Laura Kavanaugh

Laura Kavanaugh

Laura Kavanaugh

Speaker | Genome Insights LLC

Hillsborough, NC |

Dr. Laura Kavanaugh holds a PhD from Duke University’s Molecular Genetics and Microbiology Department.  She also holds a M.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering, a B.S. degree in Chemical Engineering, and B.S. degree in Chemistry from Purdue University.  She has over 11 years of experience in the biotechnology industry where she specialized in bioinformatics and DNA sequencing technology.  She has a special interest in soil microbes and their value in composting and plant growth.  Prior to entering the biotechnology industry, she worked on the Space Shuttle Program at the Johnson Space Center.  She is currently founder and CEO of Genome Insights LLC which is a small business aimed at delivering novel environmentally sustainable products through application of cutting-edge DNA sequencing and computational methods consistent with regenerative agriculture principles.

Session Code: 4D

Track: Operations

Session Name: Using Technology: AI, GIS, DNA for Odors, Marketing and Quality

Session Time: Wednesday, January 26, 8:30 AM to 10:00 AM

Presentation Title: Enhancing Composting Quality with the Latest DNA Sequencing Breakthroughs

Presentation Description: Composting is a microbial process that converts organic waste materials into valuable organic matter rich in plant nutrients that is of great value to farmers and home gardeners.  The methods used to produce compost have a strong influence on the compost’s microbial community during the process and this in turn determines the greenhouse gases released and the quality of the final product.  Since microbes cannot be seen directly, it is difficult for producers to recognize when conditions in the composting process have gone awry and to make the appropriate adjustments.  This can lead to variation across batches and result in unreliable performance in the field that undermines consumer confidence.

Methods exist to perform DNA sequencing of the microbial community during the composting process but they have historically been too expensive and slow to be practical for producers and are typically only used by researchers.  The situation is changing with the advent of new low-cost, hand-held DNA sequencers and mobile sequencing laboratories.  It is now possible to perform on-site DNA sequencing in real-time at a reduced cost that is projected to continue to drop.  This emerging technology presents many possibilities for enhancing the compost industry by ensuring greater compost quality and enabling development of customized products for amending soils, suppressing pathogens, and supporting target crops.

In this talk, I will present the latest developments in DNA sequencing technology and discuss how it could be applied during the composting process to enhance compost quality.  I will provide information on costs, equipment, and skills needed to perform the sequencing.  I will also offer ideas on how these technologies might be used to establish new compost standards that enhance product consistency.  These tools will promote expanded use of compost by improving customer satisfaction with the consistent positive performance of the compost they buy.