Presidential Initiative for Interdisciplinary Research awards announced

AMES, Iowa -- Four Iowa State research teams will receive up to $4.5 million over three years to pursue competitive grants to fund large-scale, multidisciplinary research efforts of national and international importance.

The grants are part of the Presidential Initiative for Interdisciplinary Research, a program launched by Iowa State University President Steven Leath to support research efforts that could lead to major advances, discoveries and technologies.

Leath said he was pleased with the enthusiastic response to the initiative (51 teams vied for funds through the initiative) and the quality of the proposals.

"These proposals are just what we wanted to see," Leath said. "They pull together talented researchers from our university, other institutions, national labs and industry to tackle some of the grand challenges facing our world. I believe we will see real progress coming out of these scientific collaborations.

"The projects also will further the excellence of Iowa State University, building upon the strengths of the university and expanding the overall research structure," he added.

Pursuit funding awards

During the funding period, project teams will submit multiple proposals for external large-scale research grants. Successful proposals at that scale are a time-consuming venture. Pursuit funds can be used for such things as teaching releases, hiring consultants to add value to teams and holding workshops to strengthen connections among ISU and external partners.

Projects receiving "pursuit funding" awards are:

-- Integrated, Interdisciplinary Vaccine Research Against Antigenically Diverse Viruses

Principal investigators: Michael Cho, biomedical sciences; Jim Roth, veterinary microbiology and preventive medicine; K.J. Yoon, veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine

Description: Antigenic variation is a defense mechanism viruses commonly use to evade host immune responses. Viruses such as HIV-1 and influenza virus are good examples, and they epitomize the next level of scientific challenge that mankind faces in a fight against infectious diseases. The proposal calls for creation of an interdisciplinary team of investigators at ISU and collaborators from other institutions to develop novel strategies with a long-term goal of producing efficacious and cost-effective vaccines against these viruses. An integral part of the proposal is the establishment of two centers -- one for AIDS research and another for influenza research and surveillance -- within several years.

-- Systems Design of Nanovaccines

Principal investigator: Balaji Narasimhan, chemical and biological engineering

Description: The vision is that nanovaccines will revolutionize prevention and treatment of disease. The proposal calls for a systems approach -- integrating nanotechnology, materials science, immunology, clinical science and social science to transform the design and manufacture of vaccines and enable rapid commercialization. Forty-three investigators from five universities, two national labs, three research institutes and five companies have been assembled to collaborate on vaccine development and seek large-scale funding to launch a national center on nanoscale technologies for the development of next generation vaccines.

-- Global Food Security Consortium

Principal investigators: Manjit Misra, seed science and Max Rothschild, animal science

Description: With a world population of 9 billion people predicted by 2050, the grand challenge is to provide sufficient food and nutrition for all, while protecting natural resources. Advances in sustainable crop and livestock science and transferring technology to the private sector and communities is at the very heart of solving this grand challenge. The proposal calls for a Global Food Security Consortium, a worldwide initiative centered at ISU that will bring an interdisciplinary, comprehensive, and innovative approach to this problem through focused research efforts in five major platforms: germplasm and seed systems; climate resilient healthy crops; climate resilient healthy animals; post-harvest and utilization; and policies, regulations and trade.

-- ISU Crop Bioengineering Consortium

Principal investigator: Martin Spalding, genetics, development, and cell biology

Description: An urgent grand challenge is to provide sufficient food, feed, fiber, biofuels and biorenewable chemicals for the world's burgeoning population. Technologies that complement traditional management and breeding, but dramatically accelerate the production and testing of improved crops, are in critical demand. The proposal addresses the challenge through development of a Crop Bioengineering Consortium, comprising researchers from several universities. Using an innovative and transformative genome engineering technology, the consortium will build a platform that allows for rapid integration of promising traits into crop plants.

Proof-of-concept awards

Three projects received awards under a smaller, proof-of-concept category. These awards provide pursuit funds for emerging research areas that are more limited in scope or require proof of concept before investigators can pursue larger funding. Each project will receive up to $100,000 for one year.

Projects receiving proof-of-concept awards are:

-- Computationally Engineered Plant Institute

Principal investigator: Daniel Attinger, mechanical engineering

Description: Food security will be among the top three challenges of humanity in 2050. Nine ISU engineers and plant scientists are collaborating to design optimum crops with better yields and better tolerance to climate change. With two excellent programs in plant sciences and engineering, Iowa State is uniquely positioned to become a world class place for interdisciplinary research on crop design.

-- The Language of Writing in STEM Disciplines

Principal investigator: Carol A. Chapelle, applied linguistics

Description: The vision is to create a national center of scholarship for the study of language in academic and professional writing in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. The center will conduct research on linguistic practices in STEM disciplines, to improve pedagogy of writing in STEM disciplines, and to develop and apply computational methods for analysis and assessment of discipline-specific writing.

-- Identifying Potential RNA Therapeutic Targets in Infectious Disease

Principal investigator: Drena Dobbs, genetics, development and cell biology

Description: The primary goal of this proof-of-concept proposal is to establish the core of a future Consortium for RNA-based therapies. The team of interdisciplinary researchers is pursuing an innovative strategy for integrating new high-throughput experimental technologies with computational methods to identify and characterize novel targets for RNA-based therapies to treat infectious disease.