Conor McCabe ’18, promoted federal funding for agricultural research and land-grant universities in Washington D.C from March 4th to 7th as the first-ever student selected to serve as a delegate for the Association of Public Land Grant Universities’ Council for Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching. In an interview with The Sun, McCabe talked about the importance of having a current student’s perspective when making funding decisions relating to education and research. “Many of the individuals who previously served on [CARET] were at the end of their careers, but there had never been a point of view of someone who was currently experiencing the land-grant system as a student,” McCabe said. “I had such a unique story to tell that would show the power of the land-grant university system and how my life has been directly impacted by it.”
The motivation behind McCabe’s involvement in D.C. stemmed not only from his academic background, but also from his personal history. The kinds of agricultural programs for which he advocated in D.C. were similar to those from which he had benefited from in his childhood.
Fertilizers form the backbone of many agricultural processes worldwide. Decades worth of work has been poured into understanding the way in which fertilizers function and the ways in which they can affect the environment. In fact, the process by which bacteria break down nitrogen products in fertilizers to help provide plants with nutrients has found its way into high school textbooks, often accompanied by easy to understand diagrams.
A study led by Prof. Kyle Lancaster, chemistry, however, sheds light on a new found process that suggests that there is more to this nitrogen cycle than previously known. According to Lancaster, existing biochemical models state that bacteria convert ammonia into an inorganic compound, Hydroxylamine, before turning that into nitrite. Nitrite can then be converted by other bacteria to form nitrate, a vital plant nutrient.
On a daily basis, most of us do not think about the crops that our food comes from. And yet, the importance of commercial crop studies cannot be overstated, especially for human health. Without the crucial genetic mapping resources developed by Prof. Edward Buckler, plant breeding and genetics, these studies would be impossible. As a geneticist at the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, Buckler is in a unique position to manage a variety of national resources to lead such studies. These efforts culminated in a Washington, D.C. ceremony in April, where Buckler was awarded the National Academy of Sciences Prize in Food and Agricultural Studies.
Hunger and malnutrition are ancient problems. So much has been said and written on the subject of feeding the 6.7 billion people on Earth that the discussion has progressed from an instinctual question of “what’s for dinner” into an unwieldy, amorphous cloud of questions — about nutrition, about politics, about the environment — for which there seem to be no easy answers.