College of ACES
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Modified soybeans yield more in future climate conditions

Published May 4, 2017
SoyFACE facility
Soybeans grown in fields that simulate 2050 temperatures show signs of stress. Researchers have discovered modified soybeans that yield more than current varieties in 2050 field conditions.
  • By 2050—in the midst of increasing temperature and carbon dioxide levels—we will need to produce 70 percent more food to meet the demands of 9.7 billion people.
  • Researchers have modified soybeans to yield more when both temperature and carbon dioxide levels increase, which suggests that we might be able to combat heat-related yield loss with genetic engineering.
  • Simplistically, carbon dioxide increases yield and temperature cuts yield; however, this work illustrates that these complex factors work together to influence crop photosynthesis and productivity.

URBANA, Ill. By 2050, we will need to feed 2 billion more people on less land. Meanwhile, carbon dioxide levels are predicted to hit 600 parts per million—a 150 percent increase over today’s levels—and 2050 temperatures are expected to frequently match the top 5 percent hottest days from 1950-1979. In a three-year field study, researchers proved engineered soybeans yield more than conventional soybeans in 2050’s predicted climatic conditions.

“Our climate system and atmosphere are not changing in isolation from other factors—there are actually multiple facets,” says USDA/ARS scientist Carl Bernacchi, an associate professor of plant biology at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois. He is affiliated with the Department of Crop Sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. “The effect of carbon dioxide in and of itself seems to be very generalized, but neglects the complexity of adding temperature into the mix. This research is one step in the right direction towards trying to figure out a way of mitigating those temperature-related yield losses that will likely occur even with rising carbon dioxide concentrations.”

Published in the Journal of Experimental Botany, this study found the modified crop yielded more when subjected to both increased temperature and carbon dioxide levels; however, they found little to no difference between the modified and unmodified crops grown in either increased temperature, increased carbon dioxide, or today’s climate conditions.

This work suggests that we can harness genetic changes to help offset the detrimental effects of rising temperature. In addition, Bernacchi says, it illustrates that we cannot deduce complicated environmental and plant systems to increasing carbon dioxide levels increase yields and increasing temperature reduce yields.

“Experiments under controlled conditions are great to understand concepts and underlying mechanisms,” says first author of the study Iris Köhler, a former postdoctoral researcher in the Bernacchi lab. “But to understand what will happen in a real-world situation, it is crucial to study the responses in a natural setting—and SoyFACE is perfect for this kind of study.”

SoyFACE (Soybean Free Air Concentration Enrichment) is an innovative facility that emulates future atmospheric conditions to understand the impact on Midwestern crops. These findings are especially remarkable because the crops in this SoyFACE experiment were exposed to the same environmental conditions (i.e. the sun, wind, rain, clouds, etc.) as other Illinois field crops.

“It’s actually a bit of a surprise,” Bernacchi says. “I’ve been doing field research for quite some time, and variability is one of the things that’s an inherent part of field research. Of course, we did see variability in yields from year to year, but the difference between the modified and unmodified plants was remarkably consistent over these three years.”

These modified soybeans are just one part of the equation to meet the demands of 2050. This modification can likely be combined with other modifications—a process called “stacking”—to further improve yields. “When we’re trying to meet our food needs for the future, this specific modification is one of the many tools that we’re going to need to rely upon,” Bernacchi said. “There is a lot of research across the planet that’s looking at different strategies to make improvements, and many of these are not mutually exclusive.”

The paper, “Expression of cyanobacterial FBP/SBPase in soybean prevents yield depression under future climate conditions,” is published by the Journal of Experimental Botany (10.1093/jxb/erw435).

Co-authors also include: Ursula M. Ruiz-Vera, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois; Andy VanLoocke, assistant professor at Iowa State University; Michell Thomey, USDA-ARS Research Plant Physiologist and postdoctoral researcher at Illinois; Tom Clemente, Eugene W. Price Distinguished Professor of Biotechnology at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln; Stephen Long, Gutgsell Endowed Professor of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences at Illinois; and Donald Ort, Robert Emerson Professor of Plant Biology at Illinois.

IFSI continues work with “Big Data” towards food security

Published May 4, 2017

Two recent events built upon the momentum from momentum from last year’s food security symposium that focused on analysis of big data to address food insecurity. These activities capitalize on the combined power of Illinois investigators working in agricultural sciences and data sciences.

