Grand Challenges Research Grants Awarded

Provost Karen Hanson in fall 2016 announced 29 Grand Challenges Research grants to advance the research goals of Driving Tomorrow, the TC Campus Strategic Plan. The Driving Tomorrow research investments total $3.6 million, including $1.48 million for 21 exploratory research grants and $2.15 million for 8 collaborations shaped by interdisciplinary work groups convened to build on the earlier GC Research "Call for Ideas" process

The 29 funded Driving Tomorrow research collaborations address the University's five interrelated Grand Challenges areas of special focus, with one integrative initiative spanning multiple areas. The areas of focus are wide-ranging—e.g., high-tech strategies to mitigate water pollution, understanding the human stories behind the global immigration crisis, and precision medicine to fight cancer.

The investments are one milestone in advancing Strategic Plan recommendations to seed and support interdisciplinary research addressing Grand Challenges through a bottom-up, faculty-driven process. They are a culmination of a multi-tiered research grants process launched in early 2016 as Phase 1 of the Provost's Grand Challenges Research Initiative. Phase 2 of Grand Challenges Research is under way as of January 2017, with two new opportunities announced for faculty.

View list of Driving Tomorrow grants below (or download a summary)

Advancing Health through Tailored Solutions

A community-based approach toward advancing personalized medicine in underserved populations 

$49K GC Exploratory Research Grant

Co-PIs: Kathleen A. Culhane-Pera, Family Medicine; Robert J. Straka, Experimental & Clinical Pharmacology; Bharat Thyagarajan, Laboratory Medicine & Pathology

Team Members: Jeffrey Bishop, Experimental & Clinical Pharmacology; Muaj Lo, West Side Community Health Services; Heather Zierhut, Genetics, Cell Biology, & Development

The project brings local and statewide relevance to the nationally supported NIH “Precision Medicine Initiative.” The impact of recent advances in the genomic era will be fully realized only if genetic knowledge is equally accessible and fully understandable to all members of our society. By partnering with members of the Minnesota Hmong community, and using community-based, linguistically and culturally sensitive approaches, we aim to increase inclusion and understanding about variations of genes that influence medication effectiveness, called very important pharmacogenes. As these select pharmacogenes modulate response to drug therapy, the overall goal is to mitigate the otherwise growing health disparities of knowledge, significance, and application of this information to members of our Hmong community and the clinicians that treat them. Advancing our knowledge of genomic data in unique populations is expected to improve clinical decision making for the selection and use of common therapeutic medications that impact clinical outcomes.

Development of a clinical precision medicine program in ovarian cancer as a paradigm for 21st-century tailored health care solution

$60k GC Exploratory Research Grant

Co-PIs: Constantin Aliferis, Medicine; Joshua Baller, Supercomputing Institute; Pamala Jacobson, Experimental & Clinical Pharmacology; Andrew Nelson, Laboratory Medicine & Pathology; Boris Winterhoff, Obstetrics, Gynecology & Women’s Health

Team Members: Ahmad Abusalah, Institute for Health Informatics; Peter Argenta, Obstetrics, Gynecology & Women’s Health; Subbaya Subramanian, Surgery; Martina Bazzaro, Obstetrics, Gynecology & Women’s Health; Linda Carson, Obstetrics, Gynecology & Women’s Health; Melissa Geller, Obstetrics, Gynecology & Women’s Health; Mahmoud Khalifa, Laboratory Medicine & Pathology; Sally Mullany, Obstetrics, Gynecology & Women’s Health; Steve Shen, Institute for Health Informatics; Tim Starr, Obstetrics, Gynecology & Women’s Health; Gyorgy Simon, Institute for Health Informatics

A key barrier to developing better treatments for ovarian cancer, the deadliest of all female malignancies, is the ability to stratify the disease into clinically meaningful subtypes. This in part explains why the current therapeutic regimen for treating ovarian cancer has had such a low success rate; we are treating a heterogeneous collection of tumors with a “one size fits all” regimen. Despite significant progress in genomics and disease biology, ovarian cancer has not yet moved into the arena of precision medicine. The aim is to integrate comprehensive genomic platforms into a coherent structure and develop a tool to stratify ovarian cancers into specific biological subtypes. We are proposing to prospectively enroll ovarian cancer patients and stratify them into molecular subtypes to develop a precision medicine program to individualize treatment. This universal clinical precision medicine platform can then be applied to other cancers and disease processes.

