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Twenty Knoxville-area University of Tennessee researchers have been honored by the University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF) for receiving patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on discoveries that could transform the lives of people in Tennessee and the nation.

The scientists honored included 12 researchers from UT Knoxville, seven researchers from the UT Institute of Agriculture (UTIA), and one from the UT Health Science Center Graduate School of Medicine (UTHSC). The researchers achieved a total of 15 patents for their intellectual properties over the course of 2007 and 2008.

Patents are awarded for unique technologies and ideas and serve to protect inventions that can benefit society. The process for receiving a patent is lengthy and difficult – fewer than 10 percent of the discoveries made at UT are eventually granted patents from the USPTO.

UTRF President and CEO Fred Tompkins says the scientists responsible for the research that makes it through this process are among the most innovative and dedicated individuals in the university system.

“Awarded patents are critical to the university,” said Tompkins. “They are an indication of the innovative people and programs at the university, which attract external funding from both government granting agencies as well as from industry. The funding, in turn, attracts best-in-class faculty and students.”

Tompkins also noted that patents have the potential to generate licensing revenue for the university and can be the basis for starting new companies, contributing to economic development.

Inventors awarded patents include:

Valerie Berthelier-Jung, UTHSC Graduate School of Medicine, for the development of new methods to study neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. The invention will help researchers analyze specific proteins known to be associated with these devastating disorders and could lead to the development of new treatments or cures.

Doug Birdwell, Roger Horn, David Icove and Tse-Wei Wang, Departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Chemical Engineering, UT Knoxville, for the development of software that allows the user to rapidly and efficiently store, manage and retrieve information from very large and complex datasets. This software has been specifically designed for use with the national CODIS database for DNA profiling and is expected to minimize the time required to locate and match a target of interest.

Bob Conger, Department of Plant Sciences, UTIA, a Plant Variety Protection Patent for “Persist” orchard grass. This patent represents 50 years of discovery and plant breeding work. Persist, which does exactly what its name says, outperforms other cool-season orchard grass varieties. In Kentucky, it was the top producer in yield trials at two locations for two years. It is now being grown in the U.S. and recently was adopted in Argentina, which is known for producing premium quality beef.

Shigetoshi Eda, Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries, UTIA, for a more effective method of diagnosing infectious diseases. This test has been found useful for detecting specific bacteria that cause Johne’s disease in the small intestine of animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, deer, antelope and bison. Lost productivity due to Johne’s disease is estimated to cost the U.S. dairy industry $200 million to $250 million annually.

James Fleming and Gary Sayler, Center for Environmental Biology, UT Knoxville, for the development of genetic logic gates that permit information processing by whole bacterial cells. These genetically engineered cells form living microprocessors that can “sense,” rather than rely on hard-wired interconnections for signals. Such biocomputers can potentially provide massive parallel computation on a micrometer scale that will not be approachable with semiconductor technology in the foreseeable future.

David Joy, Department of Biochemical and Molecular Engineering, UT Knoxville, for new methods to create small-scale patterns on semiconductor chips. These microelectronic structures have fine dimensions and increase the defect tolerance for those systems. The implication is that semiconductor companies could potentially increase their manufacturing yields, thus saving costs.

George Kabalka, Department of Chemistry, UT Knoxville, for new, more reliable and efficient methods to produce the radioisotopes used routinely in nuclear medicine, such as CT or MRI scans.

Richard Komistek and Mohamed Mahfouz, Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering, UT Knoxville, for the development of a sensor system for use in orthopedic devices that allows a physician to monitor the forces between a joint replacement component and the underlying bone. Monitoring the forces in the joint will allow implant manufacturers to better understand what is happening in the joint and develop more reliable implants.

Stacey Patterson, Gary Sayler and Steven Ripp, Center for Environmental Biology, UT Knoxville, for creating the first genetically engineered animal cells that produce a visible light, or bioluminescent, signal. This work is the foundation of several new sensing applications and imaging tools and could lead to the creation of implantable sensors for early disease detection.

Gary Sayler, Center for Environmental Biology, UT Knoxville, for the genetic modification of bioluminescent proteins. Bioluminescent proteins generate a stable visible light signal in genetically engineered cells. This invention reduces the duration of the bioluminescent signal produced in real-time sensing applications.

Gary Sayler and Steven Ripp, Center for Environmental Biology, UT Knoxville, for integrating genetically engineered, light-producing bacteria onto semi-conductor chips. These bioluminescent bioreporter integrated circuits (BBICs) have been designed for the remote detection of substances such as pollutants, explosives, and heavy-metals residing in inhospitable areas such as groundwater, industrial process vessels and battlefields. These small, self-contained BBICs may also have future applications as implantable sensors for disease monitoring and detection.

Bob Trigiano and Mark Windham, Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, UTIA, for a dogwood tree called “Missy’s Appalachian Morning.” This new dogwood variety, derived from a tree found growing on UT’s agricultural campus, produces fruit with seeds that are sterile. The tree is named in honor of a former UT graduate student, Malissa “Missy” Ament, who was involved in discovering the tree was sterile.

Bob Trigiano, Alan Windham and Mark Windham, Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology and UT Extension, UTIA, for a new dogwood tree variety called “Appalachian Joy,” named after Alan’s wife, Joy. The tree is a showy, high-performing dogwood that is resistant to powdery mildew and features extra flowers, making the tree look fuller and larger.

Tse-Wei Wang and Doug Birdwell, Department of Chemical Engineering, UT Knoxville, for the development of an algorithm that allows for the separation and identification of individuals within a mixed sample of DNA. This work represents an improved, quantitative method that will be valuable to forensic scientists by allowing them to more reliably resolve DNA mixtures.

John Wilkerson and Melvin Newman, Departments of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science, and Entomology and Plant Pathology, UTIA, for a control system for high-speed fluid dispensing. A prototype was developed to help farmers reduce the amount of pesticides they apply to cotton, but this invention is good for all crops and has other potential industry-wide applications. This approach cuts the cost of production for cotton and other crops by as much as 50 to 75 percent and also reduces the amount of pesticides put in the environment.

UTRF helps inventors at UT turn their ideas and discoveries into products and services that benefit society. In addition to supporting the university research enterprise and commercializing the resulting inventions, UTRF also supports entrepreneurship as well as state and regional economic development efforts. UTRF serves all seven of the UT campuses and institutes across the state. For more information, visit

Discovery and inventions like these that benefit Tennesseans and citizens from all walks of life are the business of UT AgResearch. You can learn more about their work and achievements at UT AgResearch is one of four units of UT’s Institute of Agriculture. The institute also comprises the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, the UT College of Veterinary Medicine and UT Extension, the land-grant outreach division of the university that maintains an office in each of Tennessee’s 95 counties.