First exploratory research grants awarded

NIFA awards first exploratory research grants for transformative approaches to ag challenges.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food & Agriculture (NIFA) announced that it has awarded the first grants made through the inaugural round of funding provided under NIFA's Exploratory Research Grants (ERG) program, which provides one-year grants for up to $100,000 for proof-of-concept research in areas not previously addressed or where a novel approach could result in high impact breakthroughs. NIFA will provide nearly $2 million of fiscal year 2014 funding for this program.

"The Exploratory Research Grants program provides limited initial funding to the scientific community for research that is judged to have a potential profound, positive and rapid impact on agriculture and the food systems of our nation," NIFA director Sonny Ramaswamy said. "When successful, these are the type of projects with the potential to transform agriculture in the United States for years to come."

The ERG program provides support to researchers for untested, novel ideas that will lead to transformative innovations in the areas of food security, food safety, nutrition, obesity, climate change, environmental quality and natural resources. These developments are expected to lead to "quantum leaps" in the agricultural fields, NIFA said. Each project must address one of the following:

* Novel and innovative ideas that could have high potential impact;

* Application of new knowledge or new approaches to unsolved challenges that have high potential impact;

* Development of tools to enable a paradigm shift in the field, and/or

* Promote rapid response to natural disasters and similar unanticipated events.

NIFA makes awards for the ERG program on a rolling basis. Funded awards to-date may be found on the NIFA website. Examples of grants funded in fiscal year 2014 include a project at the New York State Experiment Station to research the use of chemical signals from plants and microbes below ground to improve insect pest management practices; researchers at the University of Georgia testing whether a gene linked with asexual reproduction may be introduced into rice and maize to allow for the production of genetically identical offspring to preserve hybrid vigor between generations, and a grant to the University of Massachusetts to determine how widespread the bacterium Clostridium perfringens types B and D — which is widely thought to be associated with the onset of multiple sclerosis — is in the meat and poultry retail supply.

NIFA introduced the ERG program in fiscal year 2014 through the Agriculture & Food Research Initiative Foundational Program, which builds a foundation of knowledge in fundamental and applied food and agricultural sciences that are critical for solving current and future societal challenges.

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