Keys to preventing cancer: Unlocking barriers to HPV vaccinations in low-income countries

$50k GC Exploratory Research Grant includes $30k international enhancement award/Global Programs & Strategy Alliance

Co-PIs: Nicole E. Basta, Epidemiology & Community Health; Hee Yun Lee, Social Work

Team Members: Fareed A. Awan, Philosophy; Cecily Banura, Child Health & Development Center, Makerere University; Shalini L. Kulasingam, Epidemiology & Community Health; Ruby H. Nguyen, Epidemiology & Community Health

Vaccinating against Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is an effective method for preventing infections that can lead to cervical and other HPV-associated cancer. In many resource-limited settings where access to cancer screening and treatment is limited and cancer incidence and mortality are high, preventing HPV infection is a critical step towards reducing suffering. We aim to identify and minimize barriers that prevent adolescents from receiving HPV vaccine in low-income, high-burden settings. Uganda introduced a national HPV vaccination program in 2015. Our research will evaluate the program’s HPV vaccine uptake, identify those at greatest risk of missing vaccinations, and assess the feasibility of implementing novel interventions to increase vaccination. We will contribute to the globalization of the undergraduate curriculum by developing research ethics case studies and datasets to enhance understanding of diverse global perspectives and challenges involving population health and ethics. Ultimately, the goal is to develop tailored solutions to ensure that HPV vaccination reaches those in greatest need.

Are networks key to solving America’s healthcare crisis? 

$50k GC Exploratory Research Grant

Co-PIs: Barbara Daniels, Medicine; Russell Funk, Strategic Management & Entrepreneurship; Aks Zaheer, Strategic Management & Entrepreneurship

Total U.S. healthcare expenditures are the highest in the world, at 17 percent of GDP, or roughly $3 trillion. But U.S. healthcare outcomes are ranked no better than 37th in the world. Understanding how to “bend the curves” of ever-increasing cost and diminishing quality outcomes consequently emerges as a most complex and difficult conundrum for society today.
The Affordable Care Act of 2010 introduced an organizational innovation—the Accountable Care Organization, or ACO—which combines incentives for cost reduction with incentives for healthcare quality. Within this context, we ask: How can ACOs overcome clinical and administrative complexity in the process of delivering lower cost and higher quality care? Using large Medicare datasets of up to 60 million and fixed effects models over the period 2013-2015, we seek to demonstrate that when the network of relationships among ACO member organizations is stronger and better integrated, cost and quality outcomes are superior.

Toward a Minnesota model for brain health in youth sports 

$48k GC Exploratory Research Grant

Co-PIs: Jessica Brown, Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences; Bharathi Jagadeesan, Radiology; Christophe Lenglet, Radiology; Toben F. Nelson, Epidemiology & Community Health; Moira Novak, Athletics; Francis Shen, Law

This Grand Challenges project is a new collaboration between six researchers across five different units, all focused on various aspects of traumatic brain injury. In 2011, Governor Dayton signed into law a new set of protocols to govern the treatment of concussions experienced by youth athletes in Minnesota. But we know little about the quality of information and effectiveness of treatment provided to student-athletes, including potential disparities of treatment across ages, sports, or regions. Nor do we know if students are receiving the care they need to succeed in the classroom (i.e., “Return to Learn”) after concussion incidents. The University of Minnesota is well poised to provide an interdisciplinary response to fill these research gaps, inform policy, and improve the health of Minnesota’s youth athletes. The project has four interrelated objectives: (1) to establish a campus-wide working group on traumatic brain injury (TBI); (2) to conduct a pilot study on the implementation of Minnesota’s 2011 sports concussion law and on current practices in the identification, evaluation, and treatment of youth sports concussions; (3) to host a statewide summit, in partnership with community partners, to disseminate best practices and identify statewide needs; and (4) to develop grant proposals to secure funding in order to create a Minnesota Model for addressing the challenge of youth sports TBI.

