College of ACES
College News


Gamma Sigma Delta ACES Graduate Fellows Awards Luncheon

12:30 PM - 2:00 PM
Alice Campbell Alumni Center, 601 South Lincoln Avenue, Urbana, Illinois

Join the College of ACES and Gamma Sigma Delta in celebrating scholarly excellence of their recent graduates. Faculty members will be in attendance to honor the graduates who will be recognized at the event.


Visualizing nutrition information to improve understanding and consumer behavior

4:00 PM - 5:00 PM
180 Bevier Hall

Search for better biofuels microbes leads to the human gut

Published October 1, 2014

URBANA, Ill. — Scientists have scoured cow rumens and termite guts for microbes that can efficiently break down plant cell walls for the production of next-generation biofuels, but some of the best microbial candidates actually may reside in the human lower intestine, researchers report.

Their study, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first to use biochemical approaches to confirm the hypothesis that microbes in the human gut can digest fiber, breaking it down into simple sugars in order to ferment them into nutrients that nourish human cells. These findings have significance for human health but also for biofuels production, since the same sugars can be fed to yeast to generate ethanol and other liquid fuels. The human microbes appear to be endowed with enzymes that break down a complex plant fiber component more efficiently than the most efficient microbes found in the cow rumen, the researchers report.

Their work in cows led the researchers to the human microbes, said University of Illinois animal sciences and Institute for Genomic Biology professor Isaac Cann, who led the new analysis with his colleagues, animal sciences professor Roderick Mackie and M.D./Ph.D. student Dylan Dodd. Cann also is a microbiology professor and a principal investigator at the Energy Biosciences Institute. Dodd is now at Stanford University.

“In looking for biofuels microbes in the cow rumen, we found that Prevotella bryantii, a bacterium that is known to efficiently break down (the plant fiber) hemicellulose, gears up production of one gene more than others when it is digesting plant matter,” Cann said.

When searching a database for similar genes in other organisms, the researchers found them in microbes from the human gut. The team focused on two of these human microbes, Bacteroides intestinalis and Bacteroides ovatus, which belong to the same bacterial phylum as Prevotella from the cow.

“We expressed the human gut bacterial enzymes and found that for some related enzymes, the human ones actually were more active (in breaking down hemicellulose) than the enzymes from the cow,” Cann said.

When the researchers looked more closely at the structure of the human enzymes, they saw something unusual: many single polypeptide (protein) chains actually contained two enzymes, one of which was embedded in the other. Further analysis of the most important protein revealed that the embedded component was a carbohydrate-binding module (CBM), which, as its name implies, latches onto carbohydrates such as hemicellulose. This enzyme shreds the plant fiber hemicellulose so that other enzymes can work on it to break it down into its unit sugars.

Working with U. of I. biochemistry professor Satish Nair, the researchers also noticed that the CBM “put a kink” in the fiber when it bound to it. This bending action may bring the fiber close to the other enzyme in the protein so it can get to work breaking the bonds between the sugars. Further research is needed to confirm this hypothesis, Cann said.

The study points to human microbes as a potentially potent source of microbes that can aid in biofuels production, Cann said.

“In addition to finding microbes in the cow rumen and termite gut, it looks like we can actually make some contributions ourselves,” he said. “And our bugs seem to have some enzymes that are even better than those in the cow rumen.”

The paper, “Xylan utilization in human gut commensal bacteria is orchestrated by unique modular organization of polysaccharide-degrading enzymes” is available online at or from the U. of I. News Bureau.

The Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture funded this research. The EBI is a public-private collaboration funded with $500 million for 10 years from the energy company BP and includes researchers from Illinois, the University of California at Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

News Source:

Isaac Cann, 217-333-2090

News Writer:

Diana Yates, 217-333-5802


9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
I-Hotel and Conference Center, Champaign, IL

On Tuesday, November 19, join in the worldwide celebration of GIS Day locally at the iHotel. Connect with GIS users and enjoy a keynote presentation by Harriet Festing, Water Program Director of the Center for Neighborhood Technology, lightening talks, and complimentary lunch. The Illinois GIS Day is open to all faculty, staff & students. Registration is free, but space is limited. Proposals for Lightning Talks are now being accepted.

To participate, submit your proposal by October 10.

More information is at

Olson’s longstanding international collaboration yields valuable data on greenhouse gasses in relation to land-use changes

Published September 29, 2014
Drs. V. Golosov, Dr. K.R. Olson, and Dr. A. Gennadiyev in a grassland area near Tula, Russia

“It’s definitely been an adventure,” recalled Dr. Kenneth Olson of his 24-year collaboration with Dr. Alexander Gennadiyev, faculty at Moscow State University in Russia, to determine the potential effects of land use changes on soil organic carbon and greenhouse gas emissions.

In perhaps the College of ACES’ longest continuous international faculty collaboration, Olson, a professor of soil science in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, recently hosted Gennadiyev to exchange laboratory data. This particular visit ran smoothly, but that has not always been the case for Olson; while sampling and traveling with soils from prairie, forested, and agricultural sites in each of seven locations across Illinois, Iowa, South Dakota, and Russia (Tula and Belgorod), he has encountered several challenges. 

