2016 Mini-Symposia

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Since 2014, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has hosted their annual Grand Challenge Mini-Symposia to encourage networking among Texas A&M AgriLife faculty and increase awareness of faculty research areas. Faculty are encouraged to use the networking relationships formed at the mini-symposium to build teams to address projects related to the College’s Grand Challenges.

We are happy to announce that the 2016 Grand Challenge Mini-Symposia will be held on May 18 & 19 in the AgriLife Center.

The mini-symposia will represent four areas of broad interest across our faculty:

  • Coffee Research
  • Nexus Between Plant Vector Biology and Animal/Human Vector Biology
  • Climate Change, Natural Resources, and Biodiversity Monitoring and Adaptation
  • Increasing the Availability of Global Water Supplies

Coffee Research and a Call for Action to Improve the Economy of Millions of Farmers- May 18, 2016 in the AgriLife Center

Coordinator: Dr. Leo Lombardini, Professor in the Department of Horticultural Sciences, l-lombardini@tamu.edu

Coffee is one of the world’s biggest agricultural commodities. It directly involves 25 million of smallholder coffee producers and is the main source of income for about 100 million people worldwide. The coffee industry has a retail value estimated at $30-32 billion dollars for the United States alone, reaching $170 billion worldwide! However, the specialty coffee industry is facing very serious problems threatening volumes of quality coffee to become inadequate to meet current and projected needs. Thanks to the support of World Coffee Research (WCR), a 501 (c)(5) non-profit, collaborative research and development program funded by the global coffee industry, the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M is creating a new World Coffee Research Center for Science and Education.

Since its inception in 2012, WCR’s main goal has been to fill the void in coffee research by growing, protecting, and enhancing supplies of quality coffee while improving the livelihoods of the families who produce it. The relationship with WCR comes with substantive buy-in from the coffee industry, as well as guidance on the fundamental issues the industry would like to see addressed. With the creation of this Center, Texas A&M has the opportunity to become the premier scientific center in the world dedicated to the advancement of research and development related to coffee to improve its quality and ensure its sustainability.

Nexus Between Plant Vector Biology and Animal/Human Vector Biology- May 18, 2016 in the AgriLife Center

Coordinator: Dr. Cecilia Tamborindeguy, Associate Professor in the Department of Entomology, ctamborindeguy@tamu.edu & Dr. David Ragsdale, Head of the Department of Entomology, dragsdale@tamu.edu

Vector-borne pathogens are a major threat to people, animals and plants across Texas. Diseases caused by these pathogens result in hundreds of millions of dollars in increased health care and veterinary costs for livestock and companion animals, and in the loss of production in agricultural commodities. Some examples include citrus Huanglongbing (HLB) and potato Zebra Chip, both caused by bacteria vectored by psyllids. Human and animal diseases transmitted by mosquitoes include Zika, Dengue, and West Nile (WNV), all of which have viral reservoirs in Texas and the mosquitoes that transmit these viruses. Tick borne pathogens such as “cattle fever” are transmitted by native tick species resulting in major losses to the cattle industry. Exotic animals now serve as reservoirs of these ticks and are thwarting efforts to main existing quarantine zones.

A vector-borne pathogen cannot infect a susceptible host without the aid of a competent vector. We often talk of the disease triangle with disease only manifested when all three components come together. It takes the pathogen and its competent vector along with a susceptible host and a permissive environment for transmission to occur. Intervention at any point of this disease triangle can reduce the spread and prevent completion of the disease cycle.

Climate Change, Natural Resources, and Biodiversity Monitoring and Adaptation- May 19, 2016 in the AgriLife Center

Coordinator: Dr. Tom Lacher, Professor in the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, tlacher@tamu.edu

Climate change is perhaps the most pervasive of all human impacts. The climate is changing, inevitably facing a 1 C° rise in the next 25 years. This will induce land use change, shifts in agricultural productivity and patterns of biodiversity and alterations of river and stream flows. We will need to develop strategies to observe and project climate change impacts, and then translate research to inform tactics for adaptation and mitigation. There are few major research universities that have the capacity to deal with the complexity of climate change spanning topics as diverse as urban landscapes, agricultural productivity, surface/groundwater hydrology, and biodiversity conservation. However, we need to better integrate our expertise and programs to deal with complex issues associated with climate change.

With planning and effective communication, we are equipped to deal with some of the most pressing questions for Texas, the nation and the world. Enhanced collaborations will allow for the integration of climate modeling, land use modeling, biodiversity, agricultural and livestock productivity enhancement, and water resource management. Activities at Texas A&M University could importantly document and project climate change implications and develop adaptation and mitigation responses in the Southwest and more broadly the semi tropics, an area identified as highly vulnerable in all the international and national climate change assessments. Existing institutes focused on rural and urban resilience to impacts will extend our understanding of human costs. This work can unify agricultural, biodiversity, urban and coastal matters in an arid and semi-arid subtropics focus at a scope unique in the world.

Increasing the Availability of Global Water Supplies through Water Reuse and Desalination by Overcoming Technical Barriers and Public Perceptions- May 19, 2016 in the AgriLife Center

Coordinator: Dr. Clyde Munster, Professor in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, c-munster@tamu.edu

To reliably provide safe drinking water to cities, towns, communities, individual homes, and businesses during extreme climatic conditions such as drought and flooding, it is imperative to reuse wastewater and desalinate brackish groundwater locally. Science-based research will be required to develop, test, deploy, operate, monitor, and maintain innovative yet reliable Renewable Water Systems (RWS). Integration of RWS within existing water infrastructure will be necessary to transform the current “single-use” water infrastructure to a new “multi-use” water infrastructure capable of delivering sustainable water services during extreme drought and flooding conditions.

Epidemiological and toxicological research are also needed to ensure the long-term safety and health of the public when reuse water supplies are used to supplement natural water sources. The proposed interdisciplinary RWS team will focus on the technical, economical, regulatory, and public perspective challenges, as well as the public health issues. This will be needed to holistically increase the availability of drinking water through the reuse of wastewater and desalination of brackish groundwater.

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