Faculty Seed Grants

With resources provided by Purdue administrators, PCGFS provides competitive internal seed grants to foster collaboration by interdisciplinary groups of faculty who take novel approaches to key global challenges that impact food and nutrition security.

Through these grants, PCGFS also wants to encourage faculty teams to strengthen national and international partnerships with scientists at other research and development institutions. These collaborations — with other universities; national and international research centers; and private, nonprofit, federal or global agencies — extend our reach and impact. By helping faculty advance their research through integrated and holistic approaches to food security, seed grants lay the groundwork for additional funding from other agencies.

Integrated Resources Management Approach to Ensuring Sustainable Food Security in Nigeria – The Nexus of Rice Production on Lake Kainji (Nigeria, $50,000)

Bernie Engel, Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, PI
Tolulope Omotoso, Co-PI

Before Tolulope Omotoso came to Purdue to complete a PhD in Civil Engineering, he worked briefly for state government in his native Nigeria. He saw firsthand how officials made complex decisions based on poor information and the lobbying efforts of special interest groups. Especially in developing nations, policymakers need to understand the intrinsic linkages of water, energy, and food resources to sustainably manage increasing demands for these resources over time and climate change.

Omotoso’s research focused on a specific area in the Niger state where the Nigerian government is planning to both intensify agricultural production and build a new hydropower dam. The two projects in the same place, one to grow more food and the other to supply more power, are in direct competition for the state’s freshwater resources.

The seed grant for November 2014 to November 2015 funded Omotoso’s travel, data collection, and meetings with policymakers in the water, food, and energy sectors as well as with high-ranking officials involved in the two projects.

Equipping policymakers with usable tools — for example, a sustainability index applied to different levels of food production — will help them base their decisions on data to manage natural resources sustainably, he says. “This is how I can influence the government to make better policies for the people,” Omotoso says.

Delivering Spatially Explicit Soil and Crop Management Information to Agricultural Extension in Rural Western Kenya (Kenya, $75,000)

Darrell Schulze, Professor of Soil Science, PI

Soils are key to producing food, feed, fiber, and fuel, and they provide essential ecosystem services such as clean water and sources of biodiversity. However, various soil differences across landscapes are not accounted for in a lot of agricultural work, particularly in developing countries where little soils information is available.

Since Schulze started working in western Kenya in 2003, he has built relationships with colleagues at the University of Eldoret. A seed grant that funded his ongoing work from August 2015 to August 2016 will directly impact farmers in the region.

Schulze and his two Kenyan-born PhD students, Mercy Ngunjiri and Joshua Minai, are obtaining soil information to make a better soil map for an area in western Kenya and delivering it using a Purdue developed app over a cell phone network. The idea is to deliver location-specific information on soil properties, soil management, and cropping practices to agricultural extension advisors who in turn can share it with farmers.

“The seed grant gave us the resources to go there and try these things on the ground,” Schulze says. “We had some information before we went over, but we discovered there was a lot more there we could take advantage of. It’s also about building relationships, and you just can’t do that by email or telephone calls.”

Defeating Transmission of Rice Hoja Blanca Virus in Latin America (Colombia, $49,999)

Jeff Stuart, Professor of Entomology, PI

An insect pest called Sogata transmits rice hoja blanca virus, the most important viral disease of rice in Latin America. The insect was recently found attacking ratoon rice in Texas, making it a potentially damaging pest in the United States as well.

Sogata is a member of the diverse and economically important family of planthoppers, the Delphacidae. Fifty-five species are pests on 25 crops, causing damage both through direct feeding on crops as well as vectors of plant viral disease.

Stuart’s research team is working to understand the molecular mechanisms that make the uninfected Sogata genotype immune to the virus and to develop methods that eliminate the fitness costs associated with it. The scientists established a series of experimental matings that allowed them to perform high-resolution molecular genetic mapping. They applied genome-wide sequencing and analyzed thousands of single-nucleotide polymorphisms for genetic linkage to the uninfected and infected traits.

The team has discovered that the nuclear factor determines whether an insect can transmit the virus, and that a factor inherited from the mother determines its ability to acquire the virus and for the virus to replicate in the insect. The researchers are now doing more sequencing for the depth of coverage they need for mapping.

Impact of Biocontrol and Hermetic Storage Practices on Fungal Population in Maize (Kenya, $65,100)

Charles Woloshuk, Professor of Botany and Plant Pathology, PI

Aflatoxin is a natural poison that can contaminate maize in preharvest conditions, creating a potent liver toxin and carcinogen that affects humans, livestock, and pets.

Using hermetic storage systems prevents both insect damage during storage and the rewetting of dry grain in humid conditions. The low cost of plastic hermetic bags like PICS, the Purdue Improved Crop Storage bags, have made them popular. However, little is published about the total spectrum of fungal species on maize and how their populations change due to biocontrol or hermetic storage.

Woloshuk is studying the diversity of fungi growing on the stored maize by using techniques in high-throughput DNA sequencing and bioinformatics. His team chose maize farmers in two aflatoxin hotspots in Eastern Kenya and gathered information about their production practices. They first collected maize from each farmer who stored it in traditional woven polypropylene bags and PICS hermetic bags. After three months of storage, they collected samples again for analysis and noted little change in the aflatoxin levels in PICS bags. In his analysis Woloshuk found 74 fungal genera in the maize collected before storage. After three months of storage, the fungal diversity in the PICS bags underwent little change, while destructive storage fungi increased significantly in woven bags.

Work continues on the DNA isolated from the grain. “The analysis should provide insight into the changes that occur in fungal populations as a result of these storage practices as well as new potential risks and benefits,” Woloshuk explains.

Deciphering the Biology, Economics, and Viability of Biochar-Mediated Disease Resistance for Smallholder Tomato Farmers in Colombia (Colombia, $75,000)

Anjali Iyer-Pascuzzi, Assistant Professor of Botany and Plant Pathology, PI

Tomato growers in the tropics often use pesticides to control plant diseases that severely reduce yields. Recent studies show the soil amendment biochar might inhibit disease in a variety of crops, but the biology of why is unclear.

Farmers’ willingness to adopt biochar in fruit and vegetable production, and the factors that influence adoption, are also uncertain. Iyer-Pascuzzi studied the feasibility of biochar as an alternative sustainable practice for smallholder farmers to limit disease.

In the lab, the team is conducting research with F. oxysporum inoculated plants grown with and without biochar to test defense gene expression; while in Colombia, they set up trials with local farmers to test the results of biochar application on diseases in tomato plants. Trials of survival rates, growth rates, disease incidence and severity, and yields are underway.

Through interviews, the research team knows that smallholder farmers rely on their social networks for information. Because most use chemical techniques, those who are interested in organic practices often have difficulty finding the knowledge and support to adopt them.

Iyer-Pascuzzi is producing a manual for farmers on how to best use biochar. Her findings suggest that a key to adopting biochar is to use, strengthen, and expand existing farmer networks to raise awareness, distribute information, and provide technical advice.

PCGFS - I2D Lab Seed Grants

PCGFS and the Innovation for International Development Lab (I2D) within the Global Engineering program pooled resources to jointly fund faculty seed grants to promote transdisciplinary research in food security. The I2D Lab fosters research to create new technologies that support sustainable development. Because engineering is vital in food production, storage, and processing systems, the collaboration strengthens Purdue’s research capabilities in food security. Based on a competition in spring 2015, grants were awarded to three multidisciplinary faculty teams that are currently implementing these projects.

The Nandi Clean Kitchen Study, Kenya

Brandon Boor, Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering, PI

This collaborative project between Purdue University and Moi University builds on prior household air pollution and human health research in Kenya, including developing culturally acceptable solutions to mitigate indoor air pollution from cookstoves.

Development of a Low-Cost Grain Moisture Sensor Networked to Smartphones, Nigeria and Ethiopia

Klein Ileleji, Associate Professor of Agricultural & Biological Engineering, PI

This project centers on the development of a moisture content meter system based on capacitance for measuring grain moisture, which is important in determining whether a crop has been dried properly for safe storage, transportation, and processing. The technology displays moisture content in both an LCD on the device and by transmission to an Android smartphone.

Continuous-Flow, Community-Scale Solar UV Disinfection Systems for Water Treatment

Ernest (Chip) Blatchley III, Professor of Civil Engineering and Environmental & Ecological Engineering, PI

This project builds on progress to date to develop community-scale, continuousflow, solar UV disinfection systems for production of potable water, using solar UVB radiation against the microbial pathogens that cause most of the waterborne, communicable disease outbreaks in developing countries.