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USDA Awards $27.6M in Grants to Improve Food Security With Genomics, Other Technologies

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The US Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced on Tuesday that it is awarding more than $27.6 million in funding to support research into food security through improved animal production and health.

Included in the funding is about $2.5 million specifically to develop tools and resources for animal breeding genetics and genomics.

"As we continue to face major challenges in agriculture production, such as the extreme weather events and droughts, diminishing water resources, climate change, pests, and global competition, producers are looking for viable solutions," NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy said in a statement. "These grants allow American agriculture to remain a competitive force by providing food that is not only nutritious, but safe, and abundant."

Among the grant recipients is Auburn University, which received $$485,000 to develop SNP arrays for whole-genome mapping in catfish; the University of California, Davis, which was awarded $499,842 to generate a comprehensive resource of functional regulatory elements for the chicken, cattle, and pig genomes; and Iowa State University, which received $350,000 to create a computational method for genomic prediction in animals with incomplete genotype data.

Also receiving NIFA funding is the University of Connecticut, which was awarded $454,972 to develop a vaccine for a key poultry bacteria using synthetic genomics; and ag-bio firm Recombinetics, which received $434,718 to evaluate the utility of different gene-editing technologies to breed cattle without horns.

The awards are being made primarily through NIFA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, which is tasked with supporting research that addresses key problems facing all components of food and agriculture. According to the USDA, the projects will advance "genome-enabled precision breeding and enhance animal production by improving animal growth, reproductive efficiency, and animal well-being."

Additionally, they will elucidate antimicrobial resistance and improve animal health by taking on new, foreign, or emerging disease threats with the development of vaccines, early detection, prevention, and other strategies.