Since its establishment in 1953, ARS has attracted some of the best and brightest minds to fill its scientific ranks and put their considerable talents to work addressing agricultural issues of high national importance. This year, ARS is proud to highlight the achievements of Elizabeth Ainsworth, Heather Allen, Jo Anne Crouch, and Sara Lupton.
Ainsworth, an ARS molecular biologist at the Global Change and Photosynthesis Research Unit in Urbana, IL, and a lead investigator of SoyFACE Global Change Research, was awarded the 2019 National Academy of Sciences Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences for her groundbreaking work on addressing future challenges of feeding the world in the face of global climate change. Ainsworth’s scientific focus is to identify and utilize genetic variation within crop species to better adapt them for future environmental conditions. Her research efforts include measuring crop responses to global climate changes from the molecular to the agronomic scale and determining the genetic underpinnings of those varieties that are more tolerant of higher concentrations of atmospheric ozone and more responsive to higher carbon dioxide. According to her and her collaborator’s studies, exposure to ozone pollution over the past 30 years has reduced corn yields by about 10 percent and soybean yields by about 5 percent. They also found significant differences in ozone tolerance among the varieties. This shows the potential for breeding more ozonetolerant varieties. Ainsworth received a medal and a $100,000 prize, endowed through gifts from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Presidential Early Career Award
Three ARS scientists received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE): Heather Allen at the National Animal Disease Center in Ames, IA; Jo Anne Crouch at the Mycology and Nematology Genetic Diversity and Biology Laboratory in Beltsville, MD; and Sara Lupton at the Edward T. Schafer Agricultural Research Center in Fargo, ND. The PECASE is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government to outstanding scientists and engineers who are beginning their research careers and who show exceptional promise for leadership in science and technology.
Allen was a microbiologist and an international expert on antibiotic resistance gene ecology and swine gut microbial communities. Her work significantly increased our understanding of the effects of agricultural practices on foodborne pathogens and antibiotic resistance genes in food-producing animals. Allen, who passed away in March 2020, discovered that regardless of the antibiotic treatment administered, swine gut microbiota harbor diverse antibiotic resistance genes.
Lupton is a research chemist and is internationally recognized for her research on chemical contaminants in cattle, swine, and poultry, as well as their byproducts, waste systems, and feed sources. Her contributions have informed decision-making by regulatory agencies and promoted consumer confidence in the food supply and domestic milk and meat production practices.
Jo Anne Crouch
Crouch is a molecular biologist whose research has been key to understanding the global diversity of fungal pathogens affecting horticultural plants, turfgrass, and cereal crops. She has developed molecular markers, diagnostic assays, genome tools, and taxonomic resources to combat downy mildews, boxwood blight, dollar spot, and other plant diseases.