UGA Faculty Excellence Attracts International Researchers Across Disciplines

Maria M. Lameiras

Wednesday, January 25th, 2023

Each year, hundreds of international researchers — from master’s degree students to academic faculty — apply to come to the University of Georgia to work in a wide range of academic fields.

In the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES), dozens of international research scholars are working with faculty on important research that furthers the mission of the college while benefiting visiting scholars and their home institutions.

“Our faculty get the benefit of working with experienced research scholars who are funded by their home governments or institutions to come here for several months up to a year. They are full members of the labs they work in and their goal is to be as productive as possible and to publish academic papers based on their work,” said Victoria McMaken, coordinator of international programs at CAES.

CAES is among the top colleges at UGA for the number of international research scholars hosted each year, said Robin Catmur-Smith, director of immigration services with the UGA Office of Global Engagement.

“We have people from all over the world who come to UGA do research and teach. In a non-COVID year, we host about 900 international scholars and faculty each year,” Catmur-Smith said. “In addition, we have about 2,500 international students each year from more than 100 countries.”

CAES spoke to several international scholars and their faculty mentors about the work they are doing at UGA and the benefits to both the scholars and UGA. Spotlights of additional visiting scholars can be viewed on the Office of Global Engagement website.

Taketo Haginouchi
Associate Professor John Gonzalez (top) and master's degree student Taketo Haginouchi
Home institution: Kagoshima University, Kagoshima, Japan
Education: Master’s degree candidate, meat science
Faculty sponsor: John Michael Gonzalez, associate professor, Department of Animal and Dairy Science
As a master’s degree student at Kagoshima University, Haginouchi’s research focuses on fetal development in Wagyu cattle and how maternal nutrition influences offspring growth. Haginouchi’s graduate advisor at Kagoshima University is interested in metabolic imprinting, focusing on genetically “programming” cattle to grow more efficiently on grass. It takes about 10 tons of feed to raise one animal, and because Japan does not produce its own corn due to land scarcity, producers must import feed at a high cost.

Because there is high government and industry interest in improving the growth performance of grass-fed cattle, Haginouchi’s research is focused on influencing cattle at the fetus level to produce animals that are prone to fatten and be more efficient on a predominantly grass-fed system. Typically, grass-fed cattle are leaner than grain-fed cattle, which is not ideal considering the high fat content desired in Wagyu beef. Researchers are determining how the diet of the mother influences or “programs” the fetus to be born with a higher fat content, a desired trait in Wagyu cattle.

At UGA, Haginouchi is working with poultry to determine how a compound used to increase embryonic growth influences the development of muscle fibers in chicks, hoping to translate the science to Wagyu cattle research. Gonzalez’s recent research centers on manipulating embryonic muscle growth and looking at the effects of transportation on muscle fatigue in livestock.

“Japanese farms are very small and we have smaller production systems,” said Haginouchi, estimating that a large Wagyu farm in Japan may have 200 to 300 cattle, while a small producer may have only three to five animals. Wagyu cattle are raised in a very intensive, barn-based system versus larger, pasture-based cattle raising operations in the U.S. “Producers are interested in utilizing grazing systems for cattle in Japan. We have a lot of mountains where cattle can graze.”

Gonzalez said having international researchers working in his lab benefits both the visiting scholar and the students at CAES.

“I think the biggest benefit of hosting international researchers is for my undergraduate and graduate students to interact with these scholars,” Gonzalez said. “It is an easy way to get our students to become more worldly and in tune with different cultures. That's been a big focus of my program, trying to get students to understand that there's a whole world out there full of possibilities and different cultures that we need to understand, accept and form friendships with.”

Martha Sanchez-Tamayo
Postdoctoral researcher Martha Sanchez (left) and Associate Professor Faith Critzer
Home institution: Universidad de Valle, Cali, Colombia
Education: Ph.D., food engineering
Faculty sponsor: Faith Critzer, associate professor, Department of Food Science and Technology
Sanchez-Tamayo studies the antimicrobial properties of four essential oils (oregano, clove bud, coriander and cinnamon bark) against Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella and E. coli bacteria when incorporated into wax coatings for organic apples. After inoculating organic apples with the bacteria, Sanchez coats the apples with wax mixed with different concentrations and combinations of essential oils, testing the fruit over a defined storage period to determine the efficacy of the coatings.

“I have worked with antimicrobial coatings, specifically for mangoes, incorporating essential oils into coatings to see if they work against a specific fungus, Colletotrichum gloeosporioides,” said Sanchez, who continued her research at Washington State University, where she performed a six-month internship testing the efficacy of essential oils against Salmonella on mangoes.

The research has the potential to be used with other agricultural crops treated with edible wax, which is widely used to extend shelf life, improve the appearance and reduce moisture loss in transport and retail display.

“Incorporating essential oils as natural antimicrobials is ideal for the organic market, as everything used in the production process has to be compliant with organic production,” Sanchez said. The project is supported by funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative. “This can be extendable to pretty much any product where wax coatings are used.”

After data collection, Sanchez and Critzer will perform sensory testing to determine if different formulations of essential oil-treated wax coatings impact the flavor or other sensory attributes of the fruit.

