November 7, 2019


Cornell, University of Arkansas co-lead US$10 million USDA poultry science grant


Cornell is co-leading a US$9.95 million, five-year U.S. Department of Agriculture grant that aims to transform nutrition and water use in the poultry industry in order to improve its environmental impact and enhance human health, Cornell Chronicle reported.


The grant, awarded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and co-led by the University of Arkansas, is among the biggest grants awarded by the USDA on record, and dovetails with Cornell's land-grant missions of research, extension and teaching, said Xingen Lei, professor in the Department of Animal Science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and co-principal investigator.


One of the projects Lei will lead involves using microalgae as an alternative feed protein. "What we want to do in this case is use microalgae to replace soybeans - this will reduce the competition between feed and food," he said. "Also, microalgae capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and this will make production greener."


Lei said his lab has already made progress working with algae as a protein-rich food source. However, algae are expensive compared with soymeal, the dominant source of protein in commercial poultry diets. His goal is to improve the nutritional quality and the environmental value of the feed while making it more affordable and practical for farmers to use.


Through microalgae, researchers can introduce enzymes that favour unsaturated fatty acids and vitamin D. In collaboration with Kimberly O' Brien, professor in the Division of Nutritional Sciences in the College of Human Ecology, Lei will look for ways to improve the chickens' overall health and, consequently, consumers' health.


Researchers at the University of Arkansas will be developing ways to improve chickens' gut health and disease resistance, on top of exploring how the industry can use water more efficiently.


One of the grant's sustainability aspects involves a collaboration between Cornell researchers Jefferson Tester, the David Croll Sesquicentennial Fellow and Professor in the Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Johannes Lehmann, the Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of soil and crop sciences in the School of Integrated Plant Science.


The researchers will process poultry manure and other food waste sources in order to produce energy in the form of biogas, bio-oil, electricity and biochar. Through techniques such as hydrothermal liquefaction and pyrolysis, they can recycle carbon and nutrients in cost-effective, environmentally sustainable ways.


"Because of the high temperatures involved in hydrothermal treatment, pathogens are destroyed, and nitrogen and phosphorus are recovered in the aqueous phase along with a solid carbon product," Tester said.


The University of Arkansas, Pine Bluff, Mississippi State University, and Iowa State University are also collaborating on the grant.