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PMIL researcher, Renee Arias, recognized by Obama for contribution to science

By Allison Floyd

University of Georgia, Peanut & Mycotoxin Innovation Lab

Renee Arias, a Peanut & Mycotoxin Innovation Lab researcher, was recognized by President Obama today with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their research careers. The 106 winners will receive awards at a ceremony this spring in Washington, D.C.

Working at the National Peanut Research Laboratory in Dawson, Ga., Arias hopes to use RNA interference (RNAi) to reduce aflatoxin contamination of peanut seeds. Aflatoxin is a natural byproduct of mold that grows in the soil; by studying the RNA of Aspergillus mold, Arias could create a peanut variety that turns off the mold’s gene that creates toxin.

For the genetic diversity studies, Arias’ team analyzed samples from Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Zambia and the USA and fingerprinted using sequences the gene for aflatoxin synthesis.

Three African peanut varieties (CG 7, JL 24 and ICGV 90704) are being transformed at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya, using RNAi molecular constructs provided by NPRL. Scientists at the NPRL are providing training and backstopping to the African scientists in the project, many of whom have visited the NPRL for hands-on training.

“These early-career scientists are leading the way in our efforts to confront and understand challenges from climate change to our health and wellness,” Obama said. “We congratulate these accomplished individuals and encourage them to continue to serve as an example of the incredible promise and ingenuity of the American people.”

The award, established by President Clinton in 1996, is coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach.

Published February 23, 2016