MTRAC Awards

The Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC) Innovation Hub for AgBio translates research into the commercial market by way of a license or startup.

Accelerating commercial development, eligible MTRAC AgBio research relates to food, fuel & fiber, either as inputs or outputs. This includes bio-derived/bio-based materials, natural resources and animal health. Projects will have shown promise in the laboratory, but need further development to become successful in a competitive market.

MSU’s MTRAC AgBio Innovation Hub is designed to bridge the gap between successful academic research 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 AgBio Innovation Hub is jointly funded by Michigan State University and the Michigan Strategic Fund administered by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC).

The MSU MTRAC program focuses on agricultural and industrial biotechnology, biomaterials, bioprocessing and related technologies that fall outside the domain of human medicine.  This can include research in areas from animal and crop health, to innovative machine learning and blockchain applications useful in agriculture and food production, to novel food, fiber and biomaterial processing.  Recent examples of the areas of translational research have included funding in: bio-based chemicals, biofuel synthesis, livestock health and nutrition, crop improvement, novel consumer food products and agricultural production tools and methods.

MTRAC Full grants provide funding of up to $125,000 covering up to one year of translational research on promising technologies.  The MTRAC Starter grants provide up to $40,000 over six months to allow for initial testing of a new technology as part of the early stage of commercialization such as the generation of data for a prototype, patent application or other work that would provide a strong foundation for a MTRAC Full grant proposal. As with MTRAC Full grant awards, the research must relate directly to commercial applications in agriculture and/or the larger bioeconomy.

The AgBio MTRAC Oversight Committee meets several times each year to consider funding of proposals submitted in response to the MTRAC requests for proposal.  The following section list describes some of the grants funded during several recent grant cycles.  Together, they help to illustrate the diversity and scope of the program.

Below, awardees are listed by year and award type (Full/Starter).

2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017

2021 Full & Starter Grants

Alfaro, Jose University of Michigan Advancing the Circular Economy Through Biomass Residue Management. Work under this project will focus on a scalable, locally deployable system for turning crop and forestry residues into multiple commercial products. This project seeks to bring promising gasification and biochar technologies to a commercialization-ready status by improving the properties of the biochar using biotechnology and optimizing the operation parameters and performance flexibility of a prototype gasifier. Full
Burns, Mark University of Michigan Crop Moisture Monitoring and Water-Use Optimization Sensor. In this project, Dr. Burns and team will implement and evaluate an AI-based moisture monitoring and water-need prediction system. The system provides a potential framework for optimization of real-time crop wellness and moisture supply adjustment (irrigation). The focus of this project is the assembly, deployment, monitoring and performance assessment of 20 field-ready sensor cubes under field conditions in a premier wine grape region. Full
Grieshop, Matthew Michigan State University High Efficiency Fixed Irrigation System for Orchards, Vineyards and Indoor Agriculture. The project seeks to advance the pre-commercial development of an advanced Solid Set Canopy Delivery System (SSCDS). The so-called “Z-system” represents a new SSCDS design and technology that seeks to improve precision and efficiency of input product delivery to perennial crops cultivated in open-field plantings (most commonly apples), or protected agriculture installations, such as high tunnels, hoophouses, or greenhouses. Full
Lin, Xiaoxia University of Michigan Fermentation Strain Improvement for Specialty Chemical Production. This project seeks to advance a series of new high-throughput strain improvement technologies developed in the Lin lab and demonstrated in laboratory (i.e. E. coli) strains. In this project, Lin and colleagues will seek to extend the applicability of these tools to a more robust set of industrial organisms for the purpose of producing two distinct specialty chemical products. Full
Rabnawaz, Muhammed Michigan State University Coated, Thermally Sealed Paper as a Replacement to Single-Use Plastic Bags. This project follows an earlier MTRAC AgBio Starter Grant focused on development of a thermally sealable coated paper that can serve as a replacement for single-use plastic bags. The technology offers the potential for a solution that is biodegradable, re-pulpable and recyclable. Full
Dong, Younsuk Michigan State University Improving Water and Disease Management using an Easy-to-Use Smartphone App. Starter
Hooper, Sharon Michigan State University Lectin Free, High Protein Bean Flour: Infrared technology with novel compression-decompression mill Starter
Liu, Yan Michigan State University Production of Vegan Cat Food from Pulse Crops and Hemp Seeds Starter
Johnson, Valerie Michigan State University Regenerative Therapies for Osteoarthritis in Zoo Animals Starter