Minnesota Precision Medicine Collaborative: Transforming health and advancing equity 

$500k GC Interdisciplinary Work Group Collaboration

Co-PIs: Ellen Demerath, Epidemiology & Community Health; Pamala Jacobson, Experimental & Clinical Pharmacology; Kingshuk Sinha, Supply Chain & Operations; Susan M. Wolf, Law, Medicine & Public Policy

Team Members: Gerald August, Family Social Science; Marilyn Bruin, Design, Housing, & Apparel; Michael Conzemius, Veterinary Clinical Sciences; Jigna Desai, Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies; Joseph Gaugler, Nursing; Christy Haynes, Chemistry; Bin He, Biomedical Engineering; Dan Knights, Computer Science & Engineering; Alex Rothman, Psychology; Paula Termuhlen, Surgery; Jakub Tolar, Pediatrics, Stem Cell Biology, Genetics & Genomics

The Minnesota Precision Medicine Collaborative (MPMC) is a transformative initiative to use 21st century technologies – including genomics, informatics, bioengineering, analysis of environmental exposures, and behavioral sciences – to tailor health care to the challenges facing individuals and their communities. This ambitious approach will fundamentally alter our understanding of health, disease prevention, and treatment. Core to this project is partnering across the state of Minnesota with citizens, patients, and healthcare providers to understand and effectively address major health problems.

MPMC will create a living laboratory, starting with demonstration projects on Alzheimer’s disease, lung cancer, and depression. All three are diseases whose incidence, burden, and mortality rates reveal disturbing health disparities. This focus will enable us to leverage University of Minnesota research strengths across many disciplines and to engage with partners in the health industry and Minnesota’s underserved communities. Together we will create affordable, mobile tools to speed research, better deliver health information, and advance health for all.

By investing in the development and delivery of precision medicine, the University of Minnesota will contribute to the national effort to transform science, medicine, and public health through more precise understanding of the factors contributing to health and disease. MPMC aims to make a unique contribution through collaborative research, cutting-edge innovation, responsible policy, and sustained commitment to improving health equitably across our communities.

Fostering Just and Equitable Communities

Human rights collaborative and faculty-student human rights laboratory to promote equitable civil society

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

Co-PIs: Barbara Frey, Global Studies; Fionnuala Ni Aolain, Law; James Ron, Global Policy; Joachim Savelsberg, Sociology

Team Members: Alejandro Baer, Sociology; Elizabeth Heger Boyle, Sociology; Greta Friedemann-Sánchez, Global Policy; Jennifer Green, Law; Lisa Hilbink, Political Science; Harry Lando, Public Health; Steven Miles, Medicine; Stephen Meili, Law; Leigh Payne, Human Rights Program; Christopher Roberts, Law

A substantial cross-disciplinary and cross-collegiate group of faculty at the University of Minnesota engages in sustained collaborative research, instruction, and policy outreach on issues of human rights. The current project seeks to further strengthen the capacity of Minnesota as a nationally and internationally recognized human rights university (network of faculty engaged in human rights research). It takes the form of a research lab, serving the advancement of faculty research, graduate student training, interdisciplinary collaboration, and policy-oriented outreach. Common denominators are a focus on inequality by which we mean unequal access to and experience of a variety of resources, operationalized through the prism of human rights. Twelve lab sessions, each focused on one sub-project, will be followed by summer research stays of graduate students in a site of practice (e.g., community, NGO, policy institution, court) and faculty field site visits. Results include intensified scholarship-practice ties, scholarly publications, and grant proposals for external funding.

Social justice through collaborative artistic expression: The state of Iberoamerican Studies Series: human rights across the disciplines and Voice to Vision project

$55k GC Exploratory Research Grant; includes $15k international enhancement award

Co-PIs: Luis A. Ramos-Garcia, Spanish & Portuguese Studies; David Feinberg, Art

Team Members: Beth Andrews, Art; Patricia Ariza, Artistic Director La Candelaria Theater; Nelsy Echávez-Solano, Spanish-Portuguese Studies; Carlos E. Satizábal, Theater Director, Universidad Nacional da Colombia

This project weaves a crosshatched path in multiple directions between performance art, civil war narratives, cultural studies, theater, human rights, and all manners of political activism. Struck by Colombia’s civil war, and by how visually rich the conflict and its artistic responses were as intellectual groups actively responded to violence and its fractured memories, this project developed a proposal to record the cultural responses to the conflict, and to turn those responses into non-ephemeral images, increasing the possibilities of an artistic language, and providing a fuller expression and understanding of complex human rights violations. At Minnesota, Voice to Vision and The State of Iberoamerican Studies conducted artistic workshops and critical fora bringing together traditional scholarly approaches as well as the powerful political voices of contemporary non-canonical cultural narratives. After having produced several art pieces on Latin American theater directors and human rights activists, directors of the 50-year-old La Candelaria Theater and members of the Corporacion Colombiana de teatro will visit Minnesota in 2017. In 2018, a Minnesota delegation will travel to Colombia to exhibit its art installations, and to research on how political theater and the arts could form a symbiotic alliance to become a tool against war, genocide, impugnity, displacement, and amnesia.

