Lab Matters Spring 2017 - Page 36

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The Mississippi State Chemical Laboratory team

“ You name it , we test it ” at the Mississippi State Chemical Laboratory

by Nancy Maddox , MPH , writer

Mississippi is known as The Magnolia State , The Hospitality State and the birthplace of the blues . But it also has a long agricultural history and robust farming economy .

This lowland jurisdiction takes up a large swath of the Mississippi River Delta and much of the East Gulf Coastal Plain , giving it a rich legacy of natural beauty ... and millions of acres of rich , fertile soil . Even before the area gained statehood in 1817 , farming was an important occupation here . Today , agriculture still dominates the local economy : Mississippi devotes 19.7 million acres of its land to forestry and 10.8 million to farming , making agriculture the
Not only does the laboratory facilitate regulatory enforcement , it performs testing directly for farmers , extension service agents and other customers .
state ’ s # 1 industry . According to the Mississippi Department of Agriculture & Commerce , farming and forestry employ 29 % of the state workforce , directly or indirectly , and add $ 16.5 billion / year to the local economy .
Overall , The Magnolia State produces more catfish than any other US jurisdiction , and ranks # 3 in pulpwood , sweet potatoes and cotton . Dollarwise , however , the top agricultural products are ( in ascending order ) catfish , cattle , corn , cotton , soybeans , pulpwood and poultry / eggs . Said Ashli Brown , PhD , “ I think we have more chickens than people .”
It is a big part of Brown ’ s mission , as head of the Mississippi State Chemical Laboratory , to “ support the agricultural economy here in our state .” Specifically , the laboratory is tasked with providing the analytical data to ensure the quality , accurate labeling and safety of all fertilizers , animal feeds , human foods , pesticides and petroleum products sold in-state . Not only does the laboratory facilitate regulatory enforcement , it performs testing directly for farmers , extension service agents and other customers .
Located amidst the pine woodlands of east-central Mississippi , the chemical laboratory is about 30 minutes from the Alabama border and two hours from Jackson , Mississippi ’ s capital and the most populous city in this jurisdiction of three million people .
From its founding in 1892 , Mississippi statute has required that the chemical laboratory be located on the campus of the state land grant institution , Mississippi State University ( MSU ) in Starkville , home of the Mississippi State Bulldogs . Although the laboratory is not an academic unit , it is housed primarily in the university ’ s 1960s-era Hand Chemical Laboratory Building , named after the first state chemist . The main , 30,000-square-foot laboratory takes up the entire basement level and shares the first floor of the red brick building with the department of chemistry : “ Right outside our main office door is a 150-seat classroom ,” said Brown . The laboratory ’ s 9,500-squarefoot petroleum-testing unit has its own dedicated building , located across the street from the university president ’ s house . Although the laboratory ’ s integration within the campus poses some “ interesting logistical issues ,” Brown said , “ The pros definitely outweigh the cons .” Both laboratory units have their own sample receiving areas , and the main facility , Hand Laboratory , underwent an extensive renovation in 2000 .
Brown was born in upstate New York , but earned a BS in biology and PhD in biochemistry from the University of South Florida , where she also oversaw the organic chemistry teaching laboratory . After graduation , she split her time between Starkville and Stoneville , MS , developing techniques for characterizing pheromones emitted by the multi-colored Asian lady beetle — a beneficial insect — during a post-doctoral fellowship with the US Department of Agriculture ( USDA ) Agricultural Research Service . Brown went on to become a research professor , and then assistant professor and associate professor , at the MSU Department of Biochemistry , Molecular Biology , Entomology and Plant Pathology . In late 2013 , she became Mississippi state chemist and director of the Mississippi State Chemical Laboratory .
As state chemist , Brown is required by law to be a tenured professor , and she is the first state chemist to be tenured in biochemistry . She said , “ I have all the responsibilities of being a professor : teaching , advising undergraduate students and supervising an active graduate student research program .” Among her current endeavors are — in collaboration with Darrell Sparks , PhD ( who also serves as the petroleum product director )— an investigation of chemical communication between male and female giant pandas during estrus and a study examining gut microflora in these animals . One of the papers stemming from the latter research was voted “ Best microbiome paper of 2016 ” on the Microbiome Digest website .
LAB MATTERS Spring 2017
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