Workshop 4: Food-energy-water nexus for one-health ecosystems

Speakers’ Abstracts and Biographies

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Terry Hazen, Ph.D., University of Tennessee, U.S.A.

Title: “Environmental Systems Biology: The Whole is Greater than the Sum of It’s Parts- Team Science.

Abstract: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. By using an environmental systems biology approach to our greatest environmental problems and cross-linkage of systems at all levels providing multiple lines of evidence involving environmental observations, laboratory testing, microcosm simulations, hypothesis refinement, field testing and validation, and multiple iterations of this circle, we will be able to make new theories and paradigms for changing pristine and contaminated environments. Pollution is everywhere. Changing environments are everywhere. Microbes are also everywhere, and many have the ability to degrade environmental contaminants and dramatically alter biogeochemistry related to climate change. Understanding how these microbial communities work to degrade environmental contaminants and alter biogeochemistry will enable us to use these microbes to clean up the pollution and alter long-term and short-term changes to the environment. Understanding, monitoring, and controlling the environment with biogeochemical processes, i.e., an environmental systems biology approach. By using an environmental systems approach, we make sure we know of any “fatal flaws” in the approach, get a much better handle on life-cycle cost analysis, and can grade an engineered solution into a natural solution. Examples of this approach and their outcomes will be given for nuclear reactor thermal effluent effects; fish and alligator epizootiology related to nitrate, pulp mill, cortical steroids, and animal immune response; Legionella in cooling towers and thermal effluents; fecal coliforms in the tropics; Vibrio in coral reefs and tropical rain forests; chlorinated solvents in groundwater; oil in marine environments; deep subsurface environments that may suggest ways to determine life on other planets; oil spill natural recovery; nuclear legacy site natural attenuation and predictions of nuclear activity; landfill control; metal contamination of soil and groundwater; and phosphorus dynamics in tropical soils.

Biography: Dr. Hazen received his B. S. and M. S. degrees in Interdepartmental Biology from Michigan State University. His Ph.D. is from Wake Forest University in Microbial Ecology. Dr. Hazen was Professor, Chairman of Biology and Director of Graduate Studies at the University of Puerto Rico. He was the Head of the Ecology Department and Center for Environmental Biotechnology, Co-Director of the Virtual Institute for Microbial Stress and Survival, and DOE BER Distinguished Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He is currently the UT/ORNL Governor’s Chair Professor at the University of Tennessee in the Departments of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Microbiology, and Earth & Planetary Sciences and Biosciences Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He was also director of the Methane Center in the Institute for Secure and Sustainable Environments. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and the American Association for the Advancement of Science and has authored more than 412 scientific publications (H-index=84), not including more than 2000 abstracts and chapters in several books. He has 5 patents on bioremediation (2 of which use methane) that have been licensed by more than 50 companies and are being used world-wide. He also has received 2 R&D100 awards and the Federal Technology Transfer Medal. His research group has received extreme recognition for their work on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and deep subsurface microbial ecology and his work at the Y-12 legacy site. In 2021 the American Society for Microbiology awarded him the Environmental Microbiology Career Award at the World Microbe Forum. His research is focused on Environmental Systems Engineering as it relates to bioenergy, bioremediation, climate change, and environmental biotechnology.


Ted Henry, P.h.D., Heriot-Watt University, UK and Malaysia.

Title: “Developing sustainable cooling and cold chains in emerging economies- meeting the technical and educational needs.

