New Innovator in Food & Agriculture Research Award
Meet Our New Innovators
Dr. Salvatore CalabreseTexas A&M University
Currently, agriculture decision support tools for water management are unsuitable for climate-
smart agriculture because they mostly serve the single purpose of increasing crop productivity.
Calabrese’s research is developing water management strategies that not only optimize crop
productivity, but also increase carbon sequestration, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and
promote soil health and resilience.
Dr. Lutz GrossmannUMass Amherst
Alternative sustainable protein supply chains not reliant on traditional agriculture are needed for
future food security. Grossmann’s research is studying high-protein bacteria that use hydrogen as
an energy source, which can be produced sustainably and using less land than traditional
Dr. Alejandra HuertaNCSU
Increased agricultural trade, human movement, rapid pathogen evolution and a changing climate
make many of the tactics used to combat pathogens impossible to implement. Huerta’s research
is developing an ecological community-level understanding of how plant pathogenic bacteria
survive and compete in agricultural microbiomes and aims to develop new management and
diagnostic tools and host/microbiome interaction models.
Dr. Estelí Jiménez-SotoSyracuse University
Climate change, biodiversity loss and food insecurity are three of the most pressing challenges
facing humanity. To address these, agroecology stresses the importance of promoting
biodiversity conservation and food sovereignty in our food system. Jiménez-Soto’s research uses
interdisciplinary, multiregional, and community-based approaches to examine the impacts of
environmental change on biodiversity and human livelihoods, and the relationship between
biodiversity and ecosystem services in rural and urban agricultural landscapes.
Dr. Colleen JosephsonUC Santa Cruz
Monitoring soil properties is an effective way to decrease resource consumption while
maintaining crop yields. However, most farms do not use sensor data to guide soil inputs and
irrigation, primarily because traditional sensor networks are costly and require significant labor
to install and maintain. Josephson’s research is creating a new technique for agricultural soil
sensing that pairs wireless underground tags with an aboveground mobile reader.
Dr. Qingwu MengUniversity of Delaware
While previous plant physiology research has advanced our understanding of how individual
factors influence plant growth and development, there has not been enough focus on how these
factors work as a whole. Meng’s research aims to improve the whole-plant photosynthesis and
nutritional quality of indoor crops by understanding and optimizing the interactions among key
environmental factors such as light, air temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide and root-zone
factors, such as fertilization, for each growth phase.
Dr. Alessandro OssolaUC Davis
The impacts of climate change on urban tree crops and productions are largely unknown, posing
a significant threat to urban farming efforts and their future resilience and sustainability. Ossola’s
research is leveraging big data to create novel scientific evidence on the climate suitability and
vulnerability of dozens of urban tree crop species across the U.S.
Dr. Troy RowanUniversity of Tennessee
The beef industry faces pressure to reduce its environmental footprint and help combat climate
change but increasing sustainability presents a complex challenge. Rowan’s research leverages
machine learning, high throughput phenotyping, and genomics to measure and predict
sustainability-related traits like water use, forage intake, and methane emission. Additionally, the
project will use genomic approaches to identify genes and genetic networks affecting
Dr. Sheri SpiegalUSDA-Agricultural Research Service
Manure management poses profound challenges for modern agriculture, with effects spanning
crop and livestock productivity, environmental quality and animal welfare. Spiegal’s research is
developing a Manureshed Action Research Cycle to build regional and supply-chain resilience
through systematic recycling of manure nutrients onto beef, dairy, poultry and swine feed crops.
This research integrates social and biophysical science with stakeholder engagement to give
animal producers, farmers and ranchers better capacity to connect with each other to redistribute
manure nutrients from farms with manure surplus to fields and pastures that can use it
Dr. Brock HarpurPurdue University
Most bee breeding methods were developed almost a century ago and do not use genome-
enabled breeding techniques. Harpur’s research program sets out to work directly with bee
breeders to develop and evaluate genome-enabled breeding techniques while producing a large
genomic database for honeybees across the country.
