Peggy Ozias-Akins

Ozias-Akins named UGA Distinguished Research Professor

The University of Georgia Research Foundation named Peggy Ozias-Akins, UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences horticulture professor, a 2017 Distinguished Research Professor.

The coveted title is awarded to UGA faculty who are internationally recognized for fostering creativity in their discipline. Ozias-Akins applies advanced biotechnology and molecular biological tools, some of which she developed herself, to improve crops like peanuts.

She is an expert on apomixis, the asexual production of seeds in plants. Studied for decades, Ozias-Akins pioneered the application of forward genetics, genetic engineering and genomics to the process. Her team was among the first to localize apomixis to a chromosomal region and find the first associated plant gene. Her work lays the foundation for research into the systematic application of apomixis in plant breeding, which could have an enormous impact on agriculture worldwide.

As director of UGA’s Institute of Plant Breeding, Genetics and Genomics, Ozias-Akins works with other institute faculty to create plant varieties that are higher yielding, more disease resistant, more nutritious or have greater ornamental value.

Working with the federally funded Peanut and Mycotoxin Innovation Lab at UGA, Ozias-Akins and her colleagues search for genetic markers that indicate resistance to aflatoxin, a cancer-causing chemical produced by molds that grow in soil, which could impact the peanut industry. She also co-chairs the Peanut Genome Consortium, an extension of the International Peanut Genome Initiative. As a member of the initiative, she helped to sequence the commercial peanut, which will jump-start breeders’ ability to identify genes or forms of genes for specific traits, like disease resistance.

“The peanut is … a fascinating crop. It flowers above ground while it fruits below,” she said. “Growing peanuts, there are a lot of challenges from both foliar and soilborne pathogens.”

Her research at UGA has helped create peanut lines that are resistant to fungal contamination and produce fewer allergens. She has introduced several genes into peanuts, including one that reduces the allergens.

“Some of the proteins in peanuts can cause severe reactions in humans. We were able to knock down the production and, in some cases, almost eliminate those proteins,” she said. “Unfortunately, no companies want to push a genetically modified peanut because it takes a lot of money and years to get regulatory approval.”

A native of Tifton, Georgia, Ozias-Akins joined the UGA Tifton campus faculty in 1986.

By Sharon Dowdy Cruse


The University of Georgia Research Foundation named Peggy Ozias-Akins, UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences horticulture professor, a 2017 Distinguished Research Professor.