Abstract: Developed economies and societies depend on our ability keep things cool. In a world that continues to become more globally connected, the provision of reliable cold chains will be essential to connect producers with consumers, ensure safe and healthy food supplies for all, and enable medical treatments to secure the health of the global population. Keeping things cool is not without cost, removing heat from one thing means releasing heat into something else – an energy requiring process that can itself further feed the trajectory of global temperature increases and climate change. The challenges are massive but so are the opportunities, and sustainability within the context of net-zero economies will be essential. Reliable cold chains reduce waste and enhance efficiency of production, reduce the spread of infectious diseases, human suffering, and livestock animal welfare. In many emerging economies, cold chains do not yet exist or are unreliable and these challenges must be addressed both by technological innovations and by education to provide the appropriate skillsets within communities. This presentation will introduce the Africa Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Cooling and Cold Chains (ACES) and Centre for Master’s Training and describe our approach first from the ACES campus in Rwanda and then expansion to other emerging economies. Developing partnerships is a key element of this initiative and for work towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN-SDGs).

Biography: Theodore (Ted) B. Henry is a Professor of Environmental Toxicology in the Institute of Life and Earth Sciences in the School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society at Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh. He is currently serving on secondment as the Deputy Provost of the Heriot-Watt University Malaysia campus. He is also Adjunct Professor in the School of Natural Resources at the University of Tennessee Knoxville. Ted has published extensively on the effects of toxicants in surface waters and currently is engaged in projects in Brazil, Africa, and Malaysia. As a former U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer (Togo 92-94), he is a developer of people and communities and is now part of the Africa Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Cooling and Cold Chain (ACES) where he leads the Centre for Master’s Training and aligned scholarships to enhance in-country ability to address the UN-SDGs. While much of his work is conducted internationally, he is based in Campinas, Brazil, where he and his wife live.


Michael Seeger, Ph.D., Technical University Federico Santa Maria, Chile

Title: “Developing sustainable aviation fuel syGenomics and metagenomics are useful for the design of novel bioremediation processes for urban site clean-up.”

Abstract: The clean-up of polluted industrial urban sites is crucial for the sustainable development. Biological, physicochemical, and thermal technologies have been applied for the remediation of polluted sites. Bioremediation, which is driven by microorganisms, is a bio-based and efficient technology capable to restore the ecosystems and mitigate the climate change. However, in many countries the application of bioremediation in urban sites is scarce. The aim of this study was to design a set of tailor-made bioremediation strategies based on native bacteria for the clean-up of a chronically hydrocarbon-polluted coastal urban soils, including i) bioaugmentation through the application of native bacteria, and ii) biostimulation with nutrients and antioxidants. Due to their hydrocarbon degradation capabilities specific native bacteria (e.g., Stutzerimonas, Acinetobacter, Rhodococcus, Alcaligenes) were characterized. Genome-guided metabolic reconstruction revealed their potential for biodegradation and adaptation to harish environmental conditions. The biodegradation of aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons was quantified. Bioaugmentation and biostimulation processes of chronically polluted coastal urban soils removed 80% of hydrocarbons. The dynamics of the microbial communities and inoculated microorganisms during the bioremediation were analyzed by NG sequencing and qPCR, revealing an increase in the abundance of specific genera and the persistence of inoculated bacteria. Novel bioremediation processes for the clean-up of an urban site in the Valparaiso Region were established and approved by the Chilean Environmental Ministry. The genomic and metagenomic analyses and multidisciplinary studies are helpful to design urban bioremediation processes towards a sustainable development.

Biography: Michael Seeger Pfeiffer Full Professor in Biotechnology, Biochemistry and Microbiology at Chemistry Department, Technical University Federico Santa Maria in Valparaiso, Chile. MS is Director of the Center of Biotechnology CBDAL and director of Laboratory of Molecular Microbiology and Environmental Biotechnology. He is Biochemist and PhD in Biology of Universidad de Chile, with a PhD thesis at German Center of Biotechnology GBF, Brauschweig, Germany. MS is author of 119 WoS paper, 2 books and 36 scientific publications on microbial ISMEIS metabolism and genomics, biodegradation & bioremediation (pollutants, aromatic compounds, heavy metals), synthesis of biotechnological products (e.g., bioplastics, bioactive compounds), interactions of microorganisms and plants, and environmental microbiology (h index 43, >6260 citations). MS is inventor of 6 international patent families. He has guided 18 postdocs, 39 PhD, 46 Master/undergraduate students. MS is Director of the Biotechnology PhD program UTFSM-PUCV, Coordinator of the Latin American Network of Biotechnology PhD programs RIABIN, and member of Milano-Bicocca Environmental Sciences PhD program (Italy). He received the “Scopus-Conicyt” 2013 award for the highest impact research in Biology & Biotechnology in Chile, American Academy of Microbiology fellowship (2009), German Max Planck Society fellowship (2010 -2011) and was awarded with the Honorary Membership of the Chemical Society of Cuba (2018). He is vicepresident (2023-2025) of the Chilean Society of Biology. He was president of Latin American Association of Microbiology (2004-2006) and Chilean Society of Microbiology (2004-2008), member of National Biotechnology Committee (2001-2006), and SOMICH Membership Committee (2012-2019), and co-Chair of First Latin-American ISME 2019 meeting (Valparaiso, Chile).