A promise of big data is the ability to better understand and predict relevant social-ecological phenomena. Modern machine learning and statistical analyses of big data, however, often fail to embed the human context needed to uncover and predict these phenomena more fully. In this project, Birgé reframes the challenge of predicting cover crop adoption on working farms as social-ecological, rather than strictly technical. To do this she is engaging farmers to create regressions trees—a type of decision-making algorithm—that describe individual farm-level decisions to adopt cover crops. These regression trees can then be tested using large, remotely sensed biophysical datasets. By eliciting farmer expert knowledge in this way, Birgé can improve the efficacy of big data to predict not only when and where cover crops are likely to be adopted on the landscape but also why.
Meeting future food needs requires effectively managing scarce groundwater. California is addressing this problem through the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which ensures better groundwater use and management. Bruno’s research is using the act as a case study to identify policies that enhance water sustainability and minimize regulation costs.
Soybeans are an important protein source and generate billions in economic growth in the United States. However, soybean yields lag behind other staple crops due to knowledge gaps concerning hybrid breeding—breeding between genetically distinct parent crops. Frank’s research focuses on increasing yields through a two-pronged approach. Frank’s team is using biotechnology to introduce a male-sterility/male rescue system that prevents soybean from self-pollinating, along with CRISPR gene editing to enhance soybean floral traits that will attract bees to outcross, or cross different breeds of soybeans. This hybrid breeding system has the potential to introduce genetic diversity, potentially creating trillions of dollars in additional economic and agricultural growth.
Nitrogen fertilizer increases crop yields to meet growing food demands, but because less than 50 percent of applied nitrogen fertilizer is used by plants, the excess fertilizer can threaten environmental and human health. Legume crops can create their own nitrogen through root nodule symbiosis with certain microbes. While research efforts are underway to engineer popular cereal crops to form root nodules, there is not a strong effort to generate a compatible microbial partner for these crops. Geddes’ research is investigating root nodule symbiosis to develop microbes that can thrive in the cereal microbiome, initiate nodule formation and self-adapt for efficient nitrogen fixation and nutrient exchange with their host plant.
Beneficial microbes in a plant’s rhizosphere—the root-soil interface—increase plant growth and soil health, but not enough is known about how microbes, plants and soil interact and how to ensure microbes do not spread outside of the target soil, which could have unintended consequences. Kunjapur is examining whether a laboratory microbe can provide long-lasting pathogen resistance to crops, while also preventing the microbe’s growth, allowing it to be contained to a specific area. This project furthers development of targeted capabilities in crops to help them survive future stresses.
The transition from Indigenous food systems to industrialized farming with ultra-processed food continues to threaten native habitats and the health of Indigenous people. As efforts emerge to explore underutilized crops to meet nutritional needs and to sustain local ecosystems, fermentation has uncharted potential to unlock the possibility of Indigenous crops. Kuo is partnering with smallholder women farmers in Senegal to examine the nutritional and culinary benefits of fermenting Indigenous crops for developing healthy school meal items. This study can be extended to her collaboration with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to innovate Native American fermented foods for supporting food sovereignty.
In the US, swine producers protect their herds from infectious diseases using biosecurity practices; however, the effectiveness of these practices varies greatly because there is insufficient information about which practices work best for different types of diseases and farms. There is also no central database of farms and their biosecurity plans. Machado is partnering with commercial pig producing companies, swine producers and local veterinary health officials to create a secure database of all swine farms in the country, their biosecurity plans and other potential risk factors for disease outbreaks. Using this information, Machado’s team can run computer simulations of outbreaks to test which biosecurity practices are most effective at containing infections and protecting farms. The team will combine secure databases and computer simulations into a user-friendly app to enhance biosecurity for farms and prepare for future outbreaks.
