UC Davis Agricultural Researchers Win National, International Awards
Two University of California, Davis, researchers have won prestigious national and international awards in recognition of their work using genomics to address livestock health and crop resilience in the wake of a changing climate.
The National Academy of Sciences today (Jan. 23) announced Huaijun Zhou, a professor in the Department of Animal Science and the director of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Genomics to Improve Poultry, as the recipient of the NAS Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences.
Last month, Pamela Ronald, distinguished professor in the Department of Plant Pathology, received the VinFuture Special Prize for Female Innovators.
Both are long-time faculty in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the Genome Center.
Nod to livestock work
“I could not believe I would receive such a prestigious award,” Zhou said. “It is my great privilege and honor to be the first recipient in the field of animal science.”
In a news release, the National Academy of Sciences said Zhou’s work has significantly advanced the understanding of poultry and livestock genomes. “His research has had a major impact on selection and breeding of food animals for production efficiency and disease resistance, helping to address critical issues of food insecurity and global climate change,” the news release stated.
Harris Lewin, emeritus distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, said in a nominating letter that Zhou “has made extraordinary contributions to the field through his innovative multidisciplinary research and novel applications.”
Zhou and his team developed a platform to genetically enhance a chicken’s resilience to the respiratory ailment Newcastle Disease, a dangerous affliction in Africa where the birds serve as a source of nutrition and economic support. They also identified the microorganisms that inhibit salmonella growth in chicken guts, making it possible for industry to develop novel probiotics to reduce the foodborne pathogen and, in turn, decrease the chances of transmission to humans.
He has also led the global effort in decoding DNA fragments of livestock and poultry. These discoveries open a new door that could lead to better sustainability and biosecurity for livestock, Zhou said.
Zhou and his team have also trained people in Africa about animal rearing, vaccinations, data analysis, molecular assays and other sustainability skills. “It’s very important to train the people in the countries where professional training is lacking so the program can be more sustainable,” he said.
The academy prize comes with a $100,000 award and is given to mid-career scientists in a variety of fields who have “made an extraordinary contribution to agriculture or to the understanding of the biology of a species fundamentally important to agriculture or food production.” It is funded through gifts from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The academy will honor Zhou at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.