“Essential oils have been widely studied for their antimicrobial properties. One essential oil will have many chemical components, four or five of which are the primary antimicrobial compounds. We use a combination of essential oils based on their antimicrobial compounds to have specific antimicrobial characteristics, as some are more effective for fungi and others for bacteria. We are determining how to mix the best properties of all of them,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez chose her field of study for the benefit it could have for people and producers.

“I was looking for something that can help people. I chose food engineering because of the close involvement with public health and food safety,” she added.

In addition to her research, Critzer said Sanchez has contributed to her lab by mentoring a master’s degree student.

“The questions are so numerous for graduate students when they are getting started, and sometimes the PI (principal investigator) isn’t there in the lab when you need them. It is nice to have someone who is well-trained and who understands the research to offer a calm and measured presence,” Critzer said. “Martha has been an excellent mentor, which is a lot of what we do as researchers in addition to the research metrics.”

Doctoral student Ozan Altin
Home institution: Ankara University, Ankara, Turkey
Education: Doctoral student, Department of Food Engineering
Faculty sponsor: Fanbin Kong, professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology
Altin’s doctoral research focuses on the thawing process of frozen food products in parallel electrode radio frequency systems. His goal is to develop an innovative system design, determine the optimum processing conditions and learn the effects on drip loss and texture in frozen chicken breast meat.

At UGA, Altin is working with Kong using mathematical computer modeling to compare three methods of radio frequency thawing technology on frozen chicken breast meat. In the lab, he prepares samples for radio frequency thawing using fiber-optic probes connected to a computer to monitor second-by-second temperatures during the process, collecting data on surface temperature distribution using thermal imaging cameras. He then validates the previously developed models based on the experimental data. The purpose of the study is to determine the optimum process condition based on the end quality of the chicken meat, comparing color, texture and drip loss using the technology at UGA compared to the two radio frequency systems in Turkey.

“I change the parameters of the process to see how it affects temperature distribution and other factors so we can optimize the processing,” said Altin, who values the one-on-one interaction he has had with his UGA mentor. “Dr. Kong has provided very good advice for my doctoral thesis, and other faculty in food science and technology have been open to me using their laboratories and equipment.”

While at UGA, he is developing research ideas using radio frequency and cold plasma technologies and helping Kong with other research projects. After completing his doctoral work in summer 2023, he hopes to continue working on designing innovative radio frequency systems for industrial applications.

“There are more opportunities here at UGA because the department is very developed and they have advanced equipment,” said Altin, who is supported by the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey, a national agency.

Kong said the research contributions Altin has made are meaningful to his work to develop novel thawing technology for frozen food products, which can help improve food quality.

“Mentoring international scholars like Ozan helps us to enhance research efficiency and productivity. The international collaboration also helps promote the influence of our research and boost the impact of our lab at UGA. The international network brings new opportunities for research and for our students,” said Kong, who is currently exploring further research and student collaborations with Altin’s advisor, Ferruh Erdogdu, in Turkey.

Postdoctoral researcher Jihwan Lee (left) and Professor Woo Kyun Kim
Home institution: Chungbuk National University, Cheongju, South Korea
Education: Ph.D., poultry nutrition
Faculty sponsor: Woo Kyun Kim, professor, Department of Poultry Science
Lee is a specialist in monogastric animal nutrition with an interest in poultry nutrition. As a postdoctoral researcher in Kim’s lab, Lee is evaluating the function of amino acids in poultry challenged with coccidiosis and necrotic enteritis. Lee is also studying how gene expression in birds is related to poultry gut health.

Lee became interested in research opportunities at UGA after reading several journal publications authored by Kim, so he applied for the postdoctoral position open in Kim’s lab.

“Korea does not have enough research funding, so sometimes it is hard to analyze the various parameters needed in research. I was advised that if I came to the U.S., I would have access to the best research equipment and techniques,” Lee said.

Kim was impressed with Lee’s academic record and their research interests aligned.

“His publication record is stellar, and we also have a very productive lab, so his interest and his productivity is really a match with what we are doing,” said Kim. “I know his former academic supervisor in Korea, as well, and he was highly recommended.”

Lee is one of many international students working in Kim’s lab and other labs in poultry science, which helps expand their professional networks.

“Working with a diverse group of international students really benefits our students and early career researchers, as they can learn new things from international students and, after they graduate, they can continue to communicate and work together as friends and colleagues. Nowadays the world is small, so all the companies and universities working on poultry science have a lot of international collaboration, which is really important for progressing research,” Kim said. “Our international students and researchers get experience in the U.S., and it is a benefit to researchers in the U.S. because each student or researcher brings new things from their own country. It is a win-win situation for both parties.”

Lee said the scale of research possible at UGA is beneficial to his studies.

“In Korea, I have never seen a university that owns such a large experimental farm as UGA,” said Lee, who first pursued civil engineering before a documentary on swine and broiler chicken farms in Korea spurred his interest in the industry. “I think Korea is making steady efforts to maximize animals’ performance to meet the growing demand for meat, and thus I want to help to improve how things are done in Korea.”