Michael McKineey, Ph.D., University of Tennessee, USA

Title: “Plastic pollution: challenges and strategies.”

Abstract: Since plastics were invented over 100 years ago, their use has accelerated in all aspects of modern life across the globe. Currently, almost 400 million tons of plastic are produced each year. Less than 10% of this is recycled, around 50% ends up in landfills and much of the remainder is deposited in soil, freshwater and ocean sinks where plastic is stored for 100’s-1000’s of years. This so-called “Plasticene Epoch” has emerged as a focus of much research as concerns grow over the ecological and human health impacts of nanoplastics, microplastics and macroplastics that now circulate in massive amounts throughout all natural global cycles (hydrosphere, atmosphere, lithosphere and biosphere). Many studies now document significant potential impacts on food production and quality, drinking water, contaminant transport, ecological food webs and human longevity, to name just a few concerns. In addition, most plastics are produced from nonrenewable and highly polluting carbon sources (fossil fuels) that also contribute greatly to greenhouse gas production. Strategies to mitigate this emerging problem are highly relevant to the biocircular economy. The most immediate (and effective) strategy, and one gaining in popularity, are “plastic-free” campaigns to reduce their use and stem the flow of plastic into the environment. However, the overwhelming global reliance on plastics in many aspects of human life (e.g., clothing, packaging, construction, agriculture) will make elimination a slow and difficult process. Thus, a more viable strategy for the near future may be the rapid substitution of non-plastic and biodegradable plastic materials that not only have fewer impacts of production and recycling and also biodegrade more rapidly than traditional plastics.

Biography: Michael McKinney is a Professor and former department head in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at UTK. He is Director of the Environmental Studies Program and is the Sustainability Fellow for the new College of Emerging and Collaborative Studies. He serves as the Editor-in-Chief for the journals Urban Ecosystems and Urban Naturalist. He has published over 100 peer reviewed scientific articles and several books, including Environmental Science (7th edition).

Email: McKinney, Michael L

Charles Sims, Ph.D., TVA Distinguished Professor of Energy and Environmental Policy, Director of the Center for Energy, Transportation, and Environmental Policy (CETEP), Associate Professor of Economics, University of Tennessee, U.S.A.

Title: “Prioritizing public and conservations investments to support human health at the rural-urban fringe.”

Abstract: The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a multi-faceted rural development and land management mission that supports human health in rural communities directly by promoting access to healthcare services and indirectly by preventing damage to natural resources. We develop a theoretical model to better understand how USDA investments in rural communities support human health and relate to private self-protections. We highlight the importance of understanding how rural households and communities respond to human health risks in the case of groundwater pollution. Conservation investments upstream of households may mitigate exposure to bacteria and chemicals that might otherwise contaminate private well systems whereas improved access to healthcare services may improve a household’s ability to treat resulting illness. We display that the permanence of households’ risk responses – i.e., short-run private avoidance versus long-run private adaptation – to environmental exposures matters when prioritizing investments in rural conservation and healthcare services. Yet, risk of environmental exposures, responses to those risks and access to healthcare services are often undocumented in rural areas and vary across households. We display this heterogeneity in four rural North Carolina counties that are home to an intensive animal agriculture industry using spatial proximity to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), private well construction records and time of travel to hospitals when giving birth. Our findings highlight that rural development and conservation investments should be coordinated internally across USDA agencies and responsive to the time horizon of community-specific risk management strategies already adopted. Further investigation and documentation of elusive risk management strategies, already adopted in rural candidate areas for public infrastructure and conservation awards, is essential to assessing the marginal benefit of and prioritizing potential USDA projects.

