131 Scovell Hall
University of Kentucky
Q: What attracted you to discovery-based science?
A: It was the opportunity to actually make a discovery about something others may not have looked at yet. In graduate school, I studied grape and wine genetics and their application to grape physiology, but I really wanted to learn more advanced genetics and techniques. So, I sought out a post doctoral scholar at Stanford who had discovered the model plant, Arabidopsis; that really opened my mind. I went there with a question about cell shape and development as a fundamental component of every organism. That took me to cellulose research, and that became very important because of national and international efforts on renewable products.
Q: What’s the big deal about cellulose?
A: Cellulose is the most abundant biopolymer on the planet—clothes, paper, this table we are writing on—it’s all cellulose. There are very few moments in the average human life that are not spent in direct contact with it.
Q: Some of your research recently gained national attention. Tell us about that.
A: In my lab, we are really interested in discovering chemicals that regulate cellulose biosynthesis and bioprospecting (discovering and commercializing) natural products for new chemicals and drugs. Our research led to a patent last year; it was one of our main discoveries--the ability to create a flawed cellulose microfiber that would fall apart into a more digestible form of glucose, which could be converted to biofuel.
Q: What are some other things you are working on?
A: I am developing an undergraduate class in wine and brewing science. It’s always been a pet interest of mine. I think there are a lot of jobs in this area, but there’s not a lot of education around here about it.
Q: Are you doing what you “wanted to be when you grew up?”
A: In high school, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I tried all sorts of things from business to creative writing, and it turns out all those things are really hard, but so is chemistry and science. I think the hardest thing is finding something you’re good at and building on that.
Q: Any hobbies that you have time to indulge?
A: I really like surfing. So if someone could create some surfing in Kentucky, that would be great; there’s a lot of coastline, but no waves!
Like a pebble tossed into a pond, agriculture ripples into the local economy far beyond its base worth of acreage and yield. The effect is known as an economic cluster, where the core business—in this case, agriculture—can impact other businesses that have direct or indirect relationships to it.
Surrounding the core industry is a ring of businesses that directly feed into the center, such as combining services, veterinarians, or fencing companies. Insurance companies, tax accountants, and banks that make farm loans occupy the next ring. Outside that level are more distantly related businesses—anything from dry cleaners to hospitality and tourism.
“Ignoring these businesses underestimates the value of the agricultural sector,” said Alison Davis, UK agricultural economics associate professor.
She, Leigh Maynard, chair of the Department of Agricultural Economics, and Community and Leadership Development Professor Lori Garkovich recently released a study on Fayette County’s agricultural cluster; it accounts for one in nine jobs and $2.4 billion in annual revenue.
“With the increasing pressures on land use, it is interesting to explore what happens to the overall local economy when there is a loss in production agriculture,” Davis said.
If production agriculture were to decline by 10 percent —$41 million—in Fayette County, there would be an overall additional decrease of $26 million in output. Though the numbers would vary, if productive farmland were to decrease in other counties, the general outcome would apply there as well.
“It’s important to remember that clusters are geographically based, but not geographically bound,” Garkovich said. “If the core industry moves away, the cluster will too.”
— Carol Lea Spence
IIt’s always sad to hear about a child dying, especially when the death could easily have been prevented. Last year more than 30 children in the United States, most under age two, died in the backseats of hot cars where they were left unattended. In Kentucky, 15 children have perished this way since 1998.
Thanks to funding from a Barnhart Fund for Excellence award, UK Senior Extension Associate Connee Wheeler developed Beat the Heat: Check the Backseat, borrowable displays and educational materials, in an effort to prevent these tragedies.
“I think most people would be surprised that a low percentage of these deaths are a result of the caregiver being impaired by drugs or alcohol,” she said. “In fact, 70 percent of the time, it’s because the caregiver simply forgot the child was in the car, or they only planned to be gone for a few minutes.”
It only takes about 10 minutes for the temperature inside a car to rise 19 degrees. Leaving the windows slightly open has little or no effect.
“Keep something you know you’ll need in the backseat, so when you go to grab it, you see the child,” she recommended. “Avoid phone calls and texts while you’re in the car.”
Wheeler said anyone can check out the materials from a local Cooperative Extension office to use in programs or displays at churches, information fairs, farmers markets—anywhere parents or caregivers might see them.
Wheeler created the displays in cooperation with the Louisville office of the National
Weather Service and its director John Gordon.
— Aimee Nielson
A few years ago, some animals at the Louisville Zoo began showing signs of gastrointestinal issues. As zoo officials were looking at the potential causes, a zookeeper found a bittersweet vine growing between exhibits and through the cages’ mesh. Weeds can be a lot more than nuisances; some, like bittersweet, are toxic.
The vine was immediately removed as a precaution, and today, zoo personnel regularly identify and eliminate noxious weeds.
Wallabies observe while Wayne Long and Roy Burns carry out
a search-and-destroy mission for toxic weeds at the Louisville Zoo.
“Most well-fed animals, most of the time, will not eat toxic plants, and the animals at the zoo get really, really good nutrition,” said Dr. Roy Burns, one of the zoo’s veterinarians.
“Whether that (the bittersweet) was the cause of their distress, we’ll never know, but it got our attention that we needed to do an annual refresher course on looking for toxic plants.”
For help, Burns turned to Wayne Long, Jefferson County agriculture and natural resources extension agent, and J.D. Green, extension weed scientist in the UK Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.
“UK specialists are our go-to people for a lot of things,” Burns said.
Since then, Green and Long have led zoo personnel on annual treks searching for and identifying any poisonous weeds at the zoo. Poison hemlock is the weed of biggest concern. Due to its location and prevalence within one area, Burns believes the seed was introduced when soil was brought in for a new exhibit.
