LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 26, 2010) – Stopping potentially devastating plant viruses from spreading from one country to another sounds like a daunting task. Yet, if you ask University of Kentucky researcher Michael Goodin, this is just the sort of challenge he relishes.
Goodin, an associate professor of plant pathology in the College of Agriculture, joined the UK faculty in 2002. A native of Jamaica, he was raised in that Caribbean nation before going on to earn his Ph.D. at Penn State University. Among the courses he teaches at UK are introduction to biotechnology, population genetics of transgenic crops, and advanced plant virology. A major interest in his research is food safety and security, particularly in helping farmers around the world to run agricultural operations that are safer, more productive, and sustainable.
"One of our goals is to prevent potential global viral epidemics," Goodin said. "There are more than 10 present or emerging viruses which pose a threat to yields, quality, and ultimately, sustainable agriculture production. These viruses affect crops that are primary sources of food for millions of people in developing countries and include maize, cassava, and cowpea. In addition, significant cash crops for some of these nations, such as citrus, wine grapes, and peppers, can be impacted."
Together with other researchers in the United States and around the world, Goodin is working to refine a proposal to help determine what are the host factors for these viruses, in the hopes of developing crop varieties that are resistant to disease. Last fall, Goodin visited Nigeria and Kenya to foster partnerships with colleagues at universities in both countries, discover opportunities for educational exchanges, and assess the crop situation and agricultural practices. While in Kenya, Goodin met with President Barack Obama's grandmother, Mama Sarah Obama.
"She helps to run and support an orphanage in her rural town," Goodin said. "Although in her early 80s, Mama Sarah is very engaged in this work, which helps many children whose parents have died of AIDS. When you are sitting in her presence in very modest surroundings and then you realize Mama Sarah is just one generation removed from the president of the United States, it's pretty amazing."
Plant biotechnology techniques involve terms like virology, cell biology, biochemistry, and genomics. While these fields of study may sound complicated to many of us, these words are as much a part of Michael Goodin's vocabulary as glove, bat, and ball are to a baseball player. Besides, the goal of Goodin and his fellow researchers is quite easy to comprehend: Helping to make people's lives better.