Feeding the World Sustainably

Addressing the challenge of tuberculosis in the animal-human interface

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

Co-PIs: Srinand Sreevatsan, Veterinary Population Medicine; David Boulware, Infectious Diseases & International Medicine

Team Members: Joel Bazira, Mbarara University; Dominic Travis, Veterinary Population Medicine

Zoonotic tuberculosis (TB), caused by M. bovis, is a major economic and human health concern in rural areas of the low- and middle-income countries, where the animal-human interface is intensifying as land use patterns change. Through an international and interdisciplinary approach, we will focus on addressing the world’s most successful pathogens and grand challenges unto themselves—Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Mycobacterium bovis. We will build on the existing international Minnesota-Mbarara collaborative initiative to enable investigations of interspecies transmission of tuberculosis in Uganda, aiming to decrease the systemic risk of the disease in both animal and human populations. Our team combines highly experienced and established scientists who are well versed in epidemiology, genomic and molecular epidemiology, molecular evolution, pathogenesis, and complex systems modeling. This application will target the Mycobacterium TB-complex group of organisms but is expected to have a major global impact on multiple zoonotic pathogens.

Big-data transparency in global food supply

$96k GC Exploratory Research Grant; includes $46k international enhancement award

Co-PIs: Derric Pennington, Institute on the Environment; Anu Ramaswami, Technology & Environmental Policy; Shashki Shekhar, Computer Science; Timothy M. Smith, Bioproducts & Biosystems Engineering

One of the most pressing challenges facing society, globally, is how to meet the growing demand for food, in the face of climate change, while sustaining ecosystem services. For a 21st-century sustainable food system to emerge, new harmonized data and network-level spatio-temporal analytical approaches across food value chains are needed. This project will, first, develop novel spatial data mining approaches to reduce computational challenges associated with characterizing and predicting sustainability benefits and burdens across highly heterogeneous landscapes and management practices of U.S. corn-soy and Central American sugar production systems. Second, we will characterize the interconnectedness of domestic and global supply networks by linking sub-national production sustainability indicators to intermediate and end-use consumption of these high-impact commodities in food systems. Leveraging the engagement of key practitioner partners, results will inform public policy and commodity certifications, commodity sourcing architecture of complex food systems, and incentives influencing dietary choices.

Microbiomes in engineered ecosystems: Integrative science to elucidate microbiome roles in mediating plant, soil, ecosystem, and human health

$60k GC Exploratory Research Grant

Co-PIs: David Baumler, Food Science & Nutrition; Jessica Gutknecht, Soil, Water Climate; Corey Hirsch, Soil, Water, & Climate; Linda Kinkel, Plant Pathology; Jonathan Schilling, Bioproducts & Biosystems Engineering

Team Members: Elizabeth Borer, Ecology, Evolution, & Behavior; Daryl Gohl, Genomics Center; Julie Grossman, Horticulture; Satoshi Ishii, BioTechnology Institute; Peter Kennedy, Plant Biology; H. Corby Kistler, Plant Pathology; Georgiana May, Ecology, Evolution, & Behavior; Paige Novak, Civil, Environmental, & Geo-Engineering; Eric Seabloom, Ecology, Evolution, & Behavior

Our landscape is a network of engineered ecosystems and environments. Technological advances allow us to characterize the complex microbial communities, or microbiomes, associated with these environments. This capacity gives us unprecedented insight into key processes mediated by microbiomes in natural and human-engineered systems. However, coordinated efforts to integrate information across systems remain limited. Can the lessons we have learned about microbiomes in nature be harnessed to improve crop yields or reduce agriculture’s environmental footprint? Can the dynamics in industrial microbial bioreactors offer insight into anaerobic processes that produce methane in bogs? Integrative approaches to microbiome-focused questions will enhance our ability to feed the world sustainably, assure clean water, and improve control of microbial processes in engineered ecosystems. Our project goal is to establish a cross-collegiate core of University of Minnesota researchers focused on microbiomes in human-modified ecosystems, and will support cross-disciplinary integration of datasets and generate forward-thinking ideas and education.