"As the name implies, poison hemlock can be extremely toxic, with the potential to kill animals that consume the plant," Green said.
As toxic weeds are identified, Green and Long work with zoo personnel on control measures—often removing the plants by hand— to ensure all of the zoo’s animals remain healthy.
— Katie Pratt
For nearly 150 years, the UK College of Agriculture has graduated extraordinary alumni who have contributed substantially to their chosen fields, to their communities, and society. To pay tribute to these distinguished graduates, the College and the Ag and HES Alumni Association initiated the Hall of Distinguished Alumni in 2012. This award is the highest honor the College will bestow.
Louis Boyd of Bogart, Ga., ’50, MS ’51, began his 41-year career in animal agriculture as an extension specialist at UK before distinguishing himself at the University of Tennessee, Michigan State University, and the University of Georgia. His research in breeds and genetics has enabled countless producers to improve their profitability and livelihoods.
Under his leadership, external funding for UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and Agricultural Experiment Station increased more than fourfold. He was also instrumental in building the UGA alumni association and college development activities. Throughout his career, he was a mentor to students, student clubs, and teams.
Maurice Cook of Raleigh, N.C., ’57, MS ’59, a leader in soil science and world-renowned expert in soil and water conservation, taught at North Carolina State University for more than 30 years before retiring in 1992.
He directed the Division of Soil and Water Conservation in North Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources, where he initiated a soil and water conservation cost-share program for farmers, the first in the nation. Cook also served as senior advisor for agricultural affairs, representing the governor on issues of better soil and water conservation management.
The UK Hall of Distinguished Alumni inducted Cook
David Switzer of Lexington, ’67, is recognized worldwide for his extensive knowledge, experience, and accomplishments in the horse breeding and racing industries and is also an acknowledged expert in equine foundation bloodstock and insurance. He successfully promotes the Kentucky Thoroughbred industries locally, nationally, and
Switzer played a vital role in communications during the Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome crisis in 2001-2002. He also led efforts to create an emergency response team from state government and industry should another such event occur.
Switzer was the inaugural recipient of the Friend of the UK Equine Initiative Award in 2006.
Harold Workman of Louisville, ’69, recently retired as president and CEO for the Kentucky State Fair Board. Because of his efforts, the Kentucky Exposition Center is home to several signature events, including the North American International Livestock Exposition, the largest purebred livestock show in the world, and the National Farm Machinery Show, which generates more than $20 million in annual economic impact for Louisville. Under his leadership, the exposition center has grown into one of the 10 largest facilities of its type.
Among Workman’s many honors is induction into the UK Department of Animal and Food Sciences Hall of Fame.
Joseph Wright of Harned, ’62, a farmer and implement dealer, served 16 years as state senator, 11 of those as senate majority leader. During his tenure, he helped support the purchase of land for what is now the C. Oran Little Research Center and spearheaded efforts to secure funding for additional College building needs.
He is a past president of the Burley Growers Cooperative board of directors and was a founding member of the Kentucky FFA Foundation. Wright also served on the state fair board; Council for Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching; Breckinridge County school board; and 2012 Kentucky Tax Reform Commission.
Garland M. Bastin, ‘45
Smith D. Broadbent Jr., ’34, MS ‘35
Thomson R. Bryant, 1908
Patricia J. Buster, ‘34
Russell F. Frazier, ‘40
Opal Hurley Mann Green, ’44, MS ‘65
John H. Heick, ‘50
James Kabler, ‘38
Pauline Park Wilson Knapp, ‘24
Charles A. Mahan, 1907, MS 1908
Shirley H. Phillips, '48, MS '56
Doris A. Tichenor, ’52,
MS ’58, PhD ‘69
Larry Turner, PhD ‘84
McElwyn D. Whiteker, ’51, MS ’57, PhD ‘61
Harry Young Jr., ‘41
(l-r) Martin Steffan, Chad Riddle, Ryan Hargrove, Justin Menke
Lextran, Transit Authority of Lexington, recently chose a team of three UK landscape architecture students as winners in a Lexington area transit competition to design an art-inspired bus shelter in Lexington. The design by Martin Steffan, Chad Riddle, and Justin Menke, which won out over several professional design firms, was a modern take on a Craftsman-style bus stop.
“For a student group to win, this is a big deal,” said Ryan Hargrove, UK assistant professor of landscape architecture. His Materials and Methods course for senior-level students was their project gateway into the competition.
The competition, however, was about more than coming up with a winning design. Beyond submitting drawings, the student team had to spec out materials for each element of design. They partnered with professional contractors to learn construction methods and how to create and process construction documents. At the same time they had to meet cost and budget requirements for building their unique bus shelter. They presented their design proposal and participated in a series of interviews with Art in Motion, a non-profit group that is helping fund several aesthetically pleasing bus shelters along Lextran bus routes.
“It was a further test of getting to know the design process beyond getting the grade,” Menke said.
Construction on the bus shelter should begin this summer at the Towne Center Plaza on Leestown Rd. in Lexington. Lextran plans to open proposals for other bus shelter design competitions in the future. Their goal is to give each bus shelter a unique identity that combines beauty and function.
“These types of structures can be beacons in the community that add value and help increase bus ridership,” Hargrove said. “It’s going to help with the whole idea of Lexington getting more people involved in public transit, and art is a great way to do that.”
UK Landscape Architecture students Justin Menke, Chad Riddle, and Martin Steffan designed this Lexington bus stop—a modern take on Craftsman-style—that will be built at Towne Center Plaza.