OHIO professor Hua earns prestigious NSF grant

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ATHENS, Ohio (July 19, 2018) – Dr. Zhihua Hua received a prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Grant for his work on how plant cells remove old or abnormal proteins, with implications for crop breeding and seed production.

Hua is an assistant professor of environmental and plant biology at Ohio University. The five-year grant of $1.09 million will help fund his research on "The Role of F-box-Mediated Protein Degradation in Seed Development."

The NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program supports "early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization," according to the NSF website.

"Dr. Hua's work will help to shape the next generation of scientists, who will use increasingly large amounts of data to solve key issues facing society. These are the students who will help lead us into the technological future," said Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis. "His work involving high school students and those under-represented in science will help draw more young students into the sciences."

"Dr. Hua's research leverages bioinformatics and forefront experimental tools to pursue discovery research with large potential for real-world impact," said Dr. Joseph Shields, Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. "This early-career award will help Dr. Hua build a solid foundation for his research in the lab and for his work with undergraduate and graduate students."

"The NSF CAREER grant is a prestigious award for young investigators and as department chair I couldn't be happier to see Dr. Hua recognized," said Dr. Morgan Vis, chair and professor of environmental and plant biology. "This award will allow him to pursue his novel research as well as innovate in the classroom by infusing computational thinking skills into his courses."

Hua said the grant will fund research focusing on the molecular mechanisms underlying the specific removal of abnormal, unwanted, or old proteins in cells, which can be toxic to the cells and cause cell death, stresses and aberrant development.

"The ultimate goal of my research is to help develop precision agriculture and medicine through manipulating the function of the ubiquitin-26S proteasome system in cells," Hua said. "The NSF CAREER award will help me recruit excellent undergraduate and graduate researchers in tackling many challenging but also exciting questions in frontiers of biology using plants as a model system. Meanwhile, this award will also promote big data-enabled biological education which I pursue."

Seeds are important for the propagation of flowering plants and are also the primary source of food for human and animal consumption, according to the NSF's abstract. Understanding the molecular mechanisms underpinning seed development can help protect plant diversity and secure the ever-increasing demand for food production. The educational goal of this project is to train diverse students, particularly those from educationally underserved Appalachian areas, to develop computational thinking skills in solving biological questions, thus empowering them to pursue a STEM-based career.

The Project is jointly funded by the NSF's Molecular and Cellular Biosciences and Integrative Organismal Systems, with additional support provided by the Directorate's Rule of Life Venture Fund.

"This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria," the NSF's abstract reads.

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