Biography: Sims’s research interests center on environmental and natural resource economics with a specific emphasis on the role of risk and uncertainty in natural resource, environmental, and energy policy. His past research has investigated issues related to invasive and endangered species, forest management, infectious diseases, renewable energy, and climate adaptation. Sims’s work has been published in environmental and natural resource economics journals, agricultural economics journals, general interest economics journals, applied ecology journals, and general interest science journals. With an eye toward adding physical and natural science realism to his economic models, Sims often collaborates with ecologists, mathematicians, engineers, foresters, biologists, hydrologists, and computer scientists.


Jun Li, Ph.D., University of Tennessee, U.S.A.

Title: “Develop antibody-based immunoassays for microplastic and nanoplastic analysis.”

Abstract: Dr. Jun Lin is a Professor in the Department of Animal Science at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in the US. Dr. Lin received both B.S. (1991) and M.S. (1994) in Microbiology & Immunology at Fudan University in China and his PhD (1998) in Animal Science from The Ohio State University in the US. He received major postdoctoral training (2000-2003) in molecular microbiology in the Food Animal Health Research Program at The Ohio State University. He joined faculty at The University of Tennessee in 2004. Dr. Lin’s molecular microbiology & immunology training together with his expertise in infectious disease allow him to address a broad range of important microbial organisms significant in animal health, food safety, and public health. Specifically, Dr. Lin’s research is primarily focused on molecular mechanisms of pathogenesis and antimicrobial resistance in zoonotic bacterial pathogens. Dr. Lin also has long-term experience studying the complex interactions between gut microbiota and the host. His functional microbiome research has led to the discovery of novel target and translational innovations for enhanced animal health and human health. His laboratory has a strong “One Health” emphasis on the interface of livestock, wildlife, environment, and human health. Dr. Lin is highly active in professional societies and has served in leadership roles in various organizations. Recently, Dr. Lin was selected as inaugural Fellow of the society CRWAD that has featured cutting-edge research on animal health and diseases, population health, and translational medicine for over 100 years.

Biography: Micro- and nanoplastics (MNPs) are emerging pollutants that have drawn worldwide attention due to their potential negative impacts on the health and sustainability of our ecosystem. Growing evidence suggests that the prevalent MNPs pose significant risks to human health. At present, analysis of MNPs is a time- consuming process and still relies on expensive and technically demanding equipment. Despite using state-of-the-art instrumentation, generation of reliable data for both qualitative and quantitative analysis of MNPs is still challenging. Therefore, lack of a cost-effective, user-friendly, sensitive, and reliable analysis tool is a significant bottleneck issue that has impeded our understanding of exposure and health effects of MNPs, particularly for those at nano scale (< 100 nm) that are recognized as the major type of health threatening MNPs. Antibody-based immunoassays have been widely used for rapid analysis of diverse targets with a wide range of sizes. The advantages of antibody-based immunoassays include, but are not limited to, high specificity and sensitivity, easiness of standardization for both qualitative and quantitative analysis, and cost-effectiveness. Generation of specific antibodies is crucial for developing antibody-based immunoassays. Using a unique polystyrene (PS) conjugate for rabbit immunization, we have developed novel PS-specific polyclonal antibodies that specifically reacted with pristine PS and further demonstrated the reliability of antibody-based immunoassays for PS analysis in diverse matrices. Recently, we also successfully generated mouse monoclonal antibodies directed against PS. With aid of the PS-specific antibodies, we are developing different immunoassays that would greatly leverage our capabilities to perform quantitative and spatial analyses of MNP for both biomedical and environmental research, such as ELISA, immunohistochemistry, and ultra-sensitive biosensor. Together, development of antibody-based immunoassays for MNP analysis is highly significant and has tangible practical applications for global MNP risk assessment and management.