Machine Learning: Farm-to-Table

A two-day event in conjunction with the Midwest Big Data Hub, “Machine Learning: Farm-to-Table Workshop,” brought together domain scientists to stimulate new data-driven research and development activity at the intersections of agriculture, bioinformatics, food-energy-water, and food security communities.

“Last year’s food security symposium caught the interest of the Midwest Big Data Hub so this event combined our forces to identify research areas and gaps for people working in the spaces of big data and agriculture. My personal quest was to see that international themes were included,” said Kathy Baylis, associate professor in agricultural and consumer economics and a member of the event’s steering committee.

Novel data analysis facilitated by machine learning, and other big data approaches have the potential to help solve difficult agricultural production, environmental and nutritional challenges, both in the United States and abroad.

“Machine learning can vastly improve predictive models, using both higher data frequency, and greater data ‘depth,’ such as a greater number and range of characteristics, than we can apply in more traditional statistical analyses,” said Baylis.

The event included attendees from other Midwestern universities and industry.  

“Getting these people in the same room is helpful to see how the methods can best be applied,” said Baylis. She added that smaller groups met during the afternoons to define key research areas for moving forward and to begin working on proposal submissions.

“It is really exciting to see the extent of the appetite for facilitating access to novel methods of data collection and use in agriculture and food security,” said Baylis.

The event website is here: and presentations from the event should be posted here soon.  

Data Science in Food, Energy, and Water Summit

A second event during the same week, the "Data Science in Food, Energy, and Water Summit" served to unite researchers on the Illinois campus using big data in the spaces of food, energy, and water.

“This event covered a slightly broader space and served to show us specifically who is already working on what and how we can move best move forward at the University of Illinois,” said Baylis.

The summit was sponsored by the Illinois Data Science Initiative, a new collective of people at Illinois who are passionate about bringing Illinois’ tremendous research tradition and resources together with the power of data science.

Specifically the purpose of this summit was to identify:

  1. Impactful research conducted at the University of Illinois in the intersection of Big Data, Food, Energy, and Water;
  2. Challenges, opportunities and possible collaborations among Illinois faculty, staff, and students working in this area;
  3. Opportunities for engagement with industry, non-government organizations, and government agencies in this area;
  4. Potential roles for a new Institute of Data Analytics in supporting research, education, or engagement programs that facilitate the use of Big Data skills, tools, and techniques in our work.

Researchers from the College of ACES had a strong presence at the summit; its presenters included:

  • German Bollero; Head of the Department of Crop Science;
  • Matt Hudson, Professor, Crop Science
  • David Bullock, Professor, Agricultural and Consumer Economics
  • Ben Gramig, Associate Professor, Agricultural and Consumer Economics
  • Matt Stasiewicz, Assistant Professor, Food Science and Human Nutrition
  • Alex Lipka, Assistant Professor, Crop Sciences
  • Luis Rodriguez, Associate Professor, Agricultural and Biological Engineering
  • Jonathan Coppess, Assistant Professor, Agricultural and Consumer Economics
  • Dan Miller, Assistant Professor, Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences
  • Kaiyu Guan, Assistant Professor, Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences
  • Ben Crost, Assistant Professor, Agricultural and Consumer Economics
  • Hope Michelson, Assistant Professor, Agricultural and Consumer Economics
  • Craig Gundersen, Professor, Agricultural and Consumer Economics

ACES faculty members Kathy Baylis (ACE), Peter Christensen (ACE), and Matt Hudson (Crop Sciences) serve on the steering committee for the Illinois Data Science Initiative.

Get Involved

Members of the ACES community who are interested in participating in work on big data for food security and the environment should visit this group’s website to register to receive communications:


Kidwell honored as inaugural Robert A. Easter Chair in the College of ACES

Published May 4, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – Kim Kidwell, a nationally respected scholar of plant breeding and genetics, was honored during an investiture ceremony for the Robert A. Easter Chair in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) at the University of Illinois on May 3.

