Eight people holding awards certificates standing in a V shape on a flagstone patio smiling
Texas A&M AgriLife Research Director’s Awards recipients, from left, were: Yuxiang Sun, Ph.D.; Betty Cotton; Marco Palma, Ph.D.; Bhimu Patil, Ph.D.; G. Cliff Lamb, Ph.D.; Binayak Mohanty, Ph.D.; Kranthi Mandadi, Ph.D.; Nichole Cherry. Not shown: Johnny Bible and Joshuah Perkin. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Michael Miller)

Texas A&M AgriLife Research on Jan. 10, during a ceremony dinner at The George Hotel, recognized nine faculty and staff recipients of the 2022 Texas A&M AgriLife Research Director’s Awards.

Four individuals earned Research Director’s Awards — established in 2018 to recognize outstanding contributions in support of AgriLife Research’s mission.

Two individuals were named Texas A&M AgriLife Research Faculty Fellow, and two more were named Senior Faculty Fellow – a title for those who have previously garnered Faculty Fellow designations. These permanent titles are presented to senior-level research or service professionals who have worked with AgriLife Research for at least five years and have demonstrated exceptional leadership and impact.

Finally, one individual received the William A. Dugas Early Career Award for Research Excellence, also created in 2018. The award recognizes AgriLife Research faculty members who have made exceptional research contributions early in their careers.

“These awards represent remarkable contributions toward realizing AgriLife Research’s vision of healthy lives and livelihoods that are improved through abundant, affordable and high-quality food and agricultural products in Texas and around the world,” said G. Cliff Lamb, Ph.D., director of AgriLife Research.

All recipients are employees of AgriLife Research in addition to other positions they might hold within the Texas A&M University System.

Administrative Staff Support Award: Betty Cotton

Betty Cotton is assistant to the department head in the Texas A&M Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Bryan-College Station. Cotton received the director’s Administrative Staff Support Award.

She is cited as an unsurpassed resource for her department and a mentor to her fellow senior administrative assistants. Cotton’s nomination denotes “an incredibly detailed understanding of the logistics and mechanics of both the research and educational enterprises” of the department. She is credited for managing logistically complex events including employee retreats and the department’s 75th anniversary celebration.

Infrastructure and Information Technology Support Award: Johnny Bible

Johnny Bible is farm research service manager at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Amarillo. He received the director’s Infrastructure and Information Technology Support Award.

In Amarillo, Bible manages field operations for all research programs housed at the center, including about 300 acres at four locations. He also participates in data collection, which has been instrumental in fighting the emergence of corn root worm and advancing the eradication of salt cedar. With a degree in mechanized agriculture, Bible is recognized for understanding the importance of research processes and his comprehensive knowledge of electrical and mechanical system operation — allowing him to often identify and fix emerging issues on the spot.

Technical Support Staff Award: Nichole Cherry

Nichole Cherry is a senior research associate at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Stephenville and recipient of the director’s Technical Support Staff Award.

Cherry serves as a coordinator of all laboratory activities for all principal investigators of the center at Stephenville. She is cited for high motivation and leadership of undergraduate and master’s degree students in lab and field work. Cherry also is recognized by local FFA and 4-H groups for engaging high school students in need of mentorship and assistance with agri-science projects.

Research Scientist of the Year: Kranthi Mandadi

Kranthi Mandadi, Ph.D., is associate professor and plant molecular biologist with the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco. Mandadi is recipient of the director’s award for Research Scientist of the Year.

His research program seeks cutting-edge solutions for unculturable plant pathogens and diseases. His pioneering work in microbial hairy root technology was revolutionary in the field, and it paved the way for subsequent innovation.

Mandadi leads a $7 million U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute for Food and Agriculture project across multiple universities to combat citrus greening, which threatens the multi-billion-dollar citrus industry. Securing intellectual property has allowed Mandadi to develop partnerships with a range of major industry clients. He also has received over $37 million in grant funding from various sponsors, of which more than $7 million directly supports his program.

He has excelled in teaching, mentoring, service and outreach, guiding the careers of 24 undergraduates, 10 graduate students, seven postdoctoral researchers and five research scientists.

Mandadi has served on or organized numerous committees and associations including the Texas Plant Protection Association and American Society of Plant Biologists, and he leads the local organizing committee to host the 2023 annual meeting of the American Phytopathological Society.

