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K-State Today

July 13, 2016

Global Food Systems Innovation Program meets goals

Submitted by Sarah Hancock

The Global Food Systems Initiative was established in 2014 to cement K-State's reputation as a leader in global food systems research. The GFS Innovation Program then awarded challenge grants in spring 2015 to encourage K-State faculty members to develop multidisciplinary, initial-stage projects that could be expanded for submission to extramural funders.

Seed funding totaling $500,000 made possible through a grant from the Kansas Department of Commerce was awarded to nine projects designed to help feed the growing world population, which will increase to 9.6 billion by the year 2050. Funded projects were encouraged to involve students and required to include industry engagement and assist with job creation, workforce development and/or outreach.

The projects have proven successful in meeting program goals.

"We are pleased to report that the investments made in faculty groups has resulted in outstanding research results, multiple proposals for external funding, and more than $1 million in new external funding received to date," said Mary Rezac, interim associate vice president for research. "The GFS Innovation seed-grant program supported a broad spectrum of research and education projects, the ultimate impact of which will only be realized in the coming years."

  • Funding: Groups have received a total of $1,210,168 in funding from external sources, and $205,723 was secured by researchers from industry or trade association partners prior to the awards. Submissions that are pending total $1,508,817. Submissions planned within the next six months total more than $1 million.
  • Industry interaction: 11 companies were either collaborators, were involved in projects, or participated in formal or informal collaboration or funding discussions. One nonprofit and two cattle breed associations provided funding or partnerships.
  • Students: More than 120 students were involved, including 66 who participated in experiential field trips for one of the projects. Eight graduate students received direct employment support from the projects, and more than 60 more were involved in projects, received mini-grants or travel grants, or were otherwise paid for work associated with the projects. Two undergraduates received hourly support for their work, and six others were involved in research but weren't paid.
  • Jobs: In addition to student and postdoctoral research jobs created by the funded projects, research about a cattle food additive will allow the company associated with the product to expand operations. The company predicts it will hire approximately 10 employees — five in production and five in technical/research positions — in the next four years. The average annual salary for these employees is expected to be approximately $62,000.
  • Communication: Teams gave 32 talks, and 17 news releases, articles and reports were generated about projects and the program overall. Faculty have participated in the making of three videos and have given four media interviews about their work. More communication opportunities will arise as investigators obtain more results and funding.

Outcomes and benefits for individual projects include the following:

  • Provision of important data on livestock species and strategies for long-term preservation of a food additive to allow a Kansas company to expand operations.
  • Preliminary demonstration that guanidinoacetic acid can be used as a creatine source by cattle to improve growth when methionine supply is adequate, which may improve dairy cow health and milk production efficiency.
  • Development of several RNA-interference teams and acquisition of new data to support federal grant proposals, provide the basis for several new publications, and establish K-State as a national leader in applying this knowledge to agriculture.
  • Development of an effective scoring system and prototype national genetic evaluation of feet and leg attributes in Red Angus and Simmental cattle to allow breeders to visually score and evaluate breeding stock, allow measurable improvements, and enhance animal well-being.
  • Gathering of data on cattle movements and related truck operations that will be invaluable in the event of a cattle infectious disease outbreak. Data on rancher attitudes toward actions during disease outbreaks was also obtained.
  • Demonstration that the process of making starch spherulites can be scaled up so the technology can be licensed to Kansas companies that could benefit from implementing it in the health food industry.
  • Demonstration that mobile drip irrigation has the potential to reduce irrigation water loss during hot, dry weather, which could extend the usable life of the Ogallala Aquifer and sustain economies of small towns in western Kansas.
  • Drawing more than 150 academics and urban food systems experts to the 2016 Urban Food Systems Symposium to explore topics such as urban food production systems, policy and advocacy, nutrition and human health, food security and community and economic development. The symposium also featured tours of local urban farms and gardens, sponsored exhibits, Extension services and greenhouses and more.
  • Expanding the Frontier program to include new field trips to help students develop multidisciplinary breadth and practical, yet scholarly, skills that will enhance understanding of global food systems complexities in the areas of public health and consumer preferences.

Faculty involved in the projects also enhanced their skills and presented results to the campus community. They participated in a series of meetings to discuss progress, enhance science communication skills, and learn about university resources to promote research, scholarly, and creative activity and discovery. Graduate students and postdoctoral researchers from the team received separate training on using visuals to help communicate science to the public. Lead investigators presented research results micro-talks in May.

"The GFS Innovation seed-grant program accomplished precisely what was desired. It has allowed K-State researchers to advance our ability to feed a growing population and to work collaboratively in cross-disciplinary teams to provide exciting research opportunities for students and postdoctoral scholars," Rezac said.