Featured Collaborator: Dr. Thomas Miller, University of California, Riverside Entomologist

Meet Thomas Miller, GKI featured collaborator. Dr. Thomas Miller is a professor at the University of California, Riverside’s Department of Entomology.  Aside from being an eminent leader of the international entomological community, Miller is an important member of the team working on LINK: Rwanda’s “antestia-potato taste” specialty coffee challenge.  In partnership with Dr. Susan Jackels at Seattle University who focuses on the chemistry of “potato taste,” a team at Rogers Family Company in California and in Rwanda that sources affected coffee beans and provides support across the network, and Dr. Daniel Rukzambuga at the National University of Rwanda who works to develop national capacity to protect against coffee pests, Dr. Miller focuses on the biology of the microorganisms on the surface of green coffee beans.  Dr. Miller also hosts a website dedicated to the coffee challenge.  GKI’s Colin Huerter spoke with Dr. Miller in June 2013. Rwanda is a long ways off  – how did you get involved with the project? I met Nina Fedoroff, co-chair of GKI’s Advisory Board, when I became an AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) Fellow in 2011.  She had seen some of my research and recommended that I join the team.  Even though I had not worked on coffee before, the project immediately grabbed my attention – it seems that no matter who you explain it to, everyone is fascinated.  The international aspect drew me in, but at the same time there is a local connection because it also involves California buyers and roasters [such as Rogers Family Company]. The most compelling part is the obvious need for a solution.  Although coffee is a crucial export in Africa’s Great Lakes region, researchers have not yet been able to propose a practical application to reduce the potato taste defect.  With Rwanda losing a substantial proportion of its crop each year to the defect, eliminating it would have a significant impact.  Solving potato taste defect is a difficult task, but that’s why I like […]

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PlantVillage helps people get answers on growing food, from Penn State to Kenya

Our friend, collaborator, and Penn State University assistant professor of entomology Dr. David Hughes has a venture aimed at sharing knowledge on gardening and farming that he’s started with Penn State biologist Dr. Marcel Salathe (check out Salathe’s lab here). They have designed their website, PlantVillage, to help people garden, farm, and generally grow their own food. The user-moderated site allows people to ask questions to the PlantVillage community. Other users answer their questions, and the community rates the best answers.  It is an intuitive, highly-participatory platform (we at GKI are definitely fans!). The PlantVillage team shared a piece of news with us last week that got us excited: they received their first question and response from Africa. The question, from Kenya, had to do with using growth hormones on strawberries – within a day the person submitting the question had a response. We hope you’ll check out PlantVillage, and ask or answer a question. Then you can hop on over to David Hughes’ lab’s website and learn about the fascinating, creepy world of Zombie Ants. […]

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