2020 Full & Starter Grants

Albrecht, John Michigan State University PFAS Inactivation. Following successful completion of a Starter grant project in 2019, Dr. John Albrecht (Michigan State University) and colleagues at the Fraunhofer Institute received a grant focused on development an electrochemical process for the complete destruction of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances using boron-doped diamond electrodes.  The project seeks to provide a means for treating PFAS-enriched concentrates from commercial ion exchange and reverse osmosis processes to permanently eliminate the substances from the environment. Full
Benjamin, Madonna Michigan State University Animal Mobility Monitoring Using Visual AI Systems. Dr. Madonna Benjamin, and colleagues from Michigan State University received funding to implement and evaluate a computer vision-based, biometric assessment system for monitoring livestock body conformations and locomotion patterns.  The AI-based system provides a potential framework for assessing animal health, wellness, quality and productivity metrics in real-time. Full
Bonito, Gregory Michigan State University Microalgae Purification by Fungal Capture. Microalgae and cyanobacteria provide a rich source of high-value oil, protein and secondary metabolite products for both human nutrition and health supplements, and a range of food and industrial products. Isolation of these microorganisms can be costly and problematic at an industrial scale. Professor Gregory Bonito (Michigan State University) and team have developed a living biofiltration system employing fungal cultures grown over a pass-through filter system. The immobilized fungal filters serve as a high efficiency affinity matrix for isolating the microalgae. The project seeks to assess a variety of process and scaling metrics needed for commercialization. Full
Fan, Qi Hua Michigan State University Electrophoretic PFAS Adsorption. Dr. Qi Hua Fan (Michigan State University) was awarded a Full grant to continue developing a high-efficiency electrophoretic flow cell technology that accelerates movement and capture of PFAS compounds on adsorptive surfaces using asymmetric electric fields. The method seeks to improve both the rate and range of PFAS molecules that can be captured on a variety of adsorptive matrices. Full
Song, Guo-qing Michigan State University Corn Improvement By Incorporation of Early Flowering (“K-Domain”) Trait. Dr. Guo-qing Song received a Full MTRAC award to conduct 2 rounds of breeding and testing of his previously developed K-Domain gene into the well characterized, commercially relevant B71 maize germline.  He has developed this plant technology and demonstrated early flowering and reduced plant height in demonstration plants in first generation in transgenic lines.  These additional rounds of breeding will enable him to further develop the lines, quantify the benefits of the trait and de-risk the technology for eventual commercialization. Full
Li, Hui Michigan State University Development of Innovative Nano-Reactor Technology for Rapid and Complete Defluorination of PFAS Starter
Rabnawaz, Muhammad Michigan State University Plastic-free Thermally Sealable Paper Substrates for Packaging Applications Starter
Swain, Greg Michigan State University Identifying Infectious Bacteria in Animal Wounds Using Electrochemical Detection of Metabolites Starter