Johana Husserl, P.h.D., Universidad de los Andes, Colombia

Title: “Untreated wastewater, farming, and human health: The Bogotá River.”

Abstract: The Bogotá River flows through the central region of Colombia, where its mid-basin collects both partially treated and untreated domestic and industrial wastewater from approximately 10 million people. Downstream from Bogotá, the water serves agricultural purposes in the La Ramada irrigation district, and further downstream, it is utilized for energy production at several hydroelectric plants, catering to over 2 million people. However, the river faces challenges due to the substantial influx of untreated wastewater before reaching the Ramada Irrigation District. This results in water quality issues for irrigation, with chemical oxygen demand often exceeding 1000 mg O2/L and dissolved oxygen levels consistently below the threshold necessary to support fish life, averaging less than 2 mgO2/L. Beyond high organic matter and low oxygen, the river exhibits frequent bacterial contamination, with E. coli concentrations reaching up to 10 6 MPN/100 mL, and many strains showing resistance to antibiotics. Given that this water is used for irrigating raw-consumed vegetables, we conducted studies to assess the concentration of Salmonella sp. and Salmonella sp. resistant to common antibiotics in both irrigation water and lettuce irrigated with this water. The findings indicated a potential daily risk of illness with Salmonella sp. from consuming lettuce irrigated with this water of up to 50%. In a separate study, we measured the concentration of H. pylori in irrigation water and lettuce (washed and unwashed) and established an even higher risk of infection, which is consistent with the high prevalence of H. pylori in the area. These observations underscore the link between water quality and public health, emphasizing the critical need for wastewater treatment to safeguard human, ecosystem, and animal health.

Biography: Johana Husserl is an Associate Professor based at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia. Her academic background includes a bachelor’s and master’s degree in environmental engineering from Tulane University, along with a Ph.D. from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Specializing in environmental chemistry and microbiology, Johana leads a research lab dedicated to assessing pollution in water and soil environments. Her work involves quantifying health risks linked to these contaminants. Additionally, she is actively engaged in developing technologies that leverage environmental microbiology, chemistry, and biotechnology tools to control pollution in both water and soil.


Yang Zhao, P.h.D., Univeristy of Tennessee, U.S.A.

Title: “Applications of precision livestock farming (PLF) in poultry industry.”

Abstract: Global poultry meat production surpassed pork production in 2020 to become the world’s largest meat industry. Advancements in genetics, housing, and nutrition have enabled broiler producers to achieve unprecedented efficiency in growing market-size birds. However, the U.S. broiler industry confronts significant challenges, including rising demand, labor shortages, effective flock maintenance, resource optimization, animal welfare concerns, and resilience against pandemics or disease outbreaks. Precision Livestock Farming (PLF) offers a promising solution to these challenges. PLF uses advanced sensing technologies and artificial intelligence for real-time monitoring of poultry responses and production components. This enables farmers to make informed decisions promptly, ultimately enhancing poultry well-being and production efficiency. Through PLF tools, farmers can measure animal-based responses throughout the production process and better control and improve animal health and welfare. This presentation provides a summary of a few example applications of PLF in the poultry industry, highlighting its potential to enhance poultry farming practices and address pressing industry demands.

