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MSU MTRAC Awards Six AgBio Translation Grants

The Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization Program (MTRAC) at Michigan State University selected six awardees for grants focusing on key activities required to move technologies out of the lab and into marketable products or services. This program accelerates commercial development science and technology projects in AgBio, one of MSU’s core strengths.

Tier I grants through this MTRAC program are awarded annually, provide up to $100K in funding, and can be competitively renewed.   Jointly funded by MSU and the Michigan Strategic Fund through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Entrepreneur and Innovation initiative, the MTRAC program provides project funding at a critical point with a laser focus on translational research to the commercial market.

“This round of Tier I awardees is a great sample of the innovative research conducted in MSU labs,” said Karen Studer-Rabeler, Program Director for MSU MTRAC. “Moving them toward commercialization is another example of a land grant university utilizing innovation to benefit society”

Winners of the 2016 Tier I grants include the following:

Federica Brandizzi

Single-Modifier Strategy for Plant biomass and Productivity Enhancement – Transition from Model Species to Commercial Crops

In an effort to address food security issues related to increasing land scarcity for crops, Dr. Brandizzi has established a new technology based on the overexpression of a single gene.  This overexpression causes an increase in photosynthesis, biomass, and digestibility.  With Tier I MTRAC funding, Dr. Brandizzi’s lab will transfer the technology from a model plant species into two crops of high economic relevance, soybean and alfalfa.  The expected outcome of this approach is an increase in seed yield of soybean plants and also an increase in biomass and improved quality of alfalfa plants. 

Gemma Reguera

Commercialization of Microbial Electrochemical Reactors (MERs) and the Market Product Biopropanediol

Marking her third MTRAC award, Dr. Reguera will take her platform Microbial Electrochemical Reactor (MER) technology from benchtop to pilot scale (200L) in her 2016 Tier I MTRAC project. Dr. Reguera’s most recent MTRAC award will support the scale-up to 200L of the MER technology to produce bio-derived 1,3-PDO from crude glycerin.  This technology can easily be integrated or retrofitted into any industrial biodiesel plant and the current worldwide oversupply of crude glycerin provides the ideal market for utilization and commercialization of this technology.  Additionally, Dr. Reguera and her team also have future technology development plans to expand the application of the electrochemical reactors to utilize alternative feedstocks and produce other bio-derived chemicals or value-added products.

Christopher Saffron

Biomass Valorization by Pyrolysis and Electrocatalysis to Create Liquid Fuels, Chemical Intermediates and Advanced Materials

Even when petroleum is inexpensive, making advanced materials from it can be complicated, dangerous, and expensive.  In an attempt to solve this problem, Dr. Saffron and his team will be utilizing 2016 Tier I MTRAC funding to advance and optimize processes to convert renewable plant bio-oil into commercially viable products such as cyclohexanol, ethylene glycol, polyols, carbon foams, and fuel oil.  This project relates to Dr. Saffron’s previous Tier II MTRAC funding which enabled the building of a small pyrolysis reactor.

Kyung-Hwan Han

Improvement of Commercial Value of EliteTree Technology

Dr. Han was awarded his second Tier I MTRAC grant to continue his work on the EliteTree technology designed to produce poplar trees with greater wood density at an accelerated growth rate.  MTRAC work will include initial field trials.  If ultimately successful, these trees, grown as short-rotation crops, will provide a consistent, renewable, high-energy supply of woody biomass feedstock with the potential to significantly improve the profitability of the bioenergy, fiber, industrial chemical, and pulp and paper industries. 

Improvement of Commercial Value and Marketability of XERICO Drought Tolerance Technology

Drought has been an ongoing concern in agriculture in recent years and Dr. Han seeks to reduce crop/yield loss due to drought through commercialization of his XERICO technology.  Unlike other drought-tolerance technologies, the XERICO technology has been shown to enhance drought-resistance of both monocot and dicot crops without inhibiting growth during early plant development.  The MTRAC award will enable functional demonstration of the genetic technology in corn.

Timothy Zacharewski

Data Storage and Accessibility for the Automated Quantitative Histopathology Tool (QuHAnT)

Dr. Zacharewski was awarded a second Tier I MTRAC award to further support translational development work related to QuHAnT, a closed source, web-accessible software to reduce the time and costs associated with non-clinical studies required for safety testing of food additives, nutritional supplements, and food contact substances such as pesticides, and packaging materials.  QuHAnT will perform quantitative histopathology analysis quickly and efficiently with result validation from certified pathologists.  This software has the potential to improve the process of introducing new foods and agriculture products to consumers by providing a more comprehensive analysis, expediting time to market, and reducing product development expenses. 

For more information, please email MSU MTRAC Program Director Karen Studer-Rabeler (517.884.1824).