MTRAC AgBio Innovation Hub Starter and Full Award Recipients | Spring 2020

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MTRAC AgBio Innovation Hub Starter and Full Award Recipients | Spring 2020

MSU’s MTRAC AgBio Innovation Hub 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. The MTRAC AgBio Innovation Hub is jointly funded by Michigan State University and the Michigan Strategic Fund administered by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC).

The MSU MTRAC program focuses on agricultural and industrial biotechnology, biomaterials, bioprocessing and related technologies that fall outside the domain of human medicine.  This can include research in areas from animal and crop health, to innovative machine learning and blockchain applications useful in agriculture and food production, to novel food, fiber and biomaterial processing.  Recent examples of the areas of translational research have included funding in: bio-based chemicals, biofuel synthesis, livestock health and nutrition, crop improvement, novel consumer food products and agricultural production tools and methods.

MTRAC Full grants provide funding of up to $100,000 covering up to one year of translational research on promising technologies.  The MTRAC Starter grants provide up to $25,000 over six months to allow for initial testing of a new technology as part of the early stage of commercialization such as the generation of data for a prototype, patent application or other work that would provide a strong foundation for a MTRAC Full grant proposal. As with MTRAC Full grant awards, the research must relate directly to commercial applications in agriculture and/or the larger bioeconomy.  

The AgBio MTRAC Oversight Committee meets several times each year to consider funding of proposals submitted in response to the MTRAC requests for proposal.  The following section list describes some of the grants funded during several recent grant cycles.  Together, they help to illustrate the diversity and scope of the program.

2020 Full Grant Awards

  • PFAS Inactivation. Following successful completion of a Starter grant project in 2019, Dr. John Albrecht (Michigan State University) and colleagues at the Fraunhofer Institute received a grant focused on development an electrochemical process for the complete destruction of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances using boron-doped diamond electrodes.  The project seeks to provide a means for treating PFAS-enriched concentrates from commercial ion exchange and reverse osmosis processes to permanently eliminate the substances from the environment. 
  • Animal Mobility Monitoring Using Visual AI Systems. Dr. Madonna Benjamin, and colleagues from Michigan State University received funding to implement and evaluate a computer vision-based, biometric assessment system for monitoring livestock body conformations and locomotion patterns.  The AI-based system provides a potential framework for assessing animal health, wellness, quality and productivity metrics in real-time.
  • Microalgae Purification by Fungal Capture. Microalgae and cyanobacteria provide a rich source of high-value oil, protein and secondary metabolite products for both human nutrition and health supplements, and a range of food and industrial products. Isolation of these microorganisms can be costly and problematic at an industrial scale. Professor Gregory Bonito (Michigan State University) and team have developed a living biofiltration system employing fungal cultures grown over a pass-through filter system. The immobilized fungal filters serve as a high efficiency affinity matrix for isolating the microalgae. The project seeks to assess a variety of process and scaling metrics needed for commercialization. 
  • Electrophoretic PFAS Adsorption. Dr. Qi Hua Fan (Michigan State University) was awarded a Full grant to continue developing a high-efficiency electrophoretic flow cell technology that accelerates movement and capture of PFAS compounds on adsorptive surfaces using asymmetric electric fields. The method seeks to improve both the rate and range of PFAS molecules that can be captured on a variety of adsorptive matrices. 
  • Corn Improvement By Incorporation of Early Flowering (“K-Domain”) Trait. Dr. Guo-qing Song received a Full MTRAC award to conduct 2 rounds of breeding and testing of his previously developed K-Domain gene into the well characterized, commercially relevant B71 maize germline.  He has developed this plant technology and demonstrated early flowering and reduced plant height in demonstration plants in first generation in transgenic lines.  These additional rounds of breeding will enable him to further develop the lines, quantify the benefits of the trait and de-risk the technology for eventual commercialization.

2020 Starter Grants            

  • Development of Innovative Nano-Reactor Technology for Rapid and Complete Defluorination of PFAS (Dr. Hui Li, Michigan State University)
  • Plastic-free Thermally Sealable Paper Substrates for Packaging Applications (Dr. Muhammad Rabnawaz, Muhammad, Michigan State University) 
  • Identifying Infectious Bacteria in Animal Wounds Using Electrochemical Detection of Metabolites (Dr. Gregory Swain, Michigan State University)