Faculty Fellows

AgriLife Research Faculty Fellows named for 2022 were Marco Palma, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics, and Yuxiang Sun, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Nutrition.

Marco Palma

Palma is a leading expert in neuroeconomics. As director of the Texas A&M Human Behavior Lab, he studies human behavior and factors that influence consumer food choices. He also considers agricultural producers’ economic decisions in developing new methodologies for discovery in these areas.

His recent work on self-control is one example of an impactful theoretical contribution with significant practical applications, due to its presence in almost every aspect of daily human living. After its publication in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, his work to reconcile two widely popular yet seemingly contradictory theories on self-control garnered coverage by 47 popular outlets, including the New York Times and Chicago Tribune.

Novel findings and pioneering studies in neuroeconomics have positioned Palma as a leader of this emerging research area.

Yuxiang Sun

Sun’s seminal work and groundbreaking discoveries on ghrelin have propelled her to international recognition as a leader in her field.

She has published 121 peer-reviewed papers, many in premier journals like Cell Metabolism, PNAS, JCI, Aging Cell, Aging and Diabetes. Her publications are among the most-cited ghrelin literature, receiving 7,710 citations, with at least 8 by Nobel Prize Laureates.

Her research has generated over $18 million in funding, with over $8 million for her work alone. Sun’s groundbreaking discoveries suggest potential for novel therapies addressing obesity, diabetes, inflammation and neurogenerative diseases.

Originally trained as a medical doctor, Sun has a talent for choosing research topics that are relevant to humans, and her approaches are holistic in nature.

Senior Faculty Fellows

AgriLife Research Senior Faculty Fellows named for 2022 were Bhimanagouda “Bhimu” Patil, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Horticultural Sciences and director of the Texas A&M Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center, and Binayak Mohanty, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering.

Bhimanagouda “Bhimu” Patil

Patil’s seminal establishment of the concept of “foods for health” integrates fruit and vegetable methods across supply chains from breeding to consumption. Patil has identified and characterized health-promoting bioactive compounds in melon and other fruits, and he has championed breeding of varieties that increase those compounds while considering consumer preference and agronomic performance.

He has published 237 peer-reviewed articles in reputable agricultural and medical journals, with nearly 14,000 citations. He is acknowledged locally, nationally and internationally for advancing science related to fruits and vegetables for human health. Patil has presented at 30 international, 89 national and seven regional meetings, and he has chaired or co-chaired 23 symposia and colloquia.

In 2022, Patil was recognized as a Fellow by the American Chemical Society. Previously, he was recognized as a Fellow by the American Society for Horticultural Sciences, AgriLife Research, the Brazilian Horticulture Society and the Indian Horticulture Society.

Binayak Mohanty

Mohanty is a global pioneer in the framework for scaling up soil hydrologic processes, providing a bridge across spatial and temporal scales. His work reflects futuristic scientific concepts and holistic efforts that have steadily shaped multi-scale soil hydrologic science.

Innovative lab experiments, comprehensive field monitoring, advanced process modeling, novel data analyses and cutting-edge remote sensing are hallmarks of Mohanty’s extensive contributions. Those include 138 premier journal papers, 40 book chapters and proceedings, 255 abstracts and 419 national and international presentations.

Among numerous accolades, Mohanty is also a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Soil Science Society of America, Agronomy Society of America, AgriLife Research and the Texas A&M Department of Engineering.

William A. Dugas Early Career Award for Research Excellence: Joshuah Perkin

Joshuah Perkin, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology, Bryan-College Station. Perkin received the William A. Dugas Early Career Award for Research Excellence.

Among his 37 peer-reviewed publications in the past five years, his seminal paper establishes the first strong link between agricultural groundwater use and the distribution of fishes in Great Plains prairie streams. The research leveraged a large network of groundwater level monitoring wells across the central Great Plains and helped garner a $1.6 million National Science Foundation grant supporting related collaboration with universities across the U.S.

Perkin also was featured on the National Public Radio program All Things Considered. In 2022, he received the Early Career Fisheries Education Award from National American Fisheries Society, the Undergraduate Teaching Award from his department and the Outstanding Fisheries Education Worker of the Year Award from Texas Chapter of the American Fisheries Society.

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