Seed grants boost Iowa State animal, plant research projects

A $71,600 grant will help equip four Iowa State agricultural research farms with computer vision for animal monitoring and phenotyping.

December 28, 2022

3 Min Read
Handheld thermal imaging device being used on a pig farm
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Eight projects have received seed-grant level funding to advance research capacity in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University.  

"Many of our research projects require specialized instrumentation and facilities. These grants provide supplemental funding for equipment and infrastructure to support the research mission," said CALS Associate Dean for Research and Discovery Carolyn Lawrence-Dill. "They enhance the backbone of infrastructure that make us more competitive for future external funding applications to agencies including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Science Foundation and others."

Livestock-funded projects are:

  • Computer vision for animal monitoring and phenotyping ($71,600) – Investigators: Juan Steibel, James Koltes, Anna Johnson, Dawn Koltes, Nicholas Gabler, Brett Ramirez and Richard Gates, animal science. The grant will help equip four Iowa State agricultural research farms with precision livestock farming hardware and software to facilitate video recording of animal behavior and activity. Its benefits include identifying early health and well-being concerns, improving animal management and aiding in genetic selection.

  • Microfluidic Sorter for Animal and Plant Research ($120,000) – Investigators: Karl Kerns, Elizabeth Bobeck, and Aileen Keating, animal science, and Thomas Lubberstedt, agronomy. The grant supports acquisition of a cutting-edge, microfluidic cell sorter to facilitate improved pre-processing for many types of cell samples, including cell types that are too fragile for current campus sorting capabilities.

  • EchoMRI with Capability to Determine Composition of Organs, Tissues and Live Animal ($39,500) - Investigators: Kevin Schalinske and Matthew Rowling, food science and human nutrition, and collaborators in animal science and other programs. This grant allows purchase of an EchoMRI machine, which will provide new capabilities for determination of tissue and body composition critical to studying diabetes, obesity and other chronic diseases. It is unique in its ability to conduct measurements in live animals, as well as organs and tissues.

Other research projects are:

  • Oxygen quantification in food and beverages ($5,728) - Investigators: Nicolas Delchier, Aude Watrelot and Greg Curtzwiler, food science and human nutrition. The grant supports acquisition of new, more precise equipment to measure oxygen levels in research samples, allowing a high range of working temperatures without being invasive to samples.

  • Perennial Fruit Upgrades for the Research Station ($25,862) - Investigators: Suzanne Slack, horticulture, and Aude Watrelot, food science and human nutrition. The grant will fund infrastructure at the Iowa State Horticulture Research Station and additional plantings of perennial fruit crops, with the aim of identifying grape cultivars or tree fruit rootstocks that can improve grape, wine and tree fruit production in Iowa.

  • Optimizing sterol composition in maize roots ($45,000) – Investigators: Walter Suza and Marshall McDaniel, agronomy, and Dior Kelley, genetics, development and cell biology. The grant allows purchase of a rhizobox system and other equipment to study plant sterols and how their composition affects dynamics of crop root growth and development, and related dynamics, such as plant response to environmental stresses like drought or reduced soil fertility.

  • Improving biomass sampling capabilities ($55,500) – Investigators: Nicholas Boersma, Andy VanLoocke, Marshall McDaniel and Brian Hornbuckle, agronomy. The grant supports purchase of harvesting and transport equipment to improve the scalability and efficiency of bioenergy research at Iowa State. The equipment will be used to better quantify biomass crop performance and carbon assimilation across large plots and various conditions.

  • Breeding and phenomics program for emerging crops ($150,000) – Investigators: Arti Singh, Asheesh K. Singh and Mark Licht, agronomy, and Daren Mueller and Matt O'Neal, plant pathology, entomology and microbiology. This grant allows purchase of a small plot combine for the Phenomics and Breeding Initiative on emerging minor crops, including field peas, mung bean and millet. The combine will complement the project's machine learning-enabled phenotyping of observable characteristics for crop health and yield prediction and improve workforce efficiency.

The total funding awarded is $513,190 for the eight grants, which represents over $791,000 with matching funds leveraged. The eight projects were selected from 28 applications requesting almost $2 million. A nine-member review committee from seven departments ranked the projects.

Source: Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

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