Assuring Clean Water and Sustainable Ecosystems

21st-century technologies for advancing bio-manufacturing

$85k GC Exploratory Research Grant; includes $25k international enhancement award

Co-PIs: Claudia Schmidt-Dannert, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, & Biophysics; Vincent Noireaux, Physics

Team Members: Mikael Elias, BioTechnology Institute; Fernando Lopez-Gallego, Biofunctional Nanomaterials Laboratory, Spain; Bernd Nidetzky, Biotechnology, Biochemistry, & Engineering, University of Graz; Sven Panke, Biosystems, Science, & Engineering, ETH Züirch; Maureen Quin, BioTechnology Institute; Jon Marles Wright, Structural & Synthetic Biology Laboratory, University of Edinburgh

Cost pressures in today’s global and competitive market and operation in a societal framework that is conscious about environmental impacts and sustainability require the adaptation of new chemical manufacturing practices. Bio-manufacturing processes utilize enzymes that catalyze reactions under benign conditions, resulting in cleaner and more resource-efficient processes. However, shifting manufacturing of chemicals and materials from petroleum-derived chemical synthesis to greener and environmentally friendly bio-manufacturing processes that can operate at the same scale and with comparable cost-margins is challenging. A major bottleneck is the development of innovative technologies for robust, cost-efficient and high-yielding execution of a series of enzyme rather than chemically catalyzed reactions that convert one or more molecules into a desired product. This project aims to seed the formation of a research cluster in advanced bio-manufacturing, generate data for new external funding, establish new and strengthen existing international collaborations, and promote new training activities in this field.

Innovations at the nexus of food, energy, and water: Reclaiming wastewater from local food industries to produce energy and high-value urban crops

$60k GC Exploratory Research Grant

Co-PIs: Alptekin Aksan, Mechanical Engineering; Neil Anderson, Horticultural Science; Bill Arnold, Environmental, & Geo- Engineering; Julie Grossman, Horticultural Science; William Northrop, Mechanical Engineering; Paige Novak, Civil, Environmental, & Geo- Engineering; Mary Rogers, Horticulture Science; Chengyan Yue, Horticultural Science

By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population is expected to live under water stress. The global impact of the water crisis has been identified as the top global risk. Simultaneously, the world’s population is growing and it is estimated that by 2050, 66% of people will reside in urban areas. Urban agriculture (UA) can provide food close to home, improve water use efficiency and utilize locally available sources of nutrients. Local food-based industries (e.g., dairies, breweries) pay high costs to discharge wastewater containing organic matter and surplus nutrients. This wastewater has the potential to be “reclaimed” for use in UA. The energy-dense compounds in wastewater could be biologically treated for electricity production and nutrient recovery via plant uptake, allowing us to close a water usage loop. Our research will reimagine waste treatment and link it to urban food production using hydroponics and new technologies to generate clean energy from the waste itself.

Protection of biodiversity and ecosystems services through early detection of tree disease using hyperspectral remote sensing

$60k GC Exploratory Research Grant

Co-PIs: Jeannine Cavender-Bares, Ecology, Evolution & Behavior; Rebecca Montgomery, Forest Resources; Jennifer Juzwik, Plant Pathology

Team Members: ; John Gamon, University of Nebraska- Lincoln; Sarah Hobbie, Ecology, Evolution, & Behavior; Forest Isbell, Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve; Phil Townsend, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Art Zygielbaum, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Exotic pathogens currently pose threats to temperate forests at an alarming rate. To save trees and protect ecosystem services, we propose to develop novel methods for the detection of diseases threatening Minnesota trees using remote sensing technology. Our project will compare known pockets of oak wilt at the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve (CCESR) to hyperspectral images and develop statistical methods for detection. In addition, we will conduct a seedling experiment with two oak species, three diseases, and a drought treatment to test whether hyperspectral data can detect and differentiate these diseases from each other and from drought. We will then develop leaf and canopy level models for disease detection using hyperspectral reflectance spectra on experimental seedlings that can be compared to forest canopy models developed at CCESR. The tools our team develops will have the potential to contribute to sustaining forest health nationally and globally.

Sustainable development: Architecture and planning within the ecological footprint of one planet

$110k GC Exploratory Research Grant; includes $50k international enhancement award

Co-PIs: Richard Graves, Center for Sustainable Building Research; Bonnie Keeler, Institute on the Environment

Team Members: Mary Guzowski, Architecture; Jessica Hellman, Institute on the Environment; Sarah Hobbie, Ecology, Evolution, & Behavior; Stephen Polasky, Applied Economics; Richard Strong, Center for Sustainable Building Research

To respond to the Grand Challenges of Assuring Clean Water and Sustainable Ecosystems and Enhancing Individual and Community Capacity for a Changing World, sustainable development must be redefined using a regenerative system approach that connects food, water, and energy use to the carrying capacity of the local ecosystem. Sustainable development has been a focus for at least the last 25 years. However, the international development community has failed to fundamentally transform the performance of the built environment in the most critical indicator: ecological footprint. It has also focused on making existing throughput systems more efficient, instead of redesigning the system to function like a living system that continually self-renews and integrates with natural processes to "regenerate." This is the difference between green design and regenerative design and a fundamentally new approach in this proposal and required of designs across scales (building to neighborhood to city) to achieve sustainable development.

Developing a simple, inexpensive smart chip to detect water pollutants

$315k GC Interdisciplinary Work Group Collaboration; includes $50k international enhancement award

Co-PIs: Daniel R. Bond, Microbiology & Immunology BioTechnology Institute; Mikael Elias, Biochemistry; Jeffrey A. Gralnick, Microbiology & Immunology/BioTechnology Institute; Mark Herzberg, Diagnostic & Biological Science; Lawrence P. Wackett, Biochemistry

Team Members: William Arnold, Civil, Environmental & Geo-Engineering; Paige J. Novak, Civil, Environmental & Geo-Engineering; Casim A. Sarkar, Biomedical Engineering; Michael Smanski, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, & Biophysics; Joseph Talghader, Electrical & Computer Engineering

Everyone needs clean water and rapid, inexpensive methods to test waters for chemicals that impair human/animal health. We will develop novel technology to analyze pollutants (1) at the water source, (2) inexpensively, (3) with ease of use and interpretation, and (4) sensing multiple chemicals simultaneously. Nitrates, arsenicals, and lead, which compromise human and animal health and damage proximal ecosystems, are our first pollutant targets. Prototype sensors will sense and report Environmental Protection Agency and World Health Organization critical levels of lead, arsenate, and nitrate by engineering bacterial enzymes and pathways to be specific sensors coupled with two types of inexpensive visual reporter technologies. These sensors and reporters will be tuned to report elevated pollutant levels, engineered to be used in the field, and tested on-site in India and Uganda. Ultimately, we will provide less-privileged global water consumers with excellent testing methods based on biological “sensing,” offering profound health, social, political, and economic benefits.