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MSU, USDA-ARS Kick Off New Research Unit Focused on Geospatial, Environmental Epidemiology

July 1, 2024

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Scientists from Mississippi State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, along with other federal and academic organizations, met recently to solidify plans for a new MSU/USDA-ARS partnership focused on geospatial and environmental epidemiology.

Adams Rivers, computational biologist and acting research leader of the USDA-ARS Geospatial and Environmental Epidemiology Research Unit
Adams Rivers, computational biologist and acting research leader of the USDA-ARS Geospatial and Environmental Epidemiology Research Unit, speaks during a workshop held at Mississippi State to kick off the new unit. (Photo by James Carskadon)
The USDA Agricultural Research Service is starting a new research collaborative, the ARS Geospatial and Environmental Epidemiology Research Unit, in partnership with MSU's Geosystems Research Institute, College of Veterinary Medicine, and Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. The new unit builds on long-standing partnerships between MSU and USDA-ARS, the USDA's principal in-house research agency.

The mission of the new unit is to harness advanced geospatial analysis, artificial intelligence and machine learning to focus on new approaches to cropping practices, predictive biology and disease epidemiology. The new unit brings together MSU and USDA-ARS scientists to develop new research tools and capabilities, as well as new insights by combining multiple sources of data and information.

With offices adjacent to the MSU campus in Starkville and the Thad Cochran National Warmwater Aquaculture Center in Stoneville, USDA-ARS has significant research partnerships already in place with MSU. In 2020, MSU and ARS launched Atlas, a new high performance computing cluster housed at MSU that supports USDA research computing needs.

"This has been a very valuable relationship and all of us working together makes us better," said MSU Vice President for Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine Keith Coble. "This is an opportunity to continue multidisciplinary work in partnership with ARS, and we are truly excited about it."

The recent workshop with scientists was used to develop project priorities and outline multi-year plans.

The meeting included an overview of several related multidisciplinary research efforts at MSU, such as mapping disease transmission risk in cattle feedlots, understanding disease susceptibility and evolution in poultry and livestock, using sound monitoring in aquaculture ponds to predict disease risk and developing a coupled sensor-radar system that can be used to predict parasite and disease spread in honeybees and other species.

MSU is a national leader in agriculture research, most recently ranking No. 11 nationally for agriculture and natural resources research and development expenditures. The Geosystems Research Institute uses advanced sensing technologies and geospatial data to advance knowledge of geographic systems. The College of Veterinary Medicine boasts significant expertise in animal epidemiology, which is used to inform food production practices around the state and world. The Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station conducts statewide research on agricultural and animal production that enhances economic prosperity and environmental stewardship, builds stronger communities and improves the health and well-being of families.

For more on the ARS Geospatial and Environmental Epidemiology Research Unit, visit