MSU scientist honored by FFAR for early-career innovation

Wednesday, December 6, 2017
By: Karen Brasher

A Mississippi State University faculty member is one of only seven national recipients of the second annual New Innovator in Food and Agriculture Research Award.

MSU scientist honored by FFAR for early-career innovation Photo By: David Ammon

Jonas King, an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology, is receiving a new innovator grant from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, a nonprofit organization established in the 2014 Farm Bill.

King's research seeks to develop new methods to detect and identify insect pests and viral pathogens found in agricultural crops. He is collaborating with MSU researchers and USDA Agricultural Research Service scientists to push nucleic acid-based technologies toward becoming practical methods for surveillance and diagnosis of pests and diseases that pose a threat to food security and forest health.

"The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that between 20 and 40 percent of global crop yields are reduced each year due to the damage caused by plant pests and diseases," King said. "A real-time detection method is needed to ensure global food security today and into the future."

The research seeks to develop metagenomics-based surveillance strategies using direct-read, pore-based nucleic acid sequencing along with the more commonly used dye-based sequencing technology.

"This project will allow the farmers of the future to conduct surveillance for pests and pathogens that they don't even expect to be present in their region," King said. "The work will also refine data analyses on this platform, and develop a catalog of North American pests and diseases to provide a full reference library for use in agricultural settings."

The New Innovator in Food and Agriculture Research program supports promising scientists who demonstrate not only a commitment as food and agricultural innovators, but also as student mentors.

"The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research is pleased to support Dr. King's research as part of our work to catalyze innovation and foster a strong scientific workforce for the future," said Sally Rockey, FFAR executive director. "I look forward to seeing the impact of the New Innovator in Food and Agriculture Research award not only on Dr. King's career, but also on advancing agriculture."

King obtained a bachelor's and master's degree from the University of Mississippi and a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University. Prior to joining MSU in 2015, he served as a postdoctoral fellow at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and at the USDA Foreign Disease-Weed Science Research Unit at Fort Detrick, Maryland.

King conducts research in the university's Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and teaches courses in the MSU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research builds unique partnerships to support innovative and actionable science addressing today's food and agricultural challenges. FFAR leverages public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation and partnerships critical to enhancing sustainable production of nutritious food for a growing global population. The FFAR Board of Directors is chaired by Mississippi State University President Mark E. Keenum and includes ex officio representation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation.

For more about the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, visit

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