Salmon and trout farming provides high quality seafood that can meet the growing demand for protein. However, the fish farming industry struggles with fish escaping to breed in the wild and disease management challenges that restrict the industry’s growth. New genome-editing applications hold promise for improving aquaculture sustainability, yet the field is in its infancy. Phelps’ research is using advanced CRISPR gene editing to produce sterile rainbow trout and develop rapid disease diagnostic tests, which could address challenges the industry currently faces.
Plant roots are highly efficient at building soil organic matter, suggesting that increasing root growth in cropping systems can improve soil health. However, there are knowledge gaps that limit our ability to take full advantage of soil health benefits that roots could provide—for example, the contributions of living roots vs. decaying root litter to soil organic matter are unclear. Poffenbarger’s research is determining how living roots and decaying litter affect soil organic matter in low and high fertility soils and evaluating cover crops as a tool to capitalize on the benefits of roots in cropping systems.
Soil-borne diseases pose a significant threat to global food production, causing catastrophic yield and economic losses. Dundore-Arias’ research is determining the ecological and molecular mechanisms responsible for inducing and maintaining disease-suppressive soils. Dundore-Arias is using this information to develop microbial communities capable of enhancing soil health and plant productivity.
Oysters are a particularly sustainable source of animal protein, but the process of breeding oysters for desirable traits is still in its infancy. Hollenbeck’s research is enhancing selective breeding of oysters by developing new tools and strategies to address barriers to genomics-based breeding. Results of the research will help increase productivity and sustainability to benefit the oyster aquaculture industry in the US and around the world.
Late-season bunch rots are fruit diseases that occur during maturation, after season-long expenses and labor, and directly affect yield and quality. Hu’s research is advancing knowledge about late-season bunch rots by studying the prevalence and ability of the pathogen to cause disease, the conditions and time in the growing cycle favorable to the pathogen and the pathogen’s reactions to fungicide. The research is developing sustainable management strategies that promote targeted and less frequent application of fungicide.
Urban agriculture offers many benefits for food production but often has higher production costs relative to traditional farming and is limited to only a few crops. Jinkerson’s research is engineering the size and nutritional value of a tomato plant variety to increase both the diversity and value of crops that are grown in vertical controlled environment agriculture, making urban agriculture more profitable.
Dr. Chase MasonUniversity of Central Florida
Plants face a wide variety of threats from pests and pathogens, yet for many such threats there is no simple genetic source of full resistance in the plant immune system. Mason’s research is determining the genetic control of induced chemical defenses, by which plants produce chemical compounds to protect themselves upon detecting pests or pathogens. Mason is also identifying sources of enhanced forms of this protection in a variety of species to reduce reliance on pesticides.
Soil compaction diminishes soil health and damages soil ecosystems, leading to lower crop yield and decreased resilience in the face of climate change. Neely’s research is mitigating soil compaction by measuring and mapping compaction with a newly developed visible and near-infrared spectroscopy tool. Neely is linking these measurements to soil ecosystem components and using these findings to improve growers’ knowledge of soil compaction mitigation strategies.
Vitamin A deficiency is one of the most prevalent nutritional disorders worldwide and is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children under the age of five. Rhodes’ research is integrating plant breeding, cereal chemistry and nutrition to develop sorghum grain with high concentrations of carotenoid, plant chemicals that help combat vitamin A deficiency. This approach could be used as a model for biofortification efforts in a broad range of nutrients and crops.
Bovine respiratory disease causes annual losses of almost $1 billion dollars to the beef cattle industry. Verma’s research is producing a rapid biosensor diagnostic test that detects viruses that cause bovine respiratory disease. This test will guide veterinarians and cattle producers to the best methods for prevention and treatment of the disease.
Jared Ali, Ph.D.Pennsylvania State University
Pests and pathogens destroy food crops, causing significant losses to farmers and threatening food security. The Pennsylvania State University research team is discovering mechanisms and management practices that manage interactions between cover crops, soil dynamics and beneficial organisms to increase crop resistance to pests and pathogens.
