April 4, 2016


USDA announces US$5.2 Million for nanotechnology research


US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced an investment of more than US$5.2 million to support nanotechnology research at 11 universities.


The universities will research ways in which nanotechnology can be used to improve food safety, enhance renewable fuels, increase crop yields, manage agricultural pests, and more.


The awards were made through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), the nation's premier competitive, peer-reviewed grants programme for fundamental and applied agricultural sciences.


"In the seven years since the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative was established, the programme has led to true innovations and ground-breaking discoveries in agriculture to combat childhood obesity, improve and sustain rural economic growth, address water availability issues, increase food production, find new sources of energy, mitigate the impacts of climate variability and enhance resiliency of our food systems, and ensure food safety," said Vilsack. "Nanoscale science, engineering, and technology are key pieces of our investment in innovation to ensure an adequate and safe food supply for a growing global population. The President's 2017 Budget calls for full funding of the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative so that USDA can continue to support important projects like these."


With the funding, Auburn University proposes to improve pathogen monitoring throughout the food supply chain by creating a user-friendly system that can detect multiple foodborne pathogens simultaneously, accurately, cost effectively, and rapidly.


Experts in nanotechnology, molecular biology, vaccines and poultry diseases at the University of Wisconsin will work to develop nanoparticle-based poultry vaccines to prevent emerging poultry infections.


USDA has a full list of projects and longer descriptions available online.


Past projects include a University of Georgia project developing a bio-nanocomposites-based, disease-specific, electrochemical sensors for detecting fungal pathogen induced volatiles in selected crops; and a University of Massachusetts project creating a platform for pathogen detection in foods that is superior to the current detection method in terms of analytical time, sensitivity, and accuracy using a novel, label-free, surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) mapping technique.


The purpose of AFRI is to support research, education, and extension work by awarding grants that address key problems of national, regional, and multi-state importance in sustaining all components of food and agriculture.


AFRI is the flagship competitive grant programme administered by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Established under the 2008 Farm Bill, AFRI supports work in six priority areas: plant health and production and plant products; animal health and production and animal products; food safety, nutrition and health; bioenergy, natural resources and environment; agriculture systems and technology; and agriculture economics and rural communities.


Since AFRI's creation, NIFA has awarded more than US$89 million to solve challenges related to plant health and production; US$22 million of this has been dedicated to nanotechnology research. The President's 2017 budget request proposes to fully fund AFRI for US$700 million. The amount is the full funding level authorised by Congress when it established AFRI in the 2008 Farm Bill.


Since 2009, USDA has invested US$4.32 billion in research and development grants. Studies have shown that every dollar invested in agricultural research now returns over US$20 to the American economy.

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