2019 Full & Starter Grants

Bar-Ziv, Ezra Michigan Technological University Chlorine Removal from Plastic Wastes.  This project explores the application of pyrolytic torrefaction process to removal of chlorine content from several common plastic waste streams. Doing so allows the resulting plastic materials to serve as a clean solid fuel for energy generation or other purposes. If effective, the process would provide an effective, clean, and consumptive process to reduce the amount of plastic that must be landfills. (Ezra Bar Ziv, Michigan Technological University) Full
Hussey, Gisella
Maes, Roger
Michigan State University Design and Testing of a New Generation of Herpesvirus Vaccines Using a Novel Vaccine Development System. Herpesviruses are the source of a number of important diseases in domestic animals. This study examines the efficacy of a novel herpesvirus vaccine based on feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1) in generating a protective anti-FHV-1 immune response in domestic cats. (Gisella Hussey and Roger Maes, Michigan State University) Full
Nejad, Mojgan Michigan State University Development of High-Performance, Lignin-Based Polyurethane Adhesive for Engineered Wood Products. This application-oriented project seeks to replace some or all of the non-renewable polyol used in producing engineered wood products (using polyurethane chemistry) with lignocellulosic materials for wood and paper processing operations. (Mojgan Nejad, Michigan State University) Full
Rabnawaz, Muhammad Michigan State University New Generation Plastic-Free, Fluorine-Free and 100% Recyclable Paper Cups, Lids, Plates and Fast-Food Wrappers. This project seeks to assess the commercial utility of a recently invented plastic-free, fluorine-free water- and oil-resistant paper, which may be a suitable replacement for single-use consumable plastics such as disposable lids, cups, plates, food wrappers, and paperboards. This study examines the commercial utility of the materials and potential to remove the coating and recycle to coated paper products.  (Muhammad Rabnawaz, Michigan State University) Full
Aliakbarian, Bahar Michigan State University Creating Incremental Revenue from Industrial Cherry Wastes.  This translational research project applies a new valorization process to the recovery of high-value bioactive materials from cherry pits and other cherry waste streams. The compounds recovered from such a process may have the potential to serve as nutritional antioxidants or other in a variety of nutraceutical applications. This would provide additional revenue to cherry processors and reduce the waste in the industry. Starter
Bonito, Gregory Michigan State University Developing Fungal-Filters to Harvest Microalgae for High-Value Products. Microalgae produce a wide range of high-value nutraceutical and industrial materials.  Current methods of harvesting and processing them are complex and expensive. This project explores the feasibility of using fungal biofilm filters to capture and concentrate microalgae for industrial scale processing. (Gregory Bonito, Michigan State University) Starter
Bowen, Li Michigan Technological University Upcycling of Vermiculite Fines as Animal Feed Additives. Vermiculite is a layer-structured natural mineral. It was generally mined, beneficiated, and exfoliated to produce lightweight products for agricultural, insulation, and absorbent applications. This project seeks to develop the optimal processes and potential uses of these light vermiculite dusts and sludges as feed additives in commercial livestock and poultry operations. (Li Bowen, Michigan Technological University) Starter
Fan, Qi Hua Michigan State University Electrophoresis Technology for Removing Per- and Poly-Fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Water. This MTRAC Starter project aims to develop an innovative electrophoresis technology for efficiently removing per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in water.  The proposed electrophoresis method has multiple advantages over the existing technologies in treating PFAS-contaminated water, including efficiency, range of PFAS molecules removed and high adsorption capacity. (Qi Hua Fan, Michigan State University. Starter
Jayaraman, Krishnamurthy Michigan State University Transparent High-Barrier Films for Food Packaging. Transparent high-barrier packaging film is used to package organic, fresh, dried, and pre-cooked foods. To be effective in food preservation the film must provide a strong oxygen and moisture barrier. These films are typically biaxially oriented polypropylene (BOPP) with a thin organic coating. This work explores the potential to improve the moisture barrier and other commercial properties through use of nano-clay additives in one of the layers using a novel and proprietary formulation process. (Krishnamurthy Jayaram, Michigan State University) Starter
Pennington, Dennis Michigan State University Research to Determine Agronomic Inputs Needed to Market New Wheat Lines from the MSU Wheat Breeding and Research Programs. The MSU Wheat Breeding Program has partnered with the MI Wheat Program to speed the development and release of new wheat lines that are adapted to MI and the Great Lakes region. In this commercially focused project, new wheat lines will be developed and assessed for their market based on a suite of agronomic factors including yield, disease resistance and resilience to weather extremes. (Dennis Pennington, Michigan State University) Starter
Schuelke, Thomas Michigan State University Electrochemical Destruction of Per- and Poly-Fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Using Boron-Doped Diamond (BDD) Electrodes: Application Towards Concentrated Regenerate Solutions.  Electrochemical oxidation (EO) of PFAS with BDD electrodes has proven effective in destruction of PFAS. One main concern of EO with BDD electrodes is the high energy consumption and its associated costs. This work investigates the feasibility of varied current density for the EO-based degradation of PFASs in ion exchange regenerate solutions. Reduction of current density throughout the EO treatment process would reduce overall energy consumption without reducing performance. This could increase current efficiency and create a more economically viable EO procedure for degradation of PFASs. (Thomas Schuelke, Michigan State University) Starter
Vargas, Joseph Michigan State University Turfgrass Disease Management with Reduced Fungicide Application Rates Using Fungitoxic Adjuvants. The focus of this study is the control of anthracnose, dollar spot and snow mold disease in golf course applications.  These are three of the most important turf grass diseases in golf course applications. A series of fungitoxic adjuvants sill be applied with and without fungicides to assess commercial potential. (Joseph Vargas, Michigan State University) Starter