Jessica Copperstone, Ph.D.Ohio State University
Diet is the leading cause of many chronic diseases and improving diet can reduce the incidence of disease. Dr. Jessica Copperstone is combining plant breeding and genetics, analytical chemistry, bioinformatics and nutrition to develop tomatoes that are more beneficial for human health.
Paul Dyce, Ph.D.Auburn University
Cattle infertility causes significant loss for cattle producers. Dr. Paul Dyce is improving the efficiency of cattle production by identifying molecular markers that indicate reproductive potential. These markers can uncover the underlying causes of unexplained infertility, leading to potential therapeutic options. This research ultimately helps producers select cattle with the best reproductive capabilities.
Andres Espindola Camacho, Ph.D.Oklahoma State University
Plant pathogens can harm plants, reduce water quality and cause soil erosion. Dr. Andres Espindola Camacho uses cutting-edge, high-throughput sequencing to explain what affects plant health. Specially, this research sequences a plant’s microbiome, a collection of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live on a plant, to determine how these organisms positively or negatively impact the plant.
Landon Marston, Ph.D.Kansas State University
Agriculture accounts for about 38 percent of the nation’s freshwater withdrawals. Excessive water use results in over irrigation which can damage crops and soil. Dr. Landon Marston’s research investigates complex human-water systems to providing solutions for sustainable water resources management. His work explores how water is used throughout the food production enterprise to reduce water use within the global food system.
Nathan Mueller, Ph.D.Colorado State University
Crops with high water demands and overuse of water supplies, lead to water scarcity. Dr. Nathan Mueller is investigating the reliance of irrigated crop production on snowmelt water resources globally. The project heightens our understanding of snowmelt-dependent agriculture hotspots and how trends in water supplies and crop water demands influence water scarcity.
Neha Potnis, Ph.D.Auburn University
Traditional disease management strategies often fail to prevent recurring outbreaks. Dr. Neha Potnis’s research is testing a two-pronged approach to transform disease management strategies and identify control approaches that are practical and profitable.
Susan Whitehead, Ph.D.Virginia Tech
Dr. Whitehead’s research is developing new ecologically based management practices for apples that can boost the content of health-promoting phytochemicals in fruit. If successful, these technologies could be applied to a variety of crops to improve the quality of food and boost the nutritional benefits of fruits and vegetables.
Amanda Ashworth, Ph.D.United State Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service
Tribal Nations limited access to conservation programs available to other US producers. These communities also have the highest incidence of diet-related diseases. Dr. Ashworth is providing soil information to improve agricultural productivity on Tribal Lands. This project leverages an innovative digital soil mapping process to provide first-ever soil maps and interpretations on Native lands to promote water and nutrient-smart agriculture.
Arianne Cease, Ph.D.Arizona State University
Locusts devastate agriculture globally, especially in subsistence farming communities. Locust outbreaks are unpredictable; however, sustainable land use can keep locusts at bay. Dr. Arianne Cease explores connections between land-use practices and locust outbreaks, while identifying and addressing barriers to sustainable locust management.
Tu-Anh Huynh, Ph.D.University of Wisconsin-Madison
Listeria monocytogenes is a harmful pathogen that can cause severe illness. Dr. Tu-Anh Huynh is examining the interactions of L. monocytogenes with cattle gastrointestinal tract microbiota. Although clinical listeriosis is rare, L. monocytogenes is frequently shed by dairy cattle, reflecting a high prevalence of infection.
Lav R. Khot, Ph.D.Washington State University
Timely insect pest management is critical for quality tree fruit and wine grape production. However, consumers are increasingly alarmed by synthetic pesticide, which leave residues on produce and contaminate the environment. Dr. Lav Khot is evaluating alternative pest management technologies that aid conventional and organic growers in reducing their reliance on broad spectrum pesticides.
