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CCU scientists assist local industry in boosting economic diversity

August 26, 2005

Three Coastal Carolina University science faculty members are working as research consultants with a local manufacturing firm as part of a long-term plan to foster economic diversity in the Pee Dee region.

According to the terms of an initial $4,000 grant from the S.C. Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), Coastal Associate Vice President Val Dunham and marine science professors Jane Guentzel and Brent Lewis will work with Integrated Environmental Technologies (IET), a manufacturing firm in Little River, on a device designed to control fungal growth on crops that some area farmers, agribusinesses and scientists think may replace tobacco as a cash crop.

The three scientists are assisting IET's CEO William Prince and senior technician Svetlana Panicheva in adapting the company's EcaFloTM machine to produce environmentally friendly liquid solutions that will kill fungi, mold and bacteria on commercially important crops.

IET's EcaFlo device takes salt water and processes it through a specially designed electrolytic cell in order to modify the functional properties of the water. The process produces a variety of short-lived antioxidant compounds. The machines are currently being used to kill bacteria on equipment in petroleum refineries and in food processing plants.

Dunham, a plant biochemist with a background in DNA research, sees this project as one aspect of a larger plan to create new opportunities in agriculture and related businesses for the 10-county area of South Carolina served by the Northeastern Strategic Alliance (NESA), an economic development organization sponsored by CCU and Francis Marion University in Florence. A growing group of area researchers, farmers, entrepreneurs and economic officials is promoting the cultivation of muscadine grapes as a potentially significant money crop in this region where tobacco, once the leading agricultural product, is in serious decline as a result of the recent government buyout program.

Last year CCU held the first RAIN (Research, Agriculture, Industry and Nature) Conference to explore the economic and agricultural potential of grape production in the area. The conference produced a report indicating that in addition to wine and fruit juices, grapes are also a good source for nutraceuticals, which are plant products with medicinal or dietary applications. The major outcome of the conference, which was sponsored by Coastal Carolina University, Clemson University, IET and Dermacon Inc. (a local nutraceutical company), was a consensus that muscadine grapes would be the ideal crop to supplement and replace tobacco in the Pee Dee region.

As a follow-up to the first conference, CCU has recently been awarded a $5,000 EPSCoR grant to fund a RAIN II conference to focus on potential cooperatives between muscadine agriculture and the nutraceutical industry. Speakers from across the nation who will participate in the Oct. 14-15 event include muscadine grape growers, university researchers, representatives of the grape industry, legislative groups and business leaders who have expertise in the formation of agricultural cooperatives.

For more information, contact Val Dunham at 349-4021.