December 14, 2006

Researchers garner dollars through C-FAR

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- While C-FAR, the state's great fount of funding for food and agricultural research, has not run dry, the money's not flowing as it did once. That's bad news not just for researchers but for the state as a whole, says an agriculture expert from Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

"Many good people with good ideas no longer look to C-FAR as a viable funding resource, so they come up with other projects that may not be related to Illinois issues," said John S. Russin, associate dean of SIUC's College of Agricultural Sciences.

"We're not mining the wealth of ideas that we used to when we had more money. All that expertise is being lost to the solving of problems in Illinois."

Today, C-FAR's annual appropriation, $4.5 million, comes to just a little more than it did shortly after the state enacted the legislation behind it more than a decade ago. SIUC's share this year comes to $346,611 for awards made by the university to its own researchers, though its faculty still can compete with others for larger grants from a statewide pool.

"It (the internal money) doesn't go real far, so we have to be very careful as to where we place our pennies," Russin said.

Six SIUC faculty members won new internal grants this year for projects ranging from ethanol production to Omega-3 pork. Five received funding to continue or finish work on earlier projects.

Here's a quick sketch of the University's newest C-FAR studies.

• Ahmad M. Fakhoury, an assistant professor in plant, soil and agricultural systems, will try to create mutant yeasts that can withstand high concentrations of alcohol and acidity, two common conditions in the fermentation process that produces ethanol. Those that can do it best would not only help companies that produce fuel more efficiently but could benefit bakeries and breweries, too. Fakhoury's project has a two-year time line.

• Amer AbuGhazaleh, an assistant professor in animal science, food and nutrition, will expand on earlier research showing that meat from pigs fed a diet high in Omega-3 fatty acids retained these healthful substances. Along with colleague Gary A. Apgar, a swine expert, and Phillip R. Eberle from agribusiness economics, he will try to nail down the best time in the finishing process to begin the supplemental Omega-3 diet and to figure out the costs and economic returns of doing so. Results would help pork producers by boosting demand not just in Illinois but around the world, if the market for Omega-3 eggs is any guide. Enhanced pork also may cut rates of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and other such ailments, making Americans healthier and saving the health care system billions each year. AbuGhazaleh's project will run for two years.

Jon E. Schoonover and Karl W.J. Williard, both from forestry, may have the most ambitious project. Building on previous work with the region's native giant cane, the pair proposes over the next three years to plant both cane and a selection of hardwoods along some streams on University farmland. Then they'll see how each does at keeping soil, farm chemicals and bacteria from animal waste from washing into the watershed fed by those streams. They'll also look at how the streams change as a result of having these "buffer strips." Long-term benefits include less top soil loss, lower water treatment costs, better water quality, more habitat for wildlife, increased recreational opportunities and greater beauty.

Kolapo M. Ajuwon, an assistant professor in animal science, food and nutrition, will lead a team evaluating the impact of soy oils on heart disease and overall health. The team, which includes colleagues William J. Banz and D. Allan Higginbotham, also will compare the effects of a particular type of soy oil to those of soy oil in general and to palm and fish oils. Researchers expect the project to take three years. Positive results could contribute to public health while improving the market for soybeans.

Eberle has a small "seed grant" to conduct a survey aimed at collecting information about recreational land leases in the state. He can then feed that information into a model that could help landowners and farm managers decide whether leasing their land for recreational purposes, such as hunting, fishing or wildlife watching, would make economic sense for them. Renting would bring in extra income for both landowners and the rural communities that profit from money spent on food, lodging and other recreational services.

Leading in research, scholarly and creative activities is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.