Biography: Dr. Yang Zhao is an associate professor of Animal Science at The University of Tennessee. With a focus on precision livestock farming, his research addresses various challenges in poultry industry, including behavior monitoring, welfare assessment, and environment management. Zhao has secured multi-million-dollar research funding from USDA-NIFA, USDA-ARS, FFAR, US Poultry and Egg Association, and industry partners. He has an extensive publication record with over a hundred scientific articles. Zhao has served as the chair and member of several professional committees of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) and is an associate editor of the Transactions of the ASABE. Some of his example recognitions include ASABE Sunkist Young Designer Award, AOC Early Career Award, Gamma Sigma Delta Research Award, UT AgResearch Dean’s Grantsmanship Award, and T.J. Whatley Distinguished Young Scientist Award.


Hao Gan, Ph.D., University of Tennessee, U.S.A.

Title: “Smart sensing of animal health and welfare.”

Abstract: The worldwide demand for more animal products is increasing while at the same time the concern about animal welfare, animal health, and environmental impact by the livestock sector is rising worldwide. We need to produce more animal products with less feed input, fewer emissions, and less manure to create a more sustainable livestock sector. To do so, we need to optimize the process management which requires the monitoring of important parameters. Dr. Gan will present a few examples of the development and application of smart sensing technology that facilitates the monitoring of cattle and poultry health and welfare conditions.

Biography: Hao Gan is an assistant professor in the Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science at the University of Tennessee. Gan’s research focuses on developing sensing and robotic systems for various crop and animal production systems. His most recent research projects are related to computer vision and low-power sensing of animal health and welfare conditions, including imaging-based and audio-based poultry lameness and welfare behavior detection, cattle body condition scoring and respiration rate detection.


Chairs: Drs. Deborah Miller, Charles Sims (UT, USA), Ted Henry (Heriot-Watt, University, UK), Michael Seeger (Chile)

Deb Miller, Ph.D., University of Tennessee, U.S.A.

Biography: Dr. Debra Miller is Professor and Director of the Center for Wildlife Health in the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. She has a split appointment between the College of Veterinary Medicine and the Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries. She received her BS in wildlife from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, her MS (wildlife), DVM and PhD (wildlife and veterinary science) from Mississippi State University, and completed a postdoc in comparative pathology at the University of Miami School of Medicine. She spent 10 years at the University of Georgia before making the University of Tennessee her home. Dr. Miller is interested in all aspects of wildlife (including fisheries) health. Her expertise is in pathology, particularly pathology of herpetofauna (especially amphibians). Her primary research areas are amphibian diseases (particularly those caused by ranaviruses and chytrid fungi), sea turtle (especially leatherbacks) hatchling health and the impact of environmental stressors, and the impact of contaminants on marine mammals. Her research approach is multidisciplinary, with institutional, national, and international collaborations. Her primary research partner in amphibian disease studies is her husband, Dr. Matthew Gray. Together they conduct experimental challenges combined with field surveillance to identify factors contributing to ranavirus-related mortality events and to identify mitigation strategies to thwart the expansion of Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal). Recently, they launched the Global Ranavirus Reporting System (, which will provide scientists a portal for uploading information regarding ranavirus-associated mortality events. Currently, they are actively engaged in an NSF-funded study to investigate transmission pathways and immunological factors driving the invasion potential of Bsal. In collaboration with Dr. Jeanette Wyneken (Florida Atlantic University), Dr. Miller investigates issues related to sea turtle hatchling health, such as mercury and selenium. In collaboration with Dr. Todd OHara (University of Alaska Fairbanks) she investigates pathological changes in marine mammals (e.g., dolphin skin) associated with contaminants. To date, she has published over 100 peer-reviewed articles, 6 book chapters, served as the editor for 1 book, and delivered over 150 professional presentations. Dr. Miller teaches in the wildlife health program and her teaching philosophy is similar to her research philosophy: It takes a team of experts to investigate issues in One Health. Thus, she provides students opportunities to work as members of teams of experts. This is accomplished at multiple levels, in the classroom for team projects and in the field on research studies. Dr. Miller is also dedicated to service. She is currently the president of the Wildlife Disease Association and co-chairs or is a member of various regional, national and international committees and task teams focused on herpetofaunal diseases.