Manuel Kleiner, Ph.D.North Carolina State University
Diet effects gut microbiota, which can provide beneficial or detrimental effects in human and animal health. Dr. Manuel Kleiner is linking dietary components to the microbes in intestinal tracts of humans and animals to design diets that foster health-promoting microbes and deprive disease-causing microbes of their food source.
Amit Morey, Ph.D.Auburn University
Global food loss and waste is a growing threat to food security. Dr. Amit Morey is reducing food waste in the food supply chain by developing “Functional Ice” for storage and transportation of raw poultry and seafood.
Yiping Qi, Ph.D.University of Maryland-College Park
Plant genome editing can increase agricultural productivity and help agriculture adapt to climate change. Dr. Yiping Qi is developing CRISPR-Cas12a based plant genome editing systems with broadened targeting range and improved editing activity and specificity. If successful, these tools could accelerate plant breeding for generating high-productivity crops with stress resistance to climate change.
Jason Wallace, Ph.D.University of Georgia
Agricultural production is not advancing fast enough to meet projected demands for food. Agricultural innovations and beneficial microorganisms, can increase crop growth, boost stress resistance and prevent diseases. Scientists and farmers must first understand how microorganisms work. Dr. Jason Wallace is studying how crops are affected by the microbes that live inside them and how the environment impacts this relationship.
Matt Yost, Ph.D.Utah State University
Concerns about water scarcity are mounting due to rapid urban growth, depleting groundwater supplies and water shortages from climate trends. Dr. Matt Yost assesses the combined effectiveness of several methods of water optimization in agriculture, including more efficient water application and management and advanced crop genetics.
Sotirios Archontoulis, Ph.D.Iowa State University
Inefficient water use causes about 70 percent of Midwest crop losses. Crop models optimize water use; however, today’s models do not account for groundwater. This important source of water reduces the need for irrigation in dry years and enhances nitrogen and yield loss in wet years. Dr. Sotirios Archontoulis is developing models that predict impacts and designing mitigation strategies that improve water quality, soil health and productivity.
Steve Culman, Ph.D.The Ohio State University
Standard soil testing can assess fertility in some fields but may fail in others. Soil organic matter, a pivotal component of a healthy and functioning soil, is often neglected in fertility recommendations. Dr. Steve Culman is investigating three promising tests of soil active organic matter to provide insight into nutrient cycling and nutrient supply to crops. This project will alleviate obstacles that limit widespread soil health testing.
Hannah Holscher, Ph.D.University of Illinois
The microbiome in human guts and diets, are linked to diet-related diseases. Yet, researchers lack knowledge on how specific foods effect microbiome and how diet and the microbiome are related to disease treatment and prevention. Dr. Hannah Holscher is researching how foods impacts health. The project will help consumers to make healthful food choices.
Jonas King, Ph.D.Mississippi State University
Global commerce has introduced exotic plant pathogens and pests to new areas. Farmers need a reliable system to detect newly introduced pests and pathogens. Dr. Jonas King is combining existing technologies with novel data analysis to detect diverse plant pathogens and insects of importance in row crop, orchard and forestry settings. This research will ultimately protect agricultural systems.
Markita Landry, Ph.D.University of California, Berkeley
Genome editing revolutionizes our ability to modify living systems and meet the growing demand for food. However, genetic engineering of mature plants remains a challenge. Dr. Markita Landry is optimizing crop engineering and nutrient delivery tools to produce sustainable and high-yielding crops.
Kranthi Mandadi, Ph.D.Texas A&M University
Candidatus Liberibacter spp. is a fastidious pathogen, bacteria that only grow in specific conditions, that causes the potato zebra chip and citrus greening diseases. These pathogens do not grow in a laboratory, making them difficult to study. Dr. Kranthi Mandadi is testing a screening method for disease resistance genes and chemicals to combat the pathogens causing these diseases. The research will translate into disease management strategies that prevent crop and economic losses.
