Aug 2, 2017
USDA funds $4.6 million for nanotechnology research work

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has awarded 13 grants totaling $4.6 million for research on the next generation of agricultural technologies and systems to meet the growing demand for food, fuel and fiber. The grants are funded through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.

“Nanotechnology is being rapidly implemented in medicine, electronics, energy and biotechnology, and it has huge potential to enhance the agricultural sector,” said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. “NIFA research investments can help spur nanotechnology-based improvements to ensure global nutritional security and prosperity in rural communities.”

The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative is a competitive grants program for foundational and translational research, education, and extension projects in the food and agricultural sciences. These grants are awarded under the AFRI Foundational: Agriculture Systems and Technology program. Funded projects support nanotechnology-based solutions that improve food production, nutrition, sustainable agriculture, and food safety.

Projects of interest to the produce industry include:

  • The George Washington University, Washington, D.C., $450,200. This project aims to design, fabricate, characterize and evaluate photocatalytic graphitic carbon nitride (g-C3N4) nanomaterials and their polymer composites as effective, broad-spectrum, sustainable antimicrobials for processing-surface-coating and packaging materials to improve food safety.
  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts, $444,550, to study the potential adverse effects of consuming edible nanoemulsions, which are extremely small oil droplets dispersed in water, in food products, including beverages. This project aims to understand the impact of nanoemulsion composition and structure on the bioavailability of pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables.
  • University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Nevada, $150,000, to investigate biosensing devices for rapid detection of foodborne pathogens. Researchers propose to develop an affordable, easy-to-use, highly sensitive, real-time nanobiosening system exploring solution-phase Localized Surface Plasmon Resonance technology for rapid, label-free, on-site screening of food pathogens.
  • Utah State University, Logan, Utah, $450,200. The goal of this research is to improve drought tolerance in plants by boosting inherent defense mechanisms through exposure to engineered nanoparticles containing copper, zinc and silicon. These metals are plant micronutrients present in fertilizers, but not specifically as nanoformulations, which exhibit unique properties and activity due to their size and geometry.

Previously funded grants include an Iowa State University project in which a low-cost and disposable biosensor made out of nanoparticle graphene that can detect pesticides in soil was developed. The biosensor also has the potential for use in the biomedical, environmental and food safety fields. University of Minnesota (link is external) researchers created a sponge that uses nanotechnology to quickly absorb mercury, as well as bacterial and fungal microbes from polluted water. The sponge can be used on tap water, industrial wastewater and in lakes. It converts contaminants into nontoxic waste that can be disposed in a landfill.
Full project details can be found at the NIFA website (link is external).



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