NIFA Update Nov. 7

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Editor: Kelly Sprute                                                                                           Nov. 7, 2018

Making a Difference

SBIR funding helps develop new technology to detect foodborne pathogens.

Keeping your Food Safe by Reducing the Time for Testing

New technology developed through the Operational Technologies Corporation, funded through USDA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program-Food Science and Nutrition portfolio, has created a highly sensitive and specific test strip to detect major foodborne pathogens, Campylobacter jejuni, Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella enterica and Salmonella typhimurium. The food safety aptamers, the technology behind the test strips, have been acquired by CibusDx, and they will begin marketing the strips in conjunction with its portable biosensor in 2018. This combined technology significantly reduces the time required to test pathogens in foods from 24-72 hours to approximately 30-minutes, which allows foods to be tested more often and less expensively, thereby reducing the spread of pathogens and minimizing food waste. This research has been published in 10 peer reviewed journal articles and a U.S. Patent, No. 9562900 has been issued. Learn more at CibusDx.


Applying for grants image of a calculator and pen.

Update on Capacity Grantee Resources

NIFA will require the submission of budgets with applications in FY 2020. This will be across all of NIFA’s capacity grant programs with the exception of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program. Erin Daly and Maggie Ewell participated in seven webinars over the past three months to review the Office of Grants and Financial Management’s (OGFM) planned implementation with the regions, 1890’s, and insular areas. As discussed during these webinars, OGFM has developed Frequently Asked Questions, application guide instructions (draft), and sample budgets, and budget narratives for grantees to review and provide feedback and comments. These materials are available on NIFA’s Capacity Grantee Resources website. Comments are due Dec. 15, 2018, by 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Comments may be general or related to specific program(s). Additionally, comments can be consolidated as part of a regions’ or institution's feedback. Please submit comments via email to: If you have any questions, please contact Erin Daly or Maggie Ewell.

NIFA Listens graphic

NIFA Wants Your Feedback  

We want to hear from you, just because our in-person listening sessions are over doesn’t mean we are through with NIFA Listens. If you would like to provide feedback about priorities and opportunities in agricultural sciences, submit your written comments via the input form through Nov. 30. Visit the NIFA Listens website for more information.

News for You

Dr. Pitta’s team adds an enzyme powder to cow feed, which cuts methane emissions by 30 percent. Photo by University of Pennsylvania. 

Want to reduce emissions? Start in the gut of a cow.

As concern about climate change rises, researchers are working to develop innovative strategies to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Methane makes up 14 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally, and is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Livestock, mostly cattle raised for dairy and beef products, produce 25 percent of methane emissions in the United States. Dipti Pitta, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, studies large animal nutrition and agriculture. She has received a NIFA grant of $500,000 for her research on the rumen, the large part of the cow’s first digestive chamber, or reticulorumen. The grant funds three years of research during which Pitta hopes to better understand microbial associations in the rumen that are essential for methane mitigation. Read the full University of Pennsylvania story.

Dr. Pitta’s team adds an enzyme powder to cow feed, which cuts methane emissions by 30 percent. Photo by University of Pennsylvania. 

Sliced sweet potatoes. Photo credit: Getty Images

The Makings of a Good Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes, which are native to the Americas, sustained our founding pioneers with beneficial nutrients like beta carotene, calcium, fiber, and a host of vitamins. No wonder it’s a holiday favorite, especially during Thanksgiving. But what makes a good sweet potato?

USDA scientists know what it takes to make a good sweet potato, whether you like it in pies and custards, baked, as chips or French fries, and even juice or smoothies. Together, researchers with the Sweetpotato Breeding Program at North Carolina State University (NCSU) and the USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) develop sweet potato varieties for improved color, flavor and texture—testing them for sugar, starch, beta carotene, anthocyanins and other characteristics that appeal to consumers’ appetites. Read the full USDA blog.

Sliced sweet potatoes. Photo credit: Getty Images.

USDA Messages

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue

USDA Announces Funding to Increase Access to Education, Workforce Training and Health Care Opportunities in Rural Communities

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced that the USDA is awarding grants for 128 projects to increase access to job training, educational and health care services in rural areas. “Empowering rural Americans with access to services for quality of life and economic development is critical to rural prosperity,” Secretary Perdue said. “Distance learning and telemedicine technology bridges the gap that often exists between rural communities and essential education, workforce training, and health care resources.” Read the full USDA press release.

Award Notifications

NIFA Invests $6.1 Million for Research on Biotechnology Risk Assessment 

NIFA recently awarded fourteen Biotechnology Risk Assessment Grants (BRAG) Program grants to conduct research on the environmental effects of genetically engineered (GE) organisms, including plants, animals, insects, and microorganisms. BRAG supports applied and fundamental research to help federal regulators evaluate the effects of GE organisms on their environment. These grants support standard research projects or conference proposals that bring together stakeholders to discuss and evaluate science-based data relevant to environmental risk assessments or risk management related to biotechnology-developed organisms.

NIFA Invests $5 Million to Support Biomass Product Development

NIFA and the Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced the joint investment of $5 million towards research that will drive more efficient biofuels production and agricultural feedstock improvements. Four grants were made through the Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI), to enhance U.S. energy security, reduce America's reliance on imported oil and leverage our domestic energy supply, while supporting rural economies. These projects will help increase and diversifying our domestic energy sources and help transform the U.S. economy into a global renewable energy leader.

USDA SBIR Program awards $3,598,185 in Phase II Grants to Small Businesses to Research and Develop Commercial Innovations under the Food Science and Nutrition Topic Area

The USDA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program, administered by NIFA, recently awarded six grants to U.S. small businesses to develop products and processes from new knowledge; improves methods of processing and packaging for better quality and nutritional value; and promotes programs and products that increase consumption and understanding of healthy foods, while reducing childhood obesity.

USDA SBIR Program awards $2,997,481 in Phase II Grants to Small Businesses to Research and Develop Commercial Innovations under the Rural and Community Development Topic Area

The SBIR Program, administered by NIFA, recently awarded five grants to U.S. small businesses to conceptualize and commercialize new and existing technology, products, processes, and services that enhance efficiency and equity of public and private investments; builds a diversified workforce; increases resilience to natural and human disasters; and improves economic vitality of rural communities and reduce poverty.

USDA SBIR Program awards $2,398,972 in Phase II Grants to Small Businesses to Research and Develop Commercial Innovations under the Air, Soil, and Water Topic Area

NIFA's SBIR Program recently awarded four grants to U.S. small businesses to develop innovations for conserving and protecting essential resources while sustaining optimal farm and forest productivity by reducing erosion, enhancing quality, developing irrigation techniques, reducing pollution caused by agriculture enterprises, and promoting these new technologies.