2018 Full & Starter Grants

Awardee Institution Project information Type
Bar-Ziv, Ezra Michigan Technological University Bio-Oil as a Feedstock in a Petroleum Refinery Full
Brandizzi, Federica Michigan State University Implementation of a single-modifier strategy to enhance biomass and productivity of soybean and alfalfa for commercialization Full
Douches, David Michigan State University Evaluating the Commercial Value of XERICO Drought Tolerance Technology for Cultivated Potato Full
Fan, Qi Hua Michigan State University High-Density Plasma Technologies for Efficient Manufacturing of Activated Carbon Full
Jayaraman, Krishnamurthy Michigan State University Transparent High-Barrier Films with BOPP for Food Packaging Full
Warner, Ryan Michigan State University Improved stevia varieties with desirable steviol glycoside profiles Full
Wise, John Michigan State University Biodegradable Controlled‐Release Plug for Protecting Tree Crops from Disease and Insect Pests Full
Yuzbasiyan-Gurkan, Vilma Michigan State University Novel Animal Cancer Therapeutic Development: Route development and toxicity studies Full
Ding, Shi‐You Michigan State University Modification of Cellulose Synthesis Genes to Improve Cotton Fiber Quality Starter
Ducat, Daniel Michigan State University “Engineered Microbial Consortia for Light-Driven Production of Sustainable
Markovitz, David University of Michigan “DEK aptamer for the treatment of equine acute and chronic joint
Martinez-Gomez, Norma Cecilia Michigan State University “Community identification of the rare earth dependent plant probiotic, an efficient biostimulant for plant growth” Starter
Rabnawaz, Muhammad Michigan State University Low cost high barrier bottles for beer and juice packaging Starter
Saffron, Christopher Michigan State University Valorization of BTG Bio-oils using Electrocatalysis Starter

2017 Full & Starter Awards

Awardee Institution Project information Type
Balan, Ven Michigan State University Ammonia Treatment and Extraction Processes for Enhanced Brewers Spent Grain Fractionation Full
Brandizzi, Federica Michigan State University Translational research steps toward commercialization of single-modifier strategy for plant biomass and productivity enhancement Full
Clack, Herek University of Michigan Development and Testing of a Prototype Non-Thermal Plasma Device to Prevent Airborne Transmission of Infectious Diseases to and from Livestock Full
Douches, David Michigan State University Characterizing Commercial Value of XERICO Drought Tolerance Technology for Cultivated Potato Full
Keathley, Dan Michigan State University Commercializing Elite Silver Maple for Biomass/Biofuel Production Full
Saffron, Christopher Michigan State University Production of High Added Value Products from the Pyrolytic Bio-oil Full
Balan, Ven Michigan State University Making nutritious protein crisp a successful commercial product Starter
Benning, Christoph Michigan State University Enhancing seed oil content by seed-specific manipulation of chloroplast lipases and other substrates Starter
Fan,Qi Hua Michigan State University High-Density-Plasma Assisted Activation of Porous Biochar Starter
Linz, John Michigan State University Natural products from medicinal plants to block aflatoxin synthesis and sporulation in Aspergillus Starter
Smith, Pat Michigan State University Development of a delivery system for organic acids as miticides for Varroa control Starter
Song, Guo-qing Michigan State University Utilizing a K-domain Gene to Increase Crop Yield – Stage I: Production of trangenic Corn and Soybean T1 Seeds Starter
Warner, Ryan Michigan State University Improved stevia varieties with desirable steviol glycoside profiles Starter
Wise, John Michigan State University Biodegradable Slow-Release Plug for Protecting Tree Crops from Disease and Insect Pests Starte
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