Peggy Ozias-Akins, the lead scientist on the Peanut & Mycotoxin Innovation Lab’s translational genomics project, has been recognized by the University of Georgia as a Distinguished Research Professor for 2017. Only five scientists from across all disciplines received the honor.
Ozias-Akins, a professor of horticulture, has applied advanced biotechnology and molecular biology tools, in some cases those that she developed herself, to improve crops like peanut. As an integral member of the International Peanut Genome Initiative, she helped with the sequencing of the commercial peanut, which will jumpstart the ability for breeders to identify genes or areas of genes that convey particular advantageous traits, such as disease resistance or oil chemistry. Dr. Ozias-Akins’ work on building the platform for identifying these genes and selecting crosses from the DNA analysis will speed up the rate of genetic improvement by improving the selection process and avoiding the need to physically grow and evaluate each cross. Under the PMIL project, she and her colleagues are seeking genetic markers for resistance to aflatoxin, which could be a game changing find for the global peanut industry.
“Her decades-long focus on peanut improvement has had significant scientific, agricultural and economic impact,” UGA’s Office of Research said in granting the award.
The university also recognized Ozias-Akins as a world expert on apomixis, the asexual production of seeds in plants. Although the phenomenon was intensely studied for decades, there was little to show until Ozias-Akins took a pioneering approach and applied a combination of forward genetics, genetic engineering and genomics. She was among the first ever to localize apomixis to a chromosomal region, and later she found the first plant gene associated with apomixis.
She previously won a Creative Research Medal in 2015.