FVSU spreads the word about biotechnology

Gina Clark receives a certificate today from Dr. Mark Latimore Jr., interim dean of the College of Agriculture, Home Economics and Allied Programs, for completing a five-day biotechnology workshop through the Educating the Educators project at Fort Valley State University this week. Clark, a chemistry and biology teacher at Peach County High School, is among several teachers who received between $3,500 and $8,000 worth of equipment to set up their own biotechnology education laboratory facilities in their schools.

Gina Clark is among several educators who attended a five-day biotechnology workshop through the Educating the Educators project at Fort Valley State University. Clark received thousands of dollars worth of tools and biotechnology supplies to set up a laboratory where she works, Peach County High School.

The workshop was from July 16 – 20 at the university’s Agricultural Research Station.

Since 2004, the College of Agriculture, Home Economics and Allied Programs has taught nearly 40 teachers from across Georgia about biotechnology — a science that is changing the world. Participating teachers also receive between $3,500 and $8,000 worth of equipment to set up their own biotechnology education laboratory facilities in their schools.

Biotechnology has many aspects. It can involve alterations of plants for many purposes, including the creation of insect-and-disease resistant fruits and vegetables, making food with a longer shelf-life, and improving food quality and food value, according to Dr. Anand K. Yadav, the FVSU professor of specialty plants and biotechnology who coordinates the workshops.

“We are living in the age of biotechnology. Everything is connected to biotechnology one way or the other — food, the environment, pollution, biodiversity, even your medicine,” Yadav said.

For example, he said, if a plant doesn’t need pesticides or herbicides to resist insects than that is less pollution a farmer will create and less money a farmer has to spend.

Clark, a chemistry and biology teacher, said she was excited about the free workshop.

“It’s unbelievable to hear something on the news and then to hear it in here,” said Clark, who learned about cloning, in-vitro fertilization and biofuels.

Two teachers are working with the “cleanbox” used for plant tissue culture in the classroom.

The Educating the Educators project began with a $200,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture capacity building grant awarded to FVSU. By 2005, the project had received a total of $500,000.

Yadav said, “It’s a good idea to educate the public and we cannot go to every school.”

There is a lot of misinformation on the Internet and media that may confuse consumers. This way, FVSU professors can pass on knowledge to be used inside and outside the classroom, Yadav said.

Teachers are already patrons of the local grocery stores and their students will be shoppers one day. It’s important to really understand terms such as “organic” versus “inorganic.” Otherwise, money can be spent on a product that is marketed as being more healthy when it’s really not, Yadav explained.

Clark plans on telling her students about opportunities at FVSU to work on individual science projects under the guidance of a professor. She is excited about the professors at the university who said they would come to her classes and help her conduct experiments.

In the meantime, the high school teacher plans to set up a lab and pass on the biotechnology lessons she learned this week to her colleagues and students.

“I think they’re interested in what’s going on now. The high school students are driving now and concerned about gas prices,” Clark said, referring to the use of biofuels which experts say can save a lot of money and do not negatively affect the environment.

Several FVSU researchers and scientists participated in the workshop, including: Dr. Curtis Borne, professor of agriculture education; Dr. Nirmal Joshee, an assistant professor of plant science in specialty plants biotechnology; Dr. Govind Kannan, director of the FVSU Georgia Small Ruminant Research and Extension Center and associate professor of meat technology; Dr. George McCommon, an associate professor of veterinary science; Dr. Eugene Amoah, professor of animal biotechnology; and Dr. Gnana Viji and Dr. Ashish Yadav, research professionals in specialty / medicinal plant biotechnology.

Workshop presenters from other universities and organizations included: Dr. Jeff W. Adelberg of Clemson University; Dr. Albert P. Kausch of the University of Rhode Island, Dr. Carol M. Stiff of Kitchen Culture Kits Inc., Dr. D.P.S.Verma, a professor from the Ohio State University, Columbus; and Dr. Richard H. Wallace of Armstrong Atlantic State University.

On the first day of the workshop, FVSU President Dr. Larry E. Rivers and his special assistant and counsel Dr. Canter Brown, along with the interim dean for the College of Agriculture, Dr. Mark Latimore Jr., welcomed the 11 teachers from six Georgia counties.

“I’m just so happy that we are doing so many things in agriculture,” Rivers said. “We believe we have so much to offer.”

“We not only want you to come to us, but we want to go to you too,” the president added. “We want to establish and ongoing relationship with you.”

Ayanna McPhail, publications editor/ writer
FVSU College of Agriculture, Home Economics and Allied Programs
(478) 825-6345 or (478) 825-6547