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MSU’s AgBio Hub Supports and Amplifies Research

The Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC) Innovation Hub for AgBio at MSU is designed to bridge the gap between successful academic research results and the point at which an innovation is sufficiently developed, scaled-up, and de-risked to enable it to be transitioned to commercial development. This is a grant program jointly funded by MSU and the State of Michigan’s Strategic Fund administered by Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC).

The program focuses on one of the university’s core strengths: AgBio Science. This can include research in areas from Animal Science to Chemical Engineering. In 2015 and 2016, 21 AgBio projects were selected for grants to help make them broadly available. These included projects funded in part by the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center.

The GLBRC is led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with MSU as a major partner, and is one of three bioenergy research centers established in 2007 by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). This funding gives an essential boost to the research conducted on MSU’s campus.

“This collaboration is a way for the university to have an impact on the greater good,” said Karen Studer-Rabeler, commercialization program director for the MTRAC Program.

One of the researchers receiving a 2016 MTRAC award is Federica Brandizzi, Ph.D., professor of plant biology at MSU and leader in GLBRC Plants Area research. In an effort to address food security issues related to increasing land scarcity for crops, Brandizzi has established a new technology based on the over-expression of a single gene, which causes an increase in photosynthesis, biomass, and digestibility.

With MTRAC funding, Brandizzi’s lab will transfer the technology from a model plant species into two crops of high economic relevance – soybean and alfalfa. The expected outcome of this approach is an increase in seed yield of soybean plants and also an increase in biomass and improved quality of alfalfa plants.

“Dr. Brandizzi is solving real-world agricultural problems with technology, which is an impactful way to give back to the community,” Studer-Rabeler said.

Gemma Reguera, Ph.D., a professor of microbiology and molecular genetics, has received three MTRAC awards. This third grant will help Reguera take her platform Microbial Electrochemical Reactor (MER) technology from benchtop to pilot scale to produce bio-derived 1,3-PDO from crude glycerin, a waste product from biodiesel production.

This technology can easily be integrated or retrofitted into any industrial biodiesel plant. The current worldwide oversupply of crude glycerin provides the ideal market for utilization and commercialization of this technology.

Studer-Rabeler said Reguera was awarded this particular MTRAC grant because of her research’s creativity.

“The way Dr. Reguera looks at a problem and figures out how to solve it using a broad array of technologies is important,” Studer-Rabeler said. “She’s thinking about real-world applications of her research, and feedback from potential customers drives her work to solve their problems.”