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Fungal Biology and Emerging Issues in Agriculture

Ebbole, Daniel
Texas A&M University
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Two graduate fellows will be trained to meet the future national need for scientists able to understand and confront emerging disease threats. The first objective is to mentor students in devising responses to emerging fungal diseases important to Texas and U.S. agriculture. As part of this objective we will engage students in case studies involving emerging diseases in Texas. In addition to specific coursework in fungal biology and plant-microbe interactions, the students will take coursework exploring societal components related to agriculture.

The second objective will require students to take formal training in agricultural leadership, multiculturalism, and ethics as part of the Ph.D. coursework in Plant Pathology and Fungal Biology.

The third objective will test the hypothesis that PhD training can be accomplished quickly using intensive instruction approaches, while producing students well prepared to move on to the next stage of their careers in agriculture. We will establish a fast-track PhD program (4 year average time to degree) in which students both employ modern interdisciplinary methodologies and excel at communicating scientific findings to a variety of audiences. Finally, we will track student productivity and outcomes to assess the training program for these students relative to our other students.

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NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Emerging diseases continually threaten the nation's food supply. Maintaining a scientific workforce capable of addressing these threats is critical to national security. This training program is designed to train students in fungal biology and emerging fungal diseases and retain their expertise in agriculture throughtout their careers.

APPROACH: First-hand experience in all aspects of the response to emerging disease problems will be invaluable to the future professional capabilities of the NNF trainees. To accomplish objective 1, current issues in Texas will provide cases for learning about emerging diseases and for improving our response to the inevitable future disease introductions that the nation will face. The objective for the case study training will be to allow students to choose a focal disease problem and participate in the activities faculty undertake to devise responses to the problem. This aspect of the proposed training is not limited to the campus at College Station, but will take advantage of the nine research and extension centers located throughout Texas. The planned activities are expected to last approximately one week for each of the first eight semesters. The consideration of ethics, leadership, gender, and culture is critical to policy considerations. Students need to be exposed to the mental models that they and we all have that are influenced by our gender, ethnicity, and race. The two trainees be required to participate in two undergraduate level courses offered by the Department of Agricultural Education in Agricultural Development to formally address these areas. We envision a target of a four year research and training period. This is shorter than our typical training period. However, our goal is to produce well trained students ready for post-PhD work after four years. Given that the period between PhD and permanent position has expanded in the past decade, we believe it is important to retention in the agricultural field to allow students to progress along their career paths as rapidly as possible while maintaining rigorous standards. Our post-graduate tracking will help us determine if this philosophy is supported by actual student outcomes.

Funding Source
Nat'l. Inst. of Food and Agriculture
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Food Defense and Integrity
Chemical Contaminants