Understanding barriers to health equity

$56k GC Exploratory Research Grant

Co-PIs: Sarah Gollust, Health Policy & Management; Joanne Miller, Political Science

The project examines the political and psychological factors that impede the political will to act to foster just and equitable communities. In particular, survey and experimental research methods will be used to examine what beliefs among the public, particularly beliefs in misinformation and conspiracy theories, lead to decreased support for policies to combat inequities, focusing on the domains of health, education, income, and criminal justice. The key premise of this work is that misinformation and conspiracy theories (about inequality in general and the specific domain in particular) can lead to polarization and mistrust, as well as a policy discourse that emphasizes group separation at the expense of discourse about community-building. Together, these factors can decrease the political will to advocate for policies aimed at combating inequalities—among members of the public and policymakers alike. The project will move on to examine ways to mitigate the negative effects of misinformation.

Voicing the global immigration crisis: Documentation and analysis of immigrant stories for social change

$80k GC Exploratory Research Grant; includes $20k international enhancement award

Co-PIs: Erika Lee, Immigration Research; Moin Syed, Psychology

The project employs diverse cross-disciplinary perspectives and methods to document, understand, and improve immigrant adaptation. The project will first use the innovative digital storytelling technology designed and built by the University of Minnesota Immigration History Research Center to gather data from recent immigrants in Gothenburg, Sweden, and Berlin, Germany—in two countries currently experiencing unprecedented levels of new migration. The research team will then use quantitative psychological methods to code these accounts, along with more than 200 existing U.S.-based immigrant stories already collected, to analyze immigrant adaptation experiences and to design interventions to increase positive immigrant adjustment. The project includes an international symposium bringing together scholars from a wide range of disciplines to study immigrant adaptation through digital storytelling in both the U.S. and Europe. The impact of this research will lie in the development of cross-cultural understandings of immigrant adjustment and in providing a platform for marginalized communities to share their stories that potentially can help others.

Assessing interventions for justice and equity

$249k GC Interdisciplinary Work Group Collaboration

Co-PIs: Myron Orfield, Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Law; Christopher Uggen, Sociology

Team Members: Ragui Assaad, Global Policy; Yingling Fan, Urban & Regional Planning; Paul Glewwe, Applied Economics; Rhonda Jones-Webb, Epidemiology & Community Health; Kola Okuyemi, Family Medicine & Community Health

Gaps in opportunity emerge early in life, are interlinked, are strongly influenced by racial segregation in neighborhoods and schools, and have profound effects into adulthood. Closing these gaps is crucial to building just and equitable communities. This interdisciplinary project probes Minnesota’s most ambitious efforts to redress racial and class inequality. Building on the strengths of the state’s integrated data systems and outstanding University scholars from six disciplines, it tackles the grand challenge of stubborn inequalities in education, health, transportation, employment, and safety. Our aims are to (1) evaluate the effects of programs designed to close opportunity gaps and promote healthy youth-to-adult transitions among Minnesota youth and (2) to investigate for whom these programs are most effective. More specifically, this mixed-methods study will conduct rigorous evaluations of specific programs, in the areas of both education and housing, that pursue different approaches, and are inspired by different philosophies of social change.

Enhancing Individual and Community Capacity for a Changing World

Art of healing: Embodied storytelling as resistance and practice

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

Co-PIs: Abimbola Asojo, Housing & Apparel Design; Ananya Chatterjea, Theater Arts & Dance; Jigna Desai, Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies; Roli Dwivedi, Community-University Health Care Center; Priscilla Gibson, Social Work; Lena Palacios, Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies; Madhuri Shors, Community-University Health Care Center; Catherine Squires, Communication Studies

The project is a multifaceted investigation and mapping of the conditions that make it possible for women and girls of color to stand up in resistance to structural violence, and the kind of healing that becomes possible in such situations. It will also archive the narrative and embodied responses of girls and women across multiple media so that (a) we can inquire into how such research might shape the disciplines in which we work, and (b) we can build on this project in collaboration with other communities and organizations. Art of Healing brings together perspectives from Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies; Psychiatry and Family Medicine; Dance; Communication Studies; Interior Design; and Social Work to produce an embodied, social justice agenda for research—focused on how healing and resistance is fostered and sustained by women and girls from global and U.S. communities of color.

