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New Grant To Fund Training
in Environmental Biotechnology
February 28, 2000

The University has been awarded a prestigious grant from the U.S. Department of Education to train up to10 Ph.D. students in an interdisciplinary course in environmental biotechnology.

The award, made through the education department's Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need Program, entails more than $600,000 in funding over three years. The average dollar value of the approximately 130 GAANN grants awarded nationwide was $138,000.

Faculty from the Environmental Engineering and Microbiology programs will collaborate to provide the students with interdisciplinar y training, beginning in the fall. The program director is Barth F. Smets, assistant professor of environmental engineering, the principal investigator on the proposal. Kenneth M. Noll, associate professor of molecular and cell biology, will be co-director. Other faculty members involved in the project are Tom Wood of chemical engineering; James Bryers of UConn's Center for Biomaterials; and Daniel Gage, Peter Gogarten, Thomas Terry and Robert Vinopal of molecular and cell biology.

"The intent of the program is to train graduates who will excel as teachers and scholars in the field of environmental biotechnology," says Smets. "Biotechnology has made revolutionary changes in environmental science in the short time since its inception. Although the United States is currently among the leaders in environmental biotechnology, its full potential is far from realized and its success in continuing this leadership position is contingent on a continued investment in a strong national base of knowledge and human resources."

Smets is one of a few researchers who are successfully employing microorganisms to solve serious environmental pollution problems in soil and groundwater.

Smets says that advances in molecular biology and environmental engineering offer tremendous opportunities to identify, modify and tailor microbes so that natural microbial processes can be exploited for a more efficient and complete destruction of human-generated pollutants or development of a greater array of replacement "green" chemicals.

The GAANN Fellows will receive cross-disciplinary academic training through core courses on microbial biochemistry, physiology, diversity, and genetics, as well as courses on environmental process engineering and design.

The fellowships will be awarded on the basis of prior academic performance and financial need. Fellow will also receive partial assistantships from the University. The research team hopes to attract a diverse pool of graduate students, including individuals from traditionally under-represented and minority populations and women.

Nan Cooper