Jeffress Memorial Trust Award

FullTextImage/img/@altMaj. Anne Alerding, Assistant Professor of Biology at VMI

 Maj. Anne Alerding, Assistant Professor of Biology at VMI, received a $20,000 Jeffress Memorial Trust award for her grant titled “Developing Virginia Soybeans as a Source of Sustainable Energy.” The Jeffress Memorial Trust was established under the will of Mr. Robert M. Jeffress to support fundamental research by early-career scientists in Virginia. The grant may be renewed twice, bringing the award total to $40,000 through 2014.

The proposed research is already in progress. Five cultivated varieties of soybean (Glycine max.) were grown in Summer 2011 in the Maury-Brooke Hall greenhouse and in a local field site to determine which variety of soybean produces the ideal composition of stem cell wall chemicals (cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin) to produce biofuel through high temperature combustion and gasification. Once identified, this cultivar will be genetically enhanced to produce the optimal concentration of cellulose (the most efficient biofuel chemical) while also decreasing nitrogen. Since most dried plant matter is enriched in nitrogen, which produces nitrogen oxide gases (NOx) that contribute to smog and acid rain when combusted, Maj. Alerding is investigating how to insert a chimeric gene into the soybean genome to allow the plant to dump excess nitrogen into the leaves before harvest. The goal is to produce a genetically modified “superplant” that will not only produce high yielding biofuels but will return the limiting growth nutrient - nitrogen - to the soil.

Maj. Alerding advises and works closely with Cadet Matthew Waalkes ‘13 on this project, results of which will culminate in his Institute Honors thesis and a research publication. Cadet Waalkes will present results from his summer research in the Biology Student Colloquium during Dean’s Hour on Monday, January 16 in MH 135.

Maj. Alerding is collaborating with Maj. Tim Moore (Civil and Environmental Engineering) and Maj. Mary Beth Pennington (English and Fine Arts) to develop an interdisciplinary program at VMI to train the next generation of clean energy leaders through the establishment of VMI CLEAR: Clean Energy and Air Workforce Development Program. In support of their new program, Majs. Alerding, Moore, and Pennington received $40,000 grant from the Dominion Foundation in July 2011 and $86,410 for a Jackson-Hope New Directions in Research grant in October 2011.