Diwakar Shukla Ph.D.University of Illinois
Agriculture relies on fertilizer to maximize crop yield. However, up to 70 percent of applied nitrogen in fertilizer is not absorbed by plants, causing extensive air and water pollution. Researchers have limited information about the nitrogen process in plants at the molecular level. Dr. Diwakar Shukla is developing new approaches to understand the plant nitrogen uptake process and prevent pollution.
Maya Vadiveloo, Ph.D.University of Rhode Island
New approaches are necessary to prevent diet-related illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. Dr. Maya Vadiveloo analyzes whether individually targeted incentives increase the adoption of healthier food patterns to cost-effectively improve health. This research uses an individual’s past food choices to inform the targeted food incentives, which ultimately improves food quality purchases.
Geoffrey Fisher, Ph.D.Cornell University
When consumers make food choices, they choose between nutritional content and more immediate attributes, such as taste and convenience. Dr. Geoffrey Fisher promotes healthier food choices by highlighting certain attributes of food selections through laboratory and field experiments.
Amelie Gaudin, Ph.D.University of California, Davis
Soil health management practices increase food production and decrease agriculture’s environmental footprint. However, existing research overlooks the role plants play in using soil health to increase yields. Dr. Amelie Gaudin is transforming soil health into yield by exploring the relationship between root systems, soil health and crop productivity. This research identifies how producers can grow resilient crops using sustainable practices at scale.
Anjali Iyer-Pascuzzi, Ph.D.Purdue University
Plant root diseases can cause lower yields. Some plant varieties are resistant to root disease, but the mechanisms underlying resistance are unclear. Dr. Anjali Iyer-Pascuzzi is examining how roots mediate disease-resistance by using tomato and a soilborne bacterial pathogen as a model.
Mary Jamieson, Ph.D.Oakland University
Urban agriculture is a growing component of food systems. However, few studies focus on factors limiting crop productivity in urban environments and little is known about how insect pollinators and pests affect urban farms. Dr. Mary Jamieson investigates the composition of insect communities, while evaluating strategies for enhancing ecosystem services. This research improves crop pollination, pest control and yields in urban agriculture.
Isaya Kisekka, Ph.D.Kansas State University
Projected increases in demands for food, feed and fiber will require more water. Semi-arid environments already face challenges in maintaining agricultural productivity under declining water supplies and climate change will exacerbate this challenge. Dr. Isaya Kisekka is improving water productivity in agriculture by integrating data related to agricultural water use by several sources such as soils, weather and plant-based measurements.
Crystal Levesque, Ph.D.South Dakota State University
Precision feeding allows pork producers to meet pigs’ nutrient requirements, while minimizing nutrient excretion and environmental risk. Reproductive sows represent an opportunity increase efficiency and reduce environmental costs. Dr. Crystal Levesque is assessing precision feeding formulations for pregnant sows to optimize reproductive performance and reduce environmental impacts.
Benjamin Reading, Ph.D.North Carolina State University
To enhance fish production and breeding, North Carolina State University researcher, Dr. Benjamin Reading is using artificial intelligence to determine the genetic factors responsible heterosis, or instances of offspring performing better than their parents, in hybrid striped bass.
Mary Anne Roshni Amalaradjou, Ph.D.University of Connecticut
The interactions between food and health are complicated and there is limited research on genes and dietary nutrients essential to human health. Dr. Mary Anne Roshni Amalaradjou researchers the effect of dairy foods on gut health. This research is the first in-depth study of the effect of dairy consumption on multiple levels of human physiology.
Lisa Tiemann, Ph.D.Michigan State University
Farmer rotate crop to increase crop productivity, yet there is lack of information on how rotational diversity impacts soil microorganisms. Michigan State University researcher, Dr. Lisa Tiemann studies the interactions between crop diversity, soil microorganisms and soil organic matter. This research helps build soil health through rotational diversity and soil microorganisms.