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USDA Scientist Wins ‘Sammie’ Award for Food Safety Work

Hyun Lillehoj, Ph.D., has won an “Oscar of government service” for her work in food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In her 30 years with USDA, Lillehoj has studied the immune systems of chickens and turkeys and worked to reduce and treat parasitic and bacterial poultry diseases.

Lillehoj, a senior research molecular biologist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, won a 2015 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal in Career Achievement (known as the “Sammies”), in part for what she’s done to reduce the use of antibiotics in commercial poultry.

Studying how certain antibiotics promote the growth of poultry means that alternatives can be developed.


Hyun Lillehoj, Ph.D.

According to the Partnership for Public Service, the organization which awards the Service to America Medals, Lillehoj has developed new diagnostic and therapeutic products and discovered DNA markers for the genetic selection of disease-resistant chickens, paving the way for breeding healthier chickens.

She’s also has identified natural antimicrobial molecules that have anti-cancer properties and kill infectious parasites, discovered a second-generation parasite vaccine with an improved protection profile over current vaccines, developed therapeutic antibodies that boost immunity for poultry, formulated health-promoting probiotics for veterinary use, and discovered organic, plant-derived herbal extracts and essential oils that fight infectious diseases affecting animals and humans.

Some of these have already been applied to feed in the field, Lillehoj told Federal News Radio in July.

“Because of intensive production systems that we have to use for poultry, we’ve been using many antibiotics, especially growth-promoting drugs to raise these poultry,” Lillehoj said in that interview. “I believe that for safety reasons, it is important that we reduce the amount of antibiotics to reduce the association that we have with the increasing use of antibiotics in the animal industry and increasing drug resistance.”

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