Heidi Uhing, June 23, 2021
$960K USDA grant to advance research on crop, livestock traits
The University of Nebraska–Lincoln and three partner institutions have received nearly $1 million to expand the Agricultural Genome to Phenome Initiative.
The $960,000 award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture supports phase two of the three-year effort, which is led by Iowa State University. The program won initial NIFA funding of $960,000 last September.
The initiative, which also includes researchers from the University of Arizona and the University of Idaho, aims to increase understanding of how genetic code affects physical and behavioral traits — or phenotypes — in crops and livestock. Additionally, the initiative aims to standardize and streamline how phenomic information is collected and shared by agronomists, researchers and others.
Ultimately, the project could lead to the speedier development of disease-, weather- and pest-resistant crops and livestock, which would directly benefit both agricultural producers and consumers. In its first year, the initiative awarded seed grants for seven projects representing 15 institutions that included historically Black colleges and universities, land-grant universities and the USDA Agricultural Research Service. The projects covered topics such as educational resources and gaps in agricultural genomics-to-phenomics data science across plant and animal agriculture genomics; the optimization of 3D canopy architecture for better crops; and ethics, diversity and inclusivity in genome-to-phenome research.
“This effort is a big tent, bringing researchers together from areas of expertise that are not always recognized as part of agriculture,” said Jennifer L. Clarke, director of the Quantitative Life Sciences Initiative at Nebraska and lead researcher directing the project seed grants. “The seed grants are one mechanism to encourage broad involvement and enable this expanding scientific community.”
The next phase for the seed grants will provide support for emerging ideas, early development of promising projects and established projects that can help sustain agricultural genome-to-phenome work. The research team is working to streamline the application process and emphasize early career investigators to encourage future leaders, as well as proposals that address USDA priorities, such as mitigating environmental impacts of agriculture.
In addition to the seed grants, the group has already convened a series of events reaching a global audience. Virtual field days, training sessions, workshops, a conference and a community survey have been conducted, and more events are being planned. Most activities are recorded and available at the initiative’s website.
“The new grant is not for internal research,” said Patrick S. Schnable, Iowa Corn Promotion Board Endowed Chair in Genetics and Baker Scholar of Agricultural Entrepreneurship at Iowa State, director of the university’s Plant Sciences Institute and project director. “Instead, this renewal will enable us to fund two more rounds of competitive ‘seed’ grants, allowing us to further engage the more than 1,000 AG2PI participants from across the U.S.”
Other leaders on the grant are: Christopher K. Tuggle and Jack C.M. Dekkers, animal science faculty at Iowa State; Carolyn J. Lawrence-Dill, professor of agronomy and genetics, development and cell biology at Iowa State; Eric Lyons, associate professor in the School of Plant Sciences at the University of Arizona; and Brenda M. Murdoch, associate professor of animal, veterinary and food sciences at the University of Idaho.
Two requests for proposals are planned, in fall 2021 and spring 2022. Eligibility for the program’s seed grants follows USDA guidelines, which require a research leader from the United States.
Complete details will be posted on the initiative’s website, where there is a form for questions and a listserv available to receive project information.