20, 2017
compost school

URBANA, Ill. - University of Illinois Extension and University of Missouri Extension are offering a Bi-State Compost School on June 21 and 22 near Belleville, Illinois.

The school is an intensive program for new and experienced mid to large scale composting operators, including on-farm composters. Participants will be trained in the science and art of composting. Subjects covered by Extension specialists and experienced composters will include composting basics, regulations and permitting, compost quality and testing, and marketing. An emphasis will placed on the use of food scraps and similar feed stocks.  Hands-on activities will be included.

Early registration is available online. The cost for the 2-day program is $375 per person. After May 26, registration is $465 per person.  Space is limited to 30 registrants.

For more information, email Duane Friend at friend@illinois.edu or call 217-243-7424.

 

News Source:

Duane Friend, 217-243-7424

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

Head of the ACES Dept. of NRES live on a Reddit Science Ask Me Anything May 4th

Published April 20, 2017
Red Capped Manakin
Get your bird questions answered by an expert!

Got a burning question about birds? Professor, researcher and Head of the Dept. of NRES Dr. Jeff Brawn  (AKA BirdBrain4 on Reddit) will be live on a Reddit Science Ask Me Anything next Thursday, May 4 from Noon to 2 p.m. CT. Visit reddit.com/r/science/ to read the Q & A, or create an account to ask questions!

 

News Source:

Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, 217-333-2770

U of I study ranks which production attributes are most important to consumers when buying beef, chicken, milk, and eggs

Published April 19, 2017
organic ground beef label
  • Consumers are increasingly interested in how their food is produced and look for claims such as no growth hormones, no GMOs, no antibiotics, etc. on their food products.
  • Many studies have focused on consumers’ willingness to pay for individual food attributes, but have not ranked which production attributes consumers say are most important to them.
  • In a U of I study, the “no growth hormones” attribute was prioritized as most important and “organic” as the least important. For products like poultry, the USDA forbids the use of hormones, meaning consumers may not be well informed about production claims

URBANA, Ill. – For many consumers, buying a gallon of milk is much more complex than finding the preferred fat content and expiration date. They want to know how the cows were treated, what they were fed, whether they received growth hormones or antibiotics, whether the milk is organic, and so on. A recent University of Illinois study ranks which of these production attributes are most important to buyers for four different products: beef, chicken, milk, and eggs.

The study determined the importance of seven specific on-farm practices in consumers’ purchasing decisions:

  • Animals were not administered growth hormones.
  • Genetically modified organisms were not used in the production of this product (non-GMO). 
  • Animals were humanely raised.
  • Animals were not administered antibiotics.
  • Animals were raised in a free-range (or cage-free) environment.
  • Animals were grass-fed (or raised on a vegetarian diet).
  • The product is certified organic.

The top three attributes overall were “no growth hormones”, “non-GMO”, and “humanely raised”, though there were differences in importance based on product type. The “organic” attribute was ranked lowest in importance for consumers.

“The biggest surprise in the study is that ‘no growth hormones’ is the number one concern consumers have across the board on all of these products,” says U of I food economist and lead researcher Brenna Ellison. “It’s odd because growth hormones are already prohibited for poultry products. Further, products that are certified organic or humanely-raised also prohibit the use of growth hormones in animals. Ultimately, it means consumers are spending unnecessary time looking for labels that reflect this particular attribute.”

The presence of such labeling claims can determine the sales of one product over another identical product. If one producer labels its packages of chicken as having “no growth hormones” and another producer doesn’t, the latter is at a disadvantage when consumers are selecting for that specific attribute. Even though both brands of chicken are hormone-free, by government mandate, the producer who didn’t pay to add a label may suffer.  Products that carry the “no growth hormones” claim must note that these are prohibited by the government on the packaging, but this is usually in the fine print where consumers may or may not be looking.

The lack of importance of the “organic” claim was also surprising to Ellison and her co-authors, Kathleen Brooks and Taro Mieno of the University of Nebraska.

“When most people hear the term ‘organic,’ they think of produce, fruits, and vegetables. I don’t think the term translates as well to animals. Consequently, consumers may not understand that the organic certification for meat and other animal products actually already includes a lot of these other production attributes.”

Ellison says the fact that producers keep putting multiple claims on their products, even though broad claims like “organic” and “humanely raised” encompass almost all of the other production attributes, suggests that producers may be skeptical that consumers know the full definition of these labels. “They keep adding more labels to make sure consumers can find all of the things that they want even though one label might do the job.”

Labels also provide a way for consumers to express their opinions by voting with their dollars. They can purchase products labeled with concerns that are important to them.

“Choosing to buy milk without traces of hormones or antibiotics may be driven more by concerns for our own health than the health of the animal,” Ellison says. “But treatment of the animal is also important to people. The results of the study show that consumers place a greater importance on the ‘humanely raised’ attribute for milk and eggs – animals that keep producing, versus those that go to slaughter.”

The study, “Which livestock production claims matter most to consumers?” appears in Agriculture and Human Values. It was co-authored by Brenna Ellison, Kathleen Brooks, and Taro Mieno.

This research was supported by USDA NIFA #ILLU-470-356 and funding from the American Jersey Cattle Association/National All-Jersey, Inc.

 

 

Pages