UGA scientists awarded Guggenheim fellowships

UGA scientists awarded Guggenheim fellowships

Athens, Ga. – University of Georgia scientists Andrew Paterson and Pejman Rohani have been awarded John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowships. Paterson is studying sorghum as source of biofuel, and Rohani is studying dengue fever, a potentially deadly mosquito borne illness. Guggenheim Fellows are appointed on the basis of distinguished achievement in the past and exceptional promise for future accomplishment.

Paterson, a distinguished research professor in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ crop and soil science department, is director of the UGA Plant Genome Mapping Laboratory (www.plantgenome.uga.edu).

What sets sorghum apart as a prospective whole-plant-based ethanol crop is that sorghum can easily be made perennial, meaning it comes back year after year, according to Paterson. Perennials also protect the soil more effectively and aren’t as prone as annuals to causing soil erosion. Sorghum efficiently converts the sun’s light into energy and needs only about half the water of corn. That makes it a prime candidate for further ethanol studies, according to Paterson.

“At the moment, sorghum is the No. 2 bioethanol crop in the country,” said Paterson. As a seed-based ethanol crop, sorghum falls right below corn. “Bioethanol is currently produced from seeds, but sorghum can easily make the transition from seed-based to whole-plant-based biofuels,” he added.

Rohani, associate professor of ecology and UGA Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases researcher, aims to develop a model that will describe how genetic differences among the four related serotypes that cause dengue fever influence outbreaks in humans. He points out that the incidence and geographic range of dengue are increasing, underscoring a critical need for a better understanding of what drives outbreaks.

“Dengue is a reemerging infectious disease – the epidemics are becoming more frequent and more severe,” said Rohani, who is co-author of the book Modeling Infectious Diseases, scheduled to be published in Oct. “So it’s important that we understand the mechanisms that are responsible for generating these epidemics.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are an estimated 50 to 100 million cases of dengue fever every year. The agency notes that there are several hundred thousand annual cases of the more serious dengue hemorrhagic fever, which has an average fatality rate of five percent. The incidence and range of dengue fever are increasing as global warming allows the mosquito responsible for its spread to increase its range. Population growth in developing nations is adding to the problem by pushing more people into substandard housing in mosquito-infested areas. The ease of travel plays a role in the spread of dengue as well, with 100 to 200 suspected cases of dengue being introduced into the U.S. each year by travelers.

The Guggenheim Fellowship program is distinguished from all others by the wide range in interest, age, geography and institution of those it selects as it considers applications in 78 different fields, from the natural sciences to the creative arts.