2017 Winter MTRAC AgBio Starter Awards

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MTRAC AgBio Starter Award Recipients | Winter 2017

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 toward the commercial market.

Tier II Starter Awards with maximum $25K budgets are reviewed twice annually. These projects are in stages of development that are likely, with funding, to generate finite achievements, such as moving the project toward a Tier I Full application or accomplishing a small but meaningful step in the commercialization path. Final funding decisions in January 2017 awarded the following proposals:

  • Biochar is a porous carbon material with a very large surface area derived from biomass pyrolysis.  Biochar is typically used for soil amendment; however, activated biochar/carbon has multiple advanced applications.  Dr. Qi Hua Fan has developed a new, more efficient process to activate biochar so that it can be used in applications such as water treatment, energy storage, and air purification.  Using Tier II MTRAC funds, Dr. Fan will demonstrate efficient activation of biochar using high-density plasmas in a manner which will guide the development of prototype equipment needed for the commercialization of this technology.
  • Dr. Patrick Smith proposes to help improve the honey bee population through his technology designed to protect bee hives from the parasitic mite, Varroa destructor.  With his MTRAC award, Dr. Smith will develop the prototype formulation and packaging for the delivery of a long-lasting, dose-regulated concentration of miticide to effectively eliminate the mites throughout their reproductive cycle.  If successful, this technology will provide safe and effective protection of bees against the most serious pest in the beekeeping industry.
  • Dr. Guo-qing Song received a Tier II MTRAC award to transform corn and soybean plants with an overexpression of an SOC1 gene to generate an increase in yield.  He has developed a plant technology that has been shown to increase seed production through promoted flowering and reduced plant height in demonstration plants.  Dr. Song’s Tier II MTRAC award will enable him to transform two important crops and harvest the first line of seeds for further development and de-risking for commercialization.
  • Stevia is an emerging high-value crop grown for the non-caloric sugar substitute that can be extracted from the plant.  A current limitation of widespread adoption of stevia as a sugar substitute is its bitter aftertaste.  However, Dr. Ryan Warner has developed a series of stevia lines that produce higher concentrations of the industry-desired components of the sweetener that impart a more desirable taste profile.  Dr. Warner’s Tier II MTRAC award will allow him to take the first step toward commercialization of his technology.  Using his developed elite stevia lines, he will generate seed-propagated cultivars that will be evaluated and the most promising cultivars will be selected for further commercial development.
  • Dr. John Wise has developed an alternative method of delivery of pesticides for apple orchards and other specialty crops.  The trunk plug injection method developed by Dr. Wise proposes to save farmers the expense of multiple pesticide sprays per season, while eliminating product wastes and environmental risks associated with traditional ground sprayers.  With his Tier II MTRAC award, Dr. Wise will run field trials to obtain data and determine optimal injection timing necessary for the commercialization of his technology.