Reinventing year-round food production in Minnesota

$45k GC Exploratory Research Grant

Co-PIs: John Erwin, Horticultural Science; Ned Mohan, Electrical & Computer Engineering

Team Members: Kathy Draeger, Minnesota Extension Service; Greg Schweser, Minnesota Extension Service

Fruit and vegetable production is concentrated in warm climates with readily available water. Increasing temperatures and decreasing water are reducing yield and increasing costs in these locations. Also, consumer demand for locally produced foods is increasing as nutritional, economic, and increased food access and security benefits are reported. Taken together, food production will increasingly move to moderate climates with available water and/or indoors near the local markets. Minnesota farmers historically grew vegetables in greenhouses during the winter. Our proposal utilizes new technologies (solar, LEDs, and power storage) to enable local fresh vegetable production in greenhouses and indoors (warehouses, homes, office buildings). It addresses the nexus of food, energy and water at a grassroots level by involving the public in increasing fresh food access, improving health, reducing carbon-based energy, and providing local economic benefits. Our project also shifts the food and energy production paradigm from large-scale to a “crowd-sourcing” model.

Charting a path for Midwest agriculture through scenario-based foresight

$150k GC Interdisciplinary Work Group Collaboration

Co-PIs: Mae Davenport, Forest Resources; Nicholas Jordan, Agronomy & Plant Genetics; David Mulla, Soil, Water, & Climate; David Rand, Psychology, Economics; Tonya Schoenfuss, Food Science & Nutrition Technology; Nathan Springer, Plant Biology; Montserrat Torremorrell, Veterinary Medicine

Team Members: David Beurle, Future IQ Partners; Heather Branigan, Future IQ Partners; Kris Johnson, The Nature Conservancy; Charlotte Melin, German, Scandinavian, & Dutch; Nathan Meyer, Center for Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources; Mark Pedelty, Communication Studies & Anthropology; Bryan Runck, Geography, Environment & Society

Midwest agriculture will be a globally critical source of food, water, and energy by 2100, particularly under projected climate change. In addition to climate, there are other powerful drivers of change in agriculture, including global changes in diet and health, growing water scarcity, demographic and economic transitions, and a new agricultural bioeconomy of new foods and bioproducts. How can our agriculture respond to this complex mix of problems and opportunities? To answer this question, the University of Minnesota will initiate and facilitate rigorous foresight work that brings University researchers together with leaders in food/agricultural industry, civil society groups, and government. Together, these leaders will identify and deliberate possible, probable, and preferred futures for agriculture, using scenario planning, a tested tool for creative reframing of established narratives. We will use humanities and social-science scholarship to assess metrics of progress toward our goal: a shared, actionable vision for sustainability, equity, and justice in Midwest agriculture.

Sustaining food production, health, and the environment

$147k GC Interdisciplinary Work Group Collaboration

Co-PIs: Allen Levine, Food Science & Nutrition; David Tilman, Ecology, Evolution & Behavior

Team Members: Jason Hill, Bioproducts & Biosystems Engineering; Alexandra Klass, Law; Stephen Polasky, Ecological & Environmental Economics; Anu Ramaswami, Science Technology & Public Policy; Brian Steffenson, Plant Pathology

Our team of faculty from four UMN colleges will pursue the Grand Challenge of “Feeding the World Sustainably,” with the central goal being to envision and evaluate the widest possible suite of potential solutions to the problems created by the strong linkages between agricultural practices, dietary choices, human health, and the sustainable functioning of the Earth’s ecosystems. Global agriculture currently feeds 7 billion people, and is projected to need to feed 9.5 billion by 2050, and perhaps 11 billion by 2100. We will evaluate how to dietarily improve health while reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution, and evaluate policies, economic incentives, food industry-farmer partnerships, and laws or regulations that might lead farmers to adopt such practices. We will address what interventions could meet food demand in developing nations for the next 50 years while minimizing land clearing and extinction risks for the animal and plant species in each nation.