USDA Funds Study of Plant and Animal Phenomics and Microbiomes

The USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)

this week announced 11 grants totaling $3 million for Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) projects focused on plant and animal phenomics and microbiomes. The grants are funded through NIFA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative's (AFRI) Food Security Program, authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill.

"We are excited to announce these grantees who will be developing novel, high-throughput technologies for plant and animal phenotyping and microbiomes," said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. "Working jointly with the National Science Foundation, we are able to leverage funding and enhance partnership opportunities to propel us into the future of food and agricultural science."

"These studies will lead to a better understanding of how microbial communities interact with one another and with their plant and animal hosts," says James Olds,

National Science Foundation

assistant director for Biological Sciences. "The results have the potential to improve human health through, for example, new insights into antibiotic resistance, and may contribute to discoveries of new bioactive compounds and the development of more efficient and sustainable food production."

This is the first year NIFA is partnering with the National Science Foundation on emerging research in the areas of phenomics and microbiomes. A total of $6 million is allotted for the effort, with the NSF funding 10 projects totaling $3 million.

The grants awarded focus on new methods and techniques that will enable the development of robust breeds and cultivars able to withstand or recover from biological and physical stressors.

Grants being announced today, by state, include:


University of California-Davis, California, $250,000


University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, $248,000


Iowa State University, Iowa, $300,000


Iowa State University, Iowa, $260,000


Iowa State University, Iowa, $270,000


Kansas State University, Kansas, $300,000


Michigan State University, Michigan, $260,000


University of Missouri-Columbia, Missouri, $290,000


University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nebraska, $285,000


Cornell University, New York, $275,000


Cornell University, New York, $262,000

Project details can be found on the

NIFA website.

Among the grants, a University of California-Davis


will engineer a small-scale, modular artificial gut system that can be used for high-throughput analysis of gut microbiome function in animals. The analysis will incorporate physiological features, such as fluid dynamics, mixing, and a matrix that facilitates biofilm formation, to determine the role of microbiomes in shaping and responding to changes in the gastrointestinal tract of animals.

A University of Illinois


is focused on plants through Cytometric Fingerprinting with Machine Learning (CFML). The research seeks to develop CFML as a tool to increase the accuracy and throughput of microbiome characterization. CFML is a powerful approach to detect changes in the structure and function of a microbial community in near-real time that can facilitate rapid characterization of the dynamics of microbial communities.

Michigan State University's


aims to develop and validate new ways to use longitudinal data using mid-infrared spectroscopy (MIR) spectra to help predict robustness traits in dairy cattle. For example, data from cow lactation samples might reveal robustness traits such as metabolic substances (metabolites), or various reproductive and health outcomes. Researchers plan to integrate international MIR and metabolite data from research and commercial farms on a record scale.

NIFA has invested in and advanced innovative and transformative initiatives to solve societal challenges and ensure the long-term viability of agriculture. NIFA's integrated research, education and extension programs support the best and brightest scientists and extension personnel whose work results in user-inspired, groundbreaking discoveries that combat childhood obesity, improve and sustain rural economic growth, address water availability issues, increase food production, find new sources of energy, mitigate climate variability and ensure food safety.

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