Kidwell began her role as the dean of the College of ACES on November 1, 2016. Her leadership style is clearly defined by her dedication to improving student learning; driving sound, innovative research; and cultivating industry partnerships to improve the lives and livelihoods of the residents of Illinois, in support of the land-grant mission of the University of Illinois. She is a proud alumna of ACES where she earned bachelor’s degrees in both genetics and development (1985) and agriculture science (1986). She received her master’s (1989) and Ph.D. (1992) degrees in plant breeding and plant genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

U of I President Timothy Killeen said, “Not only is she back where it all started, leading a world-class college where two undergraduate degrees launched her career as a nationally renowned educator, scholar, and administrator, but she also has come home to a new, extraordinary honor as this great college’s inaugural Robert A. Easter Chair.”

Kidwell plans to honor the legacy of Robert A. Easter by expanding lifeskill enhancement opportunities for people at the University of Illinois through the creation of an ACES Leadership Academy. She plans to bring the lifeskill enhancement portfolio she created at Washington State University to the U of I to augment the arsenal of leadership development work that is already available here.

“I believe that we can be the institution that supports people in acquiring the content skills and the interpersonal skills that are required to achieve personal and professional success,” Kidwell said. “Being smart is not enough to guarantee success in life. Having the self-awareness and self-management skills required to navigate effectively with people is essential if we truly intend to create our best lives. I want people to have the opportunity to learn those skills here.”

Kidwell said that she is honored to be named the Robert A. Easter Chair, recognizing a leader who has impacted the University of Illinois for more than 40 years.

“Bob Easter embodies those characteristics of a leader in a manner that is rarely seen,” Kidwell said. “He is committed to doing the right thing again and again until something positive happens. I am grateful to all who have joined together to create the Robert A. Easter Chair to honor his legacy. It is my sincere hope that I will bring honor to this chair in a way that makes you all proud.”

The Robert A. Easter Endowment Fund recognizes Easter’s outstanding leadership and service. The endowment fund supports a chair to be held by the dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. Many generous donors provided gifts to honor Dr. Easter, establish an enduring legacy, and invest in future leadership of the College of ACES.

Donald Ort among four Illinois professors elected to National Academy of Sciences

Published May 3, 2017
Don Ort

URBANA, Ill. — Donald Ort, professor in the University of Illinois Departments of Crop Sciences and Plant Biology, has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest professional honors a scientist can receive. Ort and three additional U of I professors are among 84 new members and 21 foreign associates announced by the Academy on May 2.

Ort’s research focuses on the growth and photosynthetic performance of plants in the context of commonly occurring environmental conditions, such as low temperatures and drought. Ort and his colleagues also are interested in the response of plants to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide and surface ozone levels.

Ort is a member of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology and director of the SoyFACE facility at U of I, and holds an appointment as a physiologist with the USDA ARS’s Photosynthesis Research Unit. He also served as the editor-in-chief of Plant Physiology and as associate editor of Annual Review of Plant Biology. Ort has received numerous awards and recognitions, including being listed as one of Thomson Reuters’ “Most Influential Scientific Minds.”

"The entire campus community is celebrating the election of our colleagues to the National Academy of Sciences," said Robert J. Jones, chancellor of the Urbana-Champaign campus. "This is one of our nation’s highest honors for scientific achievement, and we are proud to see four more of our distinguished faculty taking their places in this prestigious institution."

U of I professors John CronanJeffrey Moore, and Gary Parker join Ort in achieving this prestigious honor. To learn more about them, visit the Illinois News Bureau.

News Source:

Molly Galvin, 202-334-2138

ACES International Joint Research grantees making impacts around the world

Published May 3, 2017

The ACES International Joint Research Program was established in 2014 to assist ACES faculty in collaborating with researchers based at peer institutions abroad. The peer institution must fund the international collaborator at a matching level to work on the same project as the ACES investigator. These grants are administered by the Office of International Programs in the College of ACES with the support of the ACES Office of Research.

This OIP-managed program gives ACES faculty access to colleagues and resources in peer institutions abroad in order to achieve research goals and deepen international partnerships. 

Through this program ACES researchers have joined existing research projects in international institutions, leveraging those funded programs and enriching them with their own expertise.  Faculty members from six out of seven ACES departments have received joint research grants.

Through the 24 funded projects, ACES has strengthened its ties with 13 different peer institutions including leading universities in Latin America, Africa, and Asia as well as major International Agricultural Research Centers such as the International Rice Research Institute.

