The research of our Aggie family members truly improves people’s lives all over the world. Faculty and staff in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences perform research in five major areas that we call our Grand Challenges: feeding our world, protecting our environment, improving our health, enriching our youth and growing our economy.
Their contributions are too many to list, but we’ve highlighted a few topics below. You can also learn more about specific areas of research expertise in our departments.
Protecting Our Environment
Developing better ways to protect our coasts, Dr. Rusty Feagin, associate professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, is studying barrier islands, beaches and dunes to learn how natural and man-made changes affect fragile ecosystems. In particular, he uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and related technologies to analyze the effects of global climate change and urbanization on the distribution of coastal plant communities.
People worldwide use our software to model the effects of watershed management as well as soil and water conservation. One of the main developers of the Soil and Water Assessment Tool is Dr. Raghavan Srinivasan, director of the Texas A&M University Spatial Sciences Laboratory and ecosystem science and management professor. SWAT simulates the quality and quantity of surface and groundwater and predicts the environmental impact of land use, land management practices and climate change. SWAT is widely used in assessing soil erosion prevention and control, non-point source pollution control and regional management in watersheds.
Many of us involved in the study and mitigation of climate change hope that our work will galvanize global actions that will lead to bettering the lives of current and future generations.
—Bruce McCarl, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Regents Professor and Distinguished Professor of Agricultural Economics
Feeding Our World
These lucky legumes resist heat, drought, and disease. Black-eyed peas, also known as cowpeas, are a major source of dietary protein for people in Africa, Asia and South America. Heat-stress, drought and disease-resistant varieties developed at the College, and tested in South Africa, could prove vital for farmers in tropical and subtropical countries. Leading the project are Dr. Jamie Foster, soil and crop scientist with Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Dr. B.B. Singh, visiting professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, and Dr. Joseph Awika, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Science.
Amino acids aren’t just an essential part of your diet and the building blocks of proteins in your body. Some amino acids can rev up your metabolism, increase growth, or reduce obesity. Dr. Guoyao Wu, distinguished professor of animal science, studies how these “functional amino acids” affect health in animals. His work helps formulate balanced diets for livestock, fish and poultry. It also opens up new research questions in human health.
Civilization as it is known today would not have evolved, nor can it survive, without an adequate food supply.
—Norman Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Distinguished Professor of International Agriculture (1914 – 2009)
Growing Our Economy
Our researchers developed the first commercially grown and marketed energy sorghums in North and South America. Combining plant breeding and genomics research, Drs. William Rooney, Patricia Klein and John Mullet helped sorghum become an important biofuel crop and a primary genomic model for plant researchers. Other faculty members are working on biofuel design, chemistry, production and marketing as well as studying the impact biofuels have on business and natural resource policies.
The Agricultural & Food Policy Center, a part of the Department of Agricultural Economics, does research to provide unbiased and objective economic analysis of the impacts of government programs in agriculture and food production.
Climate change broadly affects the economy of agriculture and touches on land management, air quality, groundwater use, crop yields and more. Dr. Bruce McCarl, distinguished professor of agricultural economics, focuses on these economic issues among many others. He is an internationally recognized scholar on climate change, El Niño, water issues, bioenergy, applied mathematical programming, risk analysis and biosecurity – research topics of major importance to Texas, the United States and the world. Dr. McCarl shared the Nobel Peace Prize for climate change in 2007 with a team of scientists that were part of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Improving Our Health
Improving nutrition for astronauts and aiding efforts to prevent colon cancer, Dr. Joanne Lupton’s research helps Americans think more clearly about their food choices. Dr. Lupton, whose numerous honors and awards include membership in the Institute of Medicine, holds the William W. Allen endowed chair in nutrition.
My real passion is taking basic science and translating it into understandable terms that can make a difference through public policy.
—Joanne R. Lupton, Distinguished Professor, Regents Professor, University Faculty Fellow and William W Allen Endowed Chair in Nutrition
An animal’s temperament and response to stress affect immunity, metabolism, and growth — and this has broad applications for both animal and human health. Dr. Thomas Welsh, professor in the Department of Animal Science, Dr. Ron Randel, professor of animal science with Texas A&M AgriLife Research, and their colleagues have performed research describing how stress can decrease growth and increase medical costs. The team’s work has already helped change how calves are transported and handled.
For rational drug design and a better understanding of proteins important to human health, an 800 MHz NMR spectrometer helps researchers in our College work on interdisciplinary projects with others at Texas A&M University.
Enriching Our Youth
How much time do kids spend outdoors these days? The Sequor Youth Development Initiative is working with University of Tennessee’s Human Dimensions Lab, USDA Forest Service, and the National Wildlife Federation on a national study to measure the amount of time kids spend outdoors. This study will serve as the national benchmark for research in this area. Collaborative, interdisciplinary research projects like this one provide essential information for youth service practitioners. YDI translates research results into user-friendly and quick-reference formats. It also provides training for youth development workers, community leaders and policy makers. The research receives support from multiple external grants.
We’re proud of our student scientists. One of our programs for undergraduate research is Research Experiences for Undergraduates – Expanding Scientific Investigation Through Entomology (REU-EXCITE). The program, started by Rebecca Hapes and Dr. Kevin Heinz in the Department of Entomology, is funded by the National Science Foundation. The team leaders constantly work to recruit diverse students into research and to give them a complete scientific experience. Thirteen percent of program participants actually publish findings in scientific journals.
If students have not experienced being intellectually stretched, they remain unaware of the upper boundaries of their competence.
—John Crompton, Regents Professor and Distinguished Professor of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences