NIFA Update - June 30, 2021

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Editor: Kelly Sprute                                                                                         June 30, 2021

Making a Difference

Smoke from the fires in Washington State in the summer of 2015, courtesy of Getty Images.

Smoke from the fires in Washington State in the summer of 2015, courtesy of Getty Images.

Air Pollution from Wildfires Impacts Ability to Observe Birds

As smoky air becomes more common during Washington's wildfire season, many wildlife enthusiasts wonder: What happens to the birds? Researchers provide a first look at the probability of observing common birds as air pollution worsens during wildfire seasons. They found that smoke affected the ability to detect more than a third of the bird species studied in Washington state over a four-year period. Sometimes smoke made it harder to observe birds, while other species were easier to detect when smoke was present. This research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the McIntire-Stennis Cooperative Forestry Research Program from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. For more information, read the University of Washington article.

From the Director

Director, National Institute of Food and Agriculture Dr. Carrie Castille

Last week, I had the honor to join NIFA’s new Nutrition Security Team as we launched the virtual Nutrition Security Webinar Series with over 200 attendees from across the nation. Participants listened and asked questions during June 24 “Prioritizing Nutrition Security: An Overview of Current NIFA Activities & Aims,” the first installment of the series.

Throughout the session, panelists presented valuable information on past and emerging ways NIFA is working to prioritize nutrition security in America. Our panelists: Helen Chipman, Sheila Fleischhacker, Carinthia Cherry, Mallory Koenings, Lisa Jahns, and Lydia Kaume, did a wonderful job of detailing technical aspects of their programs, as well as sharing their personal experiences and motivations driving their work on hunger and food insecurity. Our partner’s active engagement in the session took this successful event to another level.

Without question— we are lucky to have such passionate NIFA colleagues working hard to make a difference in peoples’ lives! We are also lucky to have such dedicated and willing partners to implement the programs we administer.

My interest in nutrition security is very personal. Growing up in rural Louisiana, I saw, firsthand, what nutrition insecurity looks like. The Mississippi Delta, a region famous for its incredible food, is also known as an area where many people suffer from the health impacts of unhealthy diets - through no fault of their own.

Even in one of the richest agricultural regions in the nation, nutritious foods aren’t always easy to come by. Understanding the root causes of nutrition insecurity, in addition to investing in this area, are key to addressing the challenges faced by too many Americans.

I am so proud of the talented team we have built at NIFA, who are working alongside you to address rising rates of food insecurity in our country. Their level of passion and dedication is what NIFA is all about.

I invite you to join this new monthly webinar series to hear more from us on the topic and engage in future discussions. The strong focus that USDA and its partners are putting on addressing the hunger and food security crisis in our country is our chance to shine together.

Dr. Carrie Castille
Director, National Institute of Food and Agriculture


Michael Mathews

NIFA’s Newest National Science Liaison

Michael Mathews will serve as NIFA’s National Science Liaison, focusing on minority serving institutions. Mathews, who is a graduate of an 1890 Land-grant University, is pleased and excited to be in this role. He will focus on capacity building and aim to strengthen NIFA’s partnership with 1890s, 1994s, and Hispanic Serving Institutions.

He was born in West Texas in the small town of San Angelo. He received a USDA 1890 scholarship as a senior at Skyline High School and earned his bachelor’s degree in management and international business from Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas. Mathews began his career with USDA’s Rural Development (RD) Mission Area and has held various positions. He served as New Jersey Housing Programs Director from 2016-2019 where he managed Single and Multi-Family Housing programs (residential and commercial housing) for the State of New Jersey. Prior to that, Mathews served as Special Assistant to the Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary in Washington D.C., providing critical support to the Office of the Under Secretary on high level initiatives, projects and matters impacting RD’s service to rural America. Most recently, he served as Chief of Staff to the Chief Operating Officer at Rural Development.

A whitetail deer stops and peers curiously toward the camera. Courtesy of Getty Images.

COVID-19 Transmission Research Extends Beyond Humans

As researchers continue to learn more about the spread of COVID-19 among humans, a team of Kansas State University researchers led by Jürgen Richt, DVM, PhD, is studying the susceptibility and transmission of the virus in white tail deer. The “Investigation of Sars-Cov-2 Susceptibility in Ruminants and the Development of Diagnostic Tools” project, funded with a $350,000 grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, is exploring the risk that SARS-CoV-2 poses to deer, and ultimately to develop tools to protect the health and security of livestock and humans. For more information, read this NIFA blog by guest author Dr. Jürgen Richt.

A whitetail deer stops and peers curiously toward the camera. Courtesy of Getty Images.

Food loss and waste image, courtesy of Getty Images.

New Resources to Promote Reduction of Food Loss and Waste

The USDA recently announced new resources to inform consumers on how to reduce food waste during the Independence Day holiday and beyond. According to USDA research, the average family of four wastes nearly $1,500 worth of food each year. And the food that goes in the trash winds up in a landfill where it creates methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. The USDA encourages consumers to use four simple steps to reduce food waste at home. For more information, read the USDA press release.

Food waste, courtesy of Getty Images.

USDA news radio graphic

Examples of Innovation in Agriculture

The future of agriculture, no matter the period-in-time, involves innovations that make production more efficient, bountiful, and sustainable. That is the case even today as advances in technologies, practices and strategies are positively impacting ag now and into the future. USDA’s Rod Bain talks with Ag Tech Consultant Chad Colby as the discuss examples of innovation in agriculture. For more information, listen to this USDA broadcast.

NIFA flower identifier

NIFA Career Opportunities

We are hiring! Remember to check out NIFA's Career Opportunities webpage, where there is a direct link to all open positions. You can also explore NIFA jobs at the website. Current openings in Kansas City, Missouri:

Social Science Specialist (Program Specialist) (GS 9-12)
Closing Date: 07/01/2021

Social Science Specialist (Program Specialist) (GS 9-12)
Closing Date: 07/01/2021

Biological Science Specialist (Program Specialist) (GS 11-12)
Closing Date: 07/01/2021

Equal Opportunity Specialist (GS-13)
Closing Date: 07/08/2021

Biological Science Specialist (National Program Leader) (GS 13-14)
Closing Date: 07/09/2021

Supervisory Biological Science Specialist (Division Director) (GS-15)
Closing Date: 07/15/2021

News for You

Florescent red proteins glow in D. suzukii fruit flies. Photo by Akihiko Yamamoto and Amarish Yadav, NC State University.

Study Shows Effectiveness of Suppressing Female Fruit Flies

Populations of Drosophila suzukii fruit flies “spotted-wing drosophila” – that devastate soft-skinned fruit in North America, Europe, and parts of South America – could be greatly suppressed with the introduction of genetically modified flies that produce only males after mating, according to new research from North Carolina State University. These flies are modified with a female-lethal gene that uses a common antibiotic as an off switch. Withholding the antibiotic tetracycline in the diet of larvae essentially eliminates birth of female D. suzukii flies as the modified male flies successfully mate with females, says NC State entomologist Max Scott. Part of the funding for the work came from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Specialty Crops Research Initiative. For more information, read this NC State news article.  

Florescent red proteins glow in D. suzukii fruit flies. Photo by Akihiko Yamamoto and Amarish Yadav, NC State University.

Zero food waste sustainable lifestyle, courtesy of Getty Images.

We are What We Don’t Eat: Combating Food Waste

Making conscious decisions about the food we eat is essential to a healthy lifestyle. But what about the food that never enters our bodies? A significant amount of all food ever grown, processed, prepared, and distributed becomes food waste. In 4-H, we learn about healthy living. As a 4-H'er, you can learn more about what food waste is and understand what you can do to take action in your community. For more information, read this University of Florida blog.

Zero food waste sustainable lifestyle, courtesy of Getty Images.

Award Announcements

Biofuel tank with airplane flying overhead; image courtesy of Getty Images.

NIFA Invests Over $5.4M in Bioprocessing, Bioengineering, Biofuels and Biobased Products Research

NIFA announced today an investment of $5.4 million in bioprocessing, bioengineering, biofuels, and biobased products research. NIFA recently awarded $4.8 million for 12 Bioprocessing and Bioengineering grants under NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, and more than $600,000 for six Biofuels and Biobased Products grants under NIFA’s Small Business Innovation Research program.

“NIFA’s Bioprocessing and Bioengineering awards fund projects that will stimulate new trade opportunities for the U.S. bioeconomy,” said NIFA Director Dr. Carrie Castille. “Additionally, these Small Business Innovation Research projects focused on biofuels and biobased products strengthen America’s entrepreneurial spirit and support a robust economy by guiding research and development needs across agriculture.” For more information, read the NIFA press release.

Biofuel tank with airplane flying overhead; image courtesy of Getty Images.

Assorted fruit sprayed with natural oils, courtesy of Getty Images.

NIFA Invests Over $1.1M to Develop Commercial Innovations for Food Science and Nutrition

NIFA announced today an investment of over $1.1 million in grants to 11 U.S. small businesses to address emerging food safety, food processing and nutrition issues.

“NIFA’s Small Business Innovation Research program stimulates technological innovations in the private sector and strengthens the role of federal research and development in support of small businesses,” said NIFA Director Dr. Carrie Castille.  “These investments will help our nation’s small businesses improve food science and nutrition through a variety of early stage research and development projects.” For more information, read the NIFA press release.

Testing essential oil-based formulas to suppress spoilage of fresh fruit. Image by Getty Images.

Award Notification

NIFA invests $2.7 million to Support Expansion of Gene-editing Technology NIFA recently awarded 10 Agricultural Innovation through Gene Editing Technology grants. These grants help overcome technological barriers to the expansion of the use of gene-editing technology to agriculturally important organisms that are not currently amenable to genome editing techniques. Funded projects support development of methods that will allow use of gene editing to be expanded to a variety of organisms, including plants, microbes, insects, and nematodes. These grants are part of NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.

Tweet of the Week

NIFA tweets - Read how WVU researchers are working toward to develop a tomato that requires little to no pesticides.