Danny E. Akin
B.S., University of Georgia 1969
M.S., University of Georgia 1971
Ph.D., University of Georgia 1973
In April, 1971, Dan began his career as a microbiologist with the Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, at the Richard B. Russell Agricultural Research Center in Athens, GA. In 1973 and while employed at the Russell Research Center, Dan completed his Ph.D. from the Department of Microbiology, University of Georgia. He worked as a senior scientist in several projects at the Russell Research Center, occupying a GM 15 level for several years. He retired in January, 2008, after 37 years of service. During this time, Dan spent one year (1981-82) as a visiting scientist with CSIRO in Australia and five months (1984) as a visiting scientist in the Netherlands and Sweden. Dan served as an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Crops and Soils and still serves in this capacity with Textile, Merchandising & Interiors at the University of Georgia. Dan served on the Graduate Faculty at the University of Georgia until his retirement.
Research and Areas of Expertise
Dan initially worked in the area of rumen microbiology and forage utilization by ruminants. Much of his work involved transmission and scanning electron microscopy, light microscopy, histochemistry, and ultraviolet absorption microspectrophotometry. These techniques were employed to evaluate diversity in the rumen microbial population, plant cell wall structure and limitations to biomass conversion, and plant fiber/microbial interactions. Dan interacted with colleagues in several areas, especially chemists, animal nutritionists, plant physiologists, and plant breeders. He assessed the role of bacteria, protozoa, and anaerobic fungi as fiber degraders. He determined their specific roles in forage utilization. Another major area of Dan’s research was the role of lignin and aromatics as barriers to fiber biodegradation. Specific roles were assigned for complex aromatic structures and low molecular weight phenolics, including their toxicity to rumen microorganisms. Dan developed a protocol for ultraviolet absorption microspectrophotometry to assess the specific location and limitation of various aromatics in lignocelluloses.
After 24 years of research in rumen microbiology and forage utilization, Dan moved into a new area of research on natural fibers, especially flax fibers. This project was different from most in that, while the U.S. does not have a linen/flax industry, the amount of imported fibers called for research into developing a U.S. industry. Dan’s research still included the role of microbes and enzymes on plant degradation, here in a process called retting, as well as the chemical and structural characterization of fibers related to quality, This research project, however, called for work involving the textile industry, processing technology, and development of quality standards. Dan formed and led consortia with several different groups of scientists to form effective research groups that addressed the goals of this project. This work resulted in the following accomplishments: 1) identification and assessment of various enzymes for retting, 2) the design and implementation of the only pilot plant in North America for processing flax fiber based on a commercial system, and 3) the initiation of a series of ASTM standards to judge flax fiber quality.
In the latter part of Dan's career, he began research into the use of plant lignocellulose for biofuels. This research harkened back to the forage work in that similar limitations to biomass degradation lay at the heart of the issue. Work was initiated with forage breeders on quality factors for improved biofuel crops and on the use of new enzymes for degrading biomass. The research on flax processing and lignocellulose for biofuels also included modification of waste materials for value-added co-products such as antimicrobials, antioxidants, filtration materials, and resins.
Dan has authored or coauthored 275 publications, including 194 refereed articles and numerous popular articles and book chapters. He has been invited to numerous countries for lectures and presentations. He has organized several international symposia related to his research area. He was a leader in organizing a tri-national conference (Australia, New Zealand, and the United States) and senior editor of the related book "Microbial and Plant Opportunities to Improve Lignocellulose Utilization by Ruminants" published by Elsevier.
Dan has been a member of the American Society for Microbiology, Microscopy Society of America, American Society of Agronomy, and ASTM International. He has held offices in several of these societies. Dan chaired the subcommittee "Flax and Linen" of ASTM International from 2000 to 2006 and initiated work resulting in the first four standards for flax fiber.