Climate, conflict, and displacement: Shifting patterns in the Horn of Africa arid lands 

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

Co-PIs: Cheryl Robertson, Population Health & Systems, School of Nursing; Dominic Travis, Ecosystem Health Initiative

Team Members: Eunice Areba, Nursing; Joel Hartter, Environmental Studies Program, University of Colorado-Boulder; Sarah Hoffman, Nursing; Katey Pelican, Veterinary Population Medicine; Michael Mahero, Veterinary Population Medicine; Shamilah Namusisi, One Health Resident, Makerere University; Carolyn Porta, Nursing, Epidemiology; Paul M. Porter, Agronomy & Plant Genetics; Innocent B. Rwego, Veterinary Population Medicine; Jacinta Mukulu Waila, One Health Resident, Makerere University

The research team will develop a 10-year prospective cohort study of climate, conflict, and displacement in two neighboring regions in the Horn of Africa Arid Lands. We will leverage preliminary findings, strong local partnerships, and our multidisciplinary team to develop a sustainable research program that can ultimately improve the health and resilience of climate-displaced communities. Analyses of ethnographic pilot data from Turkana County, Kenya suggest a complex story of drought, violence, livelihood loss, migration, decentralization, emerging extractive industries, population pressures, ethnic and refugee tensions, hunger, opportunity, and of course, resilience. We will collect similar data from the neighboring Karamoja Region in Uganda. The Karamojong share similar livelihoods, conflicts, and climate challenges as their Turkana neighbors, although Ugandan national structures and land policies differ. These data from both regions, one on each side of the Kenyan-Ugandan border, will help inform the strategies to develop a large prospective cohort study and identify further funding mechanisms.

Cracking the speech code: A cross-linguistic neurobehavioral approach to language learning in typical and atypical populations

$51k GC Exploratory Research Grant; includes $4k international enhancement award

Co-PIs: Yang Zhang, Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences; Jed T. Elison, Child Development; Hui Zou, Statistics; Xiaohu Yang, Laboratory for Language & Cognition; Iku Nemoto, Biomedical Engineering; Hua Shu, National Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience & Learning; Suiping Wang, Psychology

Team Members: Jean Decety, Child NeruoSuite and the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, University of Chicago; Mark DeRuiter, Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences; Kaibao Hu, Foreign Languages, Shanghai Jiao tong Univeristy; Patricia Kuhl, Speech & Hearing Sciences, University of Washington; Michael Reiff, Pediatrics; Robert S, Schlauch, Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences

The project builds on international collaboration with matched funds to addresses language learning in typical and atypical populations (children with autism, dyslexia, and cochlear implants, who all have problems with speech perception). Three typologically representative languages, English (non-tonal language), Mandarin Chinese (tonal language), and Japanese (pitch accent language) are covered. Aim #1 is to apply sophisticated signal processing and statistical modelling in identifying biomarkers of speech and voice recognition deficits. Aim #2 is to investigate speech and voice processing in realistic and complex environments and how the brain mechanisms are shaped by learning experience and pathological conditions. Aim #3 is to develop tools that can deliver adaptive and customizable training methods that can optimize speech learning and social communication across ages and disorders. Our strategic plan will involve multi-year efforts in fundamental research and training, including the establishment of a scholarly exchange program and joint graduate program in speech-language-hearing sciences.

Reducing early language disparities: A key to lifelong academic, socioeconomic, and health success

$60k GC Exploratory Research Grant

Co-PIs: Lizbeth H. Finestack, Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences; Scott McConnell, Educational Psychology & Child Psychology 

The long-term aim of the project is to support the community’s goal to close educational achievement gaps and health disparities across ethnicities and socioeconomic groups. The project is grounded in an already-funded two-year project, LENA Start Implementation and Evaluation, focused on implementing a parent education intervention to promote child language development, skills critical to human development. We now expand the scope, investigators, and community connections related to the LENA Start project. We aim to build and sustain an interdisciