2016 Fall MTRAC AgBio Starter Awards

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MTRAC AgBio Starter Award Recipients | Fall 2016

MTRAC is designed to bridge the gap between successful academic results and the point at which an innovation is sufficiently developed, scaled-up, and de-risked to enable it to be transitioned to commercial development. The MTRAC Innovation Hub for AgBio is jointly funded by Michigan State University and the Michigan Strategic Fund administered by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC).

The MSU MTRAC Inovation Hub focuses on AgBio technology. This can include research in areas from Animal Science to Chemical Engineering.  Some examples of the areas of translational research that may be eligible for funding include: Bio-based Chemicals or Biofuels Synthesis, Livestock Health and Nutrition, Plant Traits and Crop Improvements, Consumer Food Products and Agriculture Production Tools.

Tier II funding was developed to provide resources for initial testing as part of the early stages of commercialization such as the generation of data for a prototype that would provide a strong foundation for a Tier I MTRAC proposal. These awards have budgets of less than $25,000, and are considered for projects requiring finite achievements that can typically be attained in less than six months. As with Tier I MTRAC Full Awards, the research must relate directly to commercial applications in agriculture and/or the bio-economy. In September 2016, Tier II Starter MTRAC proposals were received and reviewed by the Oversight Committee who selected awards for the following proposals:

  • Dr. Venkatesh Balan has created a healthy snack alternative to conventional potato chips. Dr. Balan’s mushroom crisps offer many nutritional benefits such as a high protein content, vitamins, and minerals, as well as delicious flavor.  The Tier II MTRAC award Dr. Balan received will be used to perform the nutritional content analysis and taste testing of the new snack.  He is engaging with a large consumer goods company who has interest in commercializing the technology.
  • Dr. Krishnamurthy Jayaraman has developed an improved food packaging film that provides improved clarity while providing a suitable barrier to both water vapor and oxygen.  With his Tier II MTRAC award, Dr. Jayaraman will be able to produce an improved batch of his film with reduced haze that can then be tested for durability and barrier properties.  The results of the MTRAC award will form the basis of discussions with film laminate and food packaging companies who may be interested in licensing the technology.
  • In an effort to combat drought and make farming on sandy soil possible, Dr. Alvin Smucker has invented Soil Water Retention Technology (SWRT).  A Tier II MTRAC has been awarded to Dr. Smucker to provide improvement upgrades to a chisel component on the test installation equipment.  Demonstrating success with these improvements through field performance will move the SWRT system forward toward the next prototype and commercialization.
  • Dr. Jonathan Walton has developed a new method to create both cyclic and bi-cyclic peptides that have the potential to be used to control harmful agricultural pests such as nematodes, insects, and fungi.  With his MTRAC Tier II award, Dr. Walton will hone the key bi-cyclic creation step that will enable their inclusion in libraries of peptides that can then be used by major agricultural companies in screening programs to test against their targets of interest. 
  • Molecules in a class known as proteasome inhibitors have been shown to be inhibitors of primary cell lines established from canine histiocytic sarcoma; however, the current clinically used proteasome inhibitors for humans are unsuitable for canine treatment due to their high cost and host toxicity. Dr. Vilma Yuzbasiyan-Gurkan and colleagues at MSU have developed an alternative orally available proteasome inhibitor that effectively inhibits tumor growth in mouse models and inhibits the growth of primary canine histiocytic sarcoma cells at low micromolar concentrations.  Using funds from a Tier II MTRAC award, Dr. Yuzbasiyan-Gurkan will synthesize enough of this compound to perform pharmacokinetic studies in mice (also part of the MTRAC award) and the initial clinical work in beagles (paid for using non-MTRAC funds).  This work enables her to take important steps toward development of a canine cancer treatment for broad use in veterinary medicine.