The program has contributed to seven undergraduate research projects and supported three master’s students and six doctoral students.  The International Joint Research Grants program is enabling ACES faculty to better address globally significant problems through deeper, targeted international partnerships.

Look for a new request for proposals for ACES International Joint Research grants in June 2017 with a September deadline.

Improving milk quality in Brazil

Drs. Juan Loor and Bryan White (Animal Sciences) work with the Federal University of Paraiba (Brazil) on “Microbiome characterization and transcriptional profiling of milk and teat of goats affected by subclinical mastitis” is just one example of how these joint grants are making impacts around the world.

Dr. Loor says, “This grant has enabled extension-related activities to reduce the burden of subclinical mastitis for family producers of goat milk in Northeastern Brazil. The findings that have been generated thanks to these matching funds have extended our capacity to understand the key aspects associated with the subclinical mastitis in the region and we expect that will ultimately contribute to the improvement of milk quality and safety.”

You can find a full listing of previously funded joint research grants here:


ACES students participate in elite Next Generation Delegation 2017

Published May 3, 2017
L to R: Vitor Fernandes, Thomas Poole, and Shashank Gaur

Two ACES students, Shashank Gaur (Food Science and Human Nutrition) and Thomas Poole (Crop Sciences) were selected by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs as part of an elite, global group of scholars to attend the Global Food Security Symposium as part of the Next Generation Delegation 2017. Also selected was Vitor Fernandes, an exchange student at the University of Illinois from the University of São Paulo.

At the symposium, the Council released this new report, Stability in the 21st Century: Global Food Security for Peace and Prosperity. The report recommends that the United States, alongside government leaders and the private sector and in close partnership with universities, research institutions, and civil society, double-down on its legacy of commitment to global food security. This commitment not only bolsters the livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs around the world, but also opens up new business opportunities and partnerships in emerging economies. The symposium, which featured nearly 70 speakers, drew an audience comprised of over 500 policymakers, corporate executives, and scientists, among others, as well as a digital audience of over 1,300 people from 44 countries.  

Shashank Gaur submitted his reflections after attending the event:

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is a pioneer organization striving to identify potential solutions to critical global issues, such as global food security, and to ensure peace and stability around the world.

As a budding scientist in global nutrition, it was an honor and a privilege to serve as a Next Generation Delegate 2017 and represent the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Washington, D.C. During the Global Food Security Symposium, I had the opportunity to interact with the global leaders, scientists, politicians, foreign policy advisors, and fellow students from other universities to discuss the findings from the newly released report on “Stability in the 21st Century.” It was evident that in the current era of increasing population, growing political instability, rising incomes, changing climate, and building youth bulge, it is important for both developed and developing nations to work together and commit to addressing the challenge of hunger and poverty, especially in the conflict-affected countries, such as Syria and Iraq.

The two main solutions that were echoed throughout the program were a) agricultural development in low and middle-income countries and b) continued financial support to research aimed at improving food security among the at-risk populations. I personally believe that the unprecedented budget cuts, as proposed by the current U.S. administration, will undermine our ongoing efforts and will have serious long-term consequences at the international level.


More information on the Next Generation Delegates can be found here:


Hunger Banquet’s educational exercise raises awareness of food insecurity

Published May 3, 2017

On Monday night, April 10, University of Illinois students participated in Unify’s first Annual Hunger Banquet. This was in partnership with Oxfam International, an international confederation of charitable organizations focused on reducing global poverty.

The Hunger Banquet is an educational exercise set to provide its participants with awareness of global food insecurity. Participants at the beginning of the event are placed into lower, middle, or upper class sections. Their class determines what they will eat, as well as their entire dining experience.

Lower-class participants received a meal with low nutrition content (e.g. rice) and sat on the floor. On the other side, upper-class participants received a meal with higher nutrition content (e.g. pasta, bread, and salad) and were waited on by Dining Service staff.

For example, Emily Bloemer, a junior in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, was placed in the lower class as a 40-year-old rice farmer from Haiti. “It was definitely eye-opening only being able to eat rice and water, and having to get into line after the guys in the lower class. This represented the sacrifices that women in families make in regards of decreasing their food portions to give to their children,” said Bloemer.