Read about Olson’s latest travel adventure, involving suitcases of soil, political tensions, and military exercises, here:

Despite the challenges associated with collecting and traveling intercontinentally with soil samples (over 1300 samples through the years), the results from Olson and Gennadiyev’s work have provided insight into how to retain as much carbon in soil organic matter for as long as possible.

“Our work ties to climate change. If you assume, the mesic-frigid line (upper boundary of corn production) may move north in the U.S. and in Russia, where forest and natural areas would have a climate suitable for agricultural use; these areas combined include a very large amount of prairie and forest soil that is currently holding in carbon and nitrogen. If these areas are repurposed into farmland, the suggestion is that greenhouse gas emissions would be accelerated,” Olson explained.

Gennadiyev’s visit coincided with the Master’s thesis defense for Olson’s graduate student, Ron Salemme, whose results showed that changing prairie soil into farmland causes an even greater loss of carbon than previous studies had shown. 

“Ron’s results show a 50-60% loss of carbon by changing from prairie soil to farmland. This particular field [at Dinesen Prairie in Harlan, Iowa] is on a 12% slope so the erosion rate is extremely high,” Olson said.

Olson’s previous results have shown that 18-48% of carbon could be lost from the soil by land use changes in both the U.S. and Russia.

“The forest is much better at sequestering carbon than the agricultural land. If you want to tie up carbon for a long time, trees, roots, and making furniture are good ways to do it. When you clear, cultivate, or burn forest, you lose carbon. If you want to sequester soil organic carbon, plant grasses; but if you want to sequester carbon overall, plant trees,” Olson said. 

If the forest or prairie land is converted to agricultural use, methods such as crop rotations and soil conservation can be implemented to retain as much carbon for as long as possible, said Olson.

“For example, one could restrict land use change or select agricultural systems which retain more soil organic carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

The 24-year cooperative research program has been funded by the U.S. State Department, U.S. Forest Service, NATO, and the Russian Research Foundation. Gennadiyev’s recent visit, as well as Dr. Olson’s trip to Moscow in April, were funded as part of a U.S. State Department travel grant. 

The project has supported five Russian graduate students in addition to Salemme. 

Olson’s most recent travel hiccup adds is the latest of several adventures he enjoys telling about the collaboration.

“One of the sites we sampled in Russia, Tula, has a rain cloud from Chernobyl. Radiation traveled 500 miles and came down at a higher rate with the rainstorm. We used that radiation in a test. At another soil sampling site, we found trenches and artillery shells; it was the site of the largest tank battle between Russia and Germany in WWII. We had to move the soil sampling site. Every time we went in the woods, we didn’t know what we would find but it was always an adventure.”

Olson and Gennadiyev met in 1979 at Cornell when the former was a research associate and the latter was a visiting professor. Gennadiyev was one of the first scientists to come to the U.S. from Russia.

Following his recent visit to the University of Illinois, Gennadiyev gave a lecture on the project at George Mason University in Virginia.

“I like to say we are members of the 20/20 club, as collaborators of over 20 years with over 20 refereed journal papers,” said Olson.

News Source:

Kenneth Olson

News Writer:

Leslie Myrick, 217-244-5373

Zhejiang students complete fifth annual summer internship program in ACES

Published September 29, 2014

Thirty students from China’s Zhejiang University (ZJU) completed a six-week summer internship in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) that included individualized work with ACES faculty members, industry-focused field trips, and social and cultural activities. 

The program, coordinated by the Office of International Programs, is in its fifth year. This year’s interns were admitted as part of a highly selective process that for the first time included an interview with OIP’s Associate Director Suzana Palaska-Nicholson.

Palaska-Nicholson visited the ZJU campus during March 2014 along with Dr. K.C. Ting, Department Head for the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, with the overall goal of expanding research partnerships with ZJU.

“Since 2009, this internship program has fostered our relationship with ZJU. Dr. Ting and I had productive conversations with ZJU partners about additional possibilities for research collaborations between our universities. We were also able to work with ZJU to diversify this year’s internship program to include other disciplines, specifically crop sciences, and next year, we plan to add agricultural economics majors,” Palaska- Nicholson said.

The students arrived on July 7, completed orientation and lab safety training, and remained busy at work in their mentors’ labs until the program culminated with a poster session on August 14. 

“It was evident from the poster session that the students had formed productive relationships with their mentors and staff from the labs. Six weeks is not long to conduct a research project, but the students’ engagement was impressive. It was great to see the mentors turn out and support their students at this event,” said Alex Winter-Nelson, director of the Office of International Programs.

As a testament to the support of ACES faculty and the program’s organization, for the past two years, ZJU has named the ACES summer internship as its best study-abroad program. Moreover, this program is serving as an excellent recruiting tool for new graduate students to our ACES programs.

OIP graduate assistant Dani Chen, who is a graduate of ZJU and a 3+2 student in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, served as a liaison to the students. OIP Office Manager Karen Driscoll assisted greatly with field trips and details relating to the program.

