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January 2021 GRA Notes from the Georgia Research Alliance
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UGA, GRA recruit renowned expert in
plant genomics


A scientist who led a key part of the first genetic mapping of a crop plant is the newest recruit to Georgia as a GRA Eminent Scholar. Robin Buell, a top plant genomics expert at Michigan State, will arrive at the University of Georgia in August. Her work as principal investigator on a 2005 team was pivotal in the publishing of the genome sequence of rice — ushering in a new era of crop breeding in agriculture. Buell later played a leadership role in an effort to sequence the genome of the potato. Mapping the genomes of crop plants opened the door to creating varietals that better resist drought and pests, thus increasing yields. Buell says she chose to relocate to UGA because of its multi-faceted plant genomics research and its strength in precision agriculture. • More on the new Scholar >

Article: GRA key to preparing for COVID-19 fight

GRA’s longtime investment in university scientists and their labs has been a major factor in Georgia's contributions to fighting COVID-19, according to the Jan. 22 Atlanta Business Chronicle. The article cites the work of the Emory Vaccine Center, led by GRA Eminent Scholar Rafi Ahmed, for playing a major role: The center’s Hope Clinic was one of three U.S. testing sites for the Moderna vaccine now being used to protect people from the disease. The article also cites GRA member university Morehouse School of Medicine for being “one of the institutions leading the national effort to educate the public about the COVID-19 vaccines, designing strategies to reach the communities hardest hit by the pandemic.” Also spotlighted is GRA Eminent Scholar Ted Ross at UGA for his team’s work on a vaccine and for studying how long people stay immune to COVID-19. • Read the article here >

Help us get to 100 subscribers on YouTube!

What’s it really like inside a university lab? GRA Eminent Scholars believe it's a question worth exploring to encourage more underrepresented students to consider pursuing research in science, engineering and technology. Last year, the Academy of Eminent Scholars discussed finding new ways to increase minority participation in research. One idea was to get a few university students to share their experiences in the lab. Those conversations are now part of a new GRA video channel on YouTube called Xplorers. Check out the segments — and please help GRA get to 100 subscribers, so we can create a simple URL to promote the channel! • Watch + subscribe now >

Why Lucid Scientific is a ‘company to watch’

Before drug therapies are evaluated in animals and people, they’re tested on cells in laboratories. These early experiments involve studying how cells turn oxygen into energy — a time-consuming process that GRA-backed Lucid Scientific has found a way to accelerate, safely and economically. Lucid's technology provides scientists with a real-time view of cells’ oxygen consumption — far better than the current view of “snapshots” over time. The market potential for such technology is tremendous, given that scientists conduct 60 million such experiments per year. • Learn about Lucid’s unique approach >

UGA Scholar aims to solve plant, soil mystery

A certain class of microbes in soil can help or hinder plant performance, and scientists aren’t sure why. But a new research endeavor led by GRA Eminent Scholar Jeffrey Bennetzen at UGA seeks to solve the mystery — and the resulting information is expected to transform the field of plant science. With a five-year, $11.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, Bennetzen and his team will study field conditions and the genetic makeup of the microbes, called AMF, to determine how they affect the growth of sorghum, a grain and biomass crop. The researchers will leverage new techniques in data generation and analysis to evaluate sorghum development in two very different environments, Georgia and Arizona. We’re going to be generating novel information that will change the field dramatically,” Bennetzen says. “We’re asking questions that haven’t been asked, so no matter what the answer is, it’ll be new.” • More on the research >

Augusta Scholar IDs new tumor classification

The most common type of brain tumor in adults, gliomas, can be challenging to classify for diagnosis and treatment. That’s because the two classification methods currently used can yield inconsistent findings. Now, Augusta University scientists have come up with a third classification method that they say is “adept at recognizing some of the most serious of these tumors.” GRA Eminent Scholar Jin-Xiong She (above, right) and MD/Ph.D. student Paul Tran published their new classification method in the journal Scientific Reports. “We found our method may have some advantages because we found some patients actually had a worse prognosis that could be identified by our method, but not by the other approaches," says Tran. Gliomas have three subtypes: Glioblastomas are more lethal, and astrocytomas and oligodendrogliomas tend to be more treatable. • Read about the research >See the full study >

Emory’s infectious disease program ranks #5

Congratulations to Emory University — its research program in infectious diseases now ranks no. 5 in the U.S. and no. 9 in the world, according to U.S. News & World Report. The evolution of the Emory Vaccine Center factors prominently in the program’s rise; established 25 years ago with support from GRA, the center is now believed to be the largest of its kind housed at a university. “This ranking recognizes the impact our infectious disease faculty and staff have had in this critical discipline for so many years,” says Jonathan Lewin, Emory’s executive VP for health affairs. “From HIV to Ebola to the current battle against COVID-19, Emory has led the way in tackling deadly diseases.” Related: GRA Eminent Scholar Rafi Ahmed (above), the founding and current head of the Emory Vaccine Center, was named a “COVID Hero” this month by Georgia Trend Magazine. Collectively, the heroes represent the magazine’s “Georgians of the Year.” • Emory’s announcement is here >See the writeup on Rafi >

To relieve congestion in babies, Dr. Noze Best

Nasal congestion in infants can be both a challenge and a fright to parents. But a new aspirator from the startup Dr. Noze Best makes it much easier to relieve congestion. Called NozeBot, the rechargeable system allows the baby to be stabilized while hospital-grade suction is applied. The startup, supported by GRA investment, rolled out NozeBot this month and began taking orders online. • Visit Dr. Noze Best online >

NIH grant will expand Mercer research on virus

More Mercer University students will be engaging in drug development research thanks to a major NIH grant awarded to the university. The $407,629 grant to School of Medicine faculty Robert Visalli and Melissa Visalli will further their exploration of a drug to treat human herpesvirus. It’s also intended to expose more undergraduate, graduate and medical students at Mercer to “quality, impactful research experiences.” Robert Visalli has studied the human herpesvirus for more than 30 years; his research is supported through GRA’s investment in a high-powered microscope at the university. Melissa Visalli (above) serves as a research associate and is investigating herpesviruses as well. • More on the Mercer news >

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