Towards the end, Unify provided a reflection activity for the experience as well as a presentation on its upcoming project. In the Fall, the organization hopes to establish a Campus Kitchens Chapter at Illinois.  This program will support students in diverting potential food waste from local food retailers and direct it to those facing food insecurity.

Overall, the event initiated the participants interest in applying their skills and passions to help promote food security on local and global levels.

Rachel Janovsky, a junior in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, offered advice on how students can engage in this grand challenge in addition to participating with Unify. “Students can also get involved with research that focuses on sustainable intensification of food production to increase access to food in food insecure regions,” said Janovsky.

The Unify Team immensely thanks the College of ACES’ support for the organization’s academic, philanthropic, and professional pursuits.

Follow Unify on Facebook at:

Article submitted by Thomas Poole, Unify President 2017 and University of Illinois Crop Sciences Class of 2018


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UN visitors discuss sustainable development goals and encourage students to join the major group for children and youth

Published May 3, 2017

As part of the College of ACES International Seminar Series, two representatives from the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth (UN MGCY) visited the University of Illinois campus to discuss the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how students can get involved with the UN to help achieve these 17 goals.

The SDGs are the new global framework passed by United Nations General Assembly to tackle a host of social, environmental, and economic challenges including ending poverty and hunger, providing access to clean water and sanitation, and addressing climate change.

Mr. Christopher Dekki and Mr. Aashish Khullar discussed how the SDGs are inter-connected and how they evolved from the UN’s previous goals. They encouraged students and student groups to officially join the UNMGCY.

SDGs are inter-connected

Mr. Dekki asked the audience, consisting mostly of students, to identify a “favorite” of the 17 goals. After receiving various answers including “climate action” and “clean water and sanitation,” he responded, “The best answer is all of them.”

The UN’s official stance is that all of the goals are equally important and inter-connected. Dekki said that although all member countries have agreed to implement the goals as equally as possible, it is also understood that countries are in different places with regards to achieving the various goals and may require more work on some than others.

Dekki explained how the 17 SDGs evolved from the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expired in 2015.

“The MDGs were considered a gift,” said Dekki. Developed nations were seen as helping developing nations.

“However, the way we were doing things for so long is no longer sustainable. All of us have been involved in unsustainable practices,” said Dekki. Now, the UN considers every member country as a developing country with relation to these goals.

“The traditional narrative focused on an economic dimension. More money always meant good things would come, and growth was always good. With the new goals, for example, gross domestic product is still a target, but lots of other things are measured too, including equality in social and environmental outcomes,” explained Dekki.

The new SDGs also provide for the engagement of protected and legally mandated spaces for key sectors of society like children and youth.

Join the UNMGCY

The UN MGCY is the official UN General Assembly mandated space for children and youth to engage in a number of intergovernmental and policy processes at the UN. The group acts “as a bridge between children and youth and officials in the UN system.” It has been a key player in global policy formulation since its creation in 1992, as part of Agenda 21.

The speakers urged students who are interested in a particular topic – or ideally all 17 of the goals – to officially join the UN Major Group for Children and Youth. Students can join as individuals or as student organizations. Members should be under age 30 or part of an organization that represents the interests of children or youth.

You can officially join at this link:


Facebook: UNMGCY

Twitter: @UNMGCY

The visitors were hosted by Soo Ah Kwan, associate professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies and in Asian American Studies, and their travel was supported by the ACES Office of International Programs.

More information about the speakers:

Christopher Dekki has years of advocacy experience in intergovernmental policy processes at the United Nations. Currently, he is working for the UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs, Division for Sustainable Development, coordinating national Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) implementation workshops in multiple countries. Dekki is active in the UN advocacy work of many youth-led organizations, particularly the youth movement from which he comes, the International Movement of Catholic Students. He also supports the UN Major Group for Children and Youth, the official space for youth engagement in UN policy processes, as a Board Member. Dekki is an adjunct professor of political science at St. Joseph's College in New York City.

Aashish Khullar is one of the Organising Partners of the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth. His thematic work includes research in environmental and ecological economics, looking at integration of environmental variables in economic analysis in the context of a steady state economy. He is a StartingBloc fellow. He is originally from New Delhi and received his bachelors from the London School of Economics. He is currently based in Boston.