OIP thanks the ACES faculty members who served as mentors for this year's ZJU summer program:

Felipe Cardoso
Xinlei Wang
Kaustubh Bhalerao
Rex Gaskins
Matthew Wheeler
Steven Huber
Jeffrey Matthews
Gustavo Caetano-Anolles
Robert J M Hudson
Megan Dailey
Mohammad Babadoost
Anthony Yannarell
Adam Davis
Carl Bradley
Juan Loor
Rodney Johnson
Tony E. Grift
Prasanta K. Kalita
Hans-Peter M. Blaschek
Yong-su Jin
Hao Feng
Keith Cadwallader
Hans-Peter M. Blaschek
Hong Chen
Jack Juvik
Richard Weinzierl

Consumers want more pork and they want it now

Published September 29, 2014

URBANA, Ill. – According to Purdue University Extension economist Chris Hurt, although pork consumers have paid record-high retail prices this year, they want more. The latest USDA Hogs and Pigs report suggests that pork producers will be able to get more pork to consumers and to get it to them more quickly than had been anticipated.

“The rising volume of pork production over the next year will stand on three legs: lower death losses from PED, higher farrowings from producer expansion, and higher market weights this fall and winter,” Hurt said.

How can pork producers produce more pork quickly?

“The PED virus was not as deadly this summer as was anticipated,” Hurt said. “More baby pigs survived this summer than expected, and that will help boost pork supplies by the end of the year and into the winter. The number of pigs per litter this past summer was down 1.6 percent from the previous summer. This is much smaller than the losses in the previous two quarters. The number of pigs per litter was down 5.5 percent in the winter of 2014 and down 5.1 percent in the spring quarter. This meant that the number of market hogs was about 1 percent higher than expected according to the USDA survey results.”

Even more important to the hog and pork price outlook is what will happen to the number of pigs per litter this fall and winter and further into 2015.

“It’s important to keep in mind that PED began to be observed in the national data in October 2013,” Hurt said. “Estimated death losses—measured as the number of pigs per litter below trend—was about 2 to 3 percent in October and November 2013. This rose to 6 to 8 percent in the winter months and then 4 to 6 percent in spring 2014. The critical point is that the number of pigs per litter may actually be above year-previous levels beginning late this fall.”

Hurt said that increasing pigs per litter will be based on the low levels from a year ago and on the perceived “improved management” of the disease this fall and winter.

“It’s clear that PED is not controlled, but the hope is that spread of the disease and the number of death losses can be lowered,” Hurt said. “There are a host of reasons the industry believes they have improved management of PED that include: two vaccines approved for use; better understanding of methods of transmission; and better biosecurity on farms.  A milder winter could also contribute. By winter, this improved management could result in increasing pigs per litter by 2 percent to as much as 4 percent over the same measures of a year ago.”

More pigs per litter is one way pork supplies will likely be expanded. Increased sow farrowings is the second way that was revealed by USDA. Producers intend to farrow 4 percent more sows this fall and 4 percent more in the winter.

“It’s easy to understand the incentives producers have to expand, given record profits this summer and high hog prices and low feed prices due to huge fall crop production,” Hurt added.

Breeding herd numbers on Sept. 1 were up 2 percent, or by just over 100,000 head. The biggest portion of this expansion is in two states: Missouri, which was reported to have 40,000 more, and Iowa with 30,000 added head. Other states with noted expansions were: Texas, up 15,000 head, and Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, and Oklahoma with 10,000 additional.

Hurt said that market weights may continue to be somewhat higher this fall and winter. High weights will continue to be driven by low-priced feed and favorable profit margins. “Reduced PED losses will not provide as much excess finishing space,” Hurt said. “Weights may be up about 1 percent this fall and winter and then fall by ½ percent next spring and summer.

“More pork will be coming from more pigs per litter, more farrowings, and by more weight in the near term,” Hurt continued. “Pork supplies this fall will be down about 1 percent with winter supplies rising by 1 percent. The farrowing expansion this fall will increase pork supplies toward a 4 percent increase next spring and 5 percent greater pork supplies by summer,” he said. 

Will pork production grow enough to really help corn and soybean meal consumption for the 2014-15 marketing year?

Hurt said that only about 2 percent more pork will be produced in the 2014-15 corn and soybean marketing year. However, nearly 4 percent more pork is expected for the 2015 calendar year.

“The point is that it takes time to build the animal base and that more than half of the marketing year will be over before market hog numbers really begin to rise in the spring of 2015. However, grain farmers can be confident that the feed-usage base will continue to build for the 2015-16 marketing year.

“In 2014, the pork industry is having a record profit year, partially due to reduced pork supplies as a result of the PED virus,” Hurt concluded. “Profits for 2014 are estimated at $60 per head for average cost farrow-to-finish producers. The third quarter, which came to a close at the end of September, had an estimated $81 of record-quarterly profits. Profits are estimated to be near $60 in the last quarter and in the lower $40 per head for the first half of 2015. By mid-2015, expanded pork production will cut into prices and profits drop to an estimated $30 per head in the third quarter of 2015 and to $5 per head in the final quarter. Profits for the calendar year 2015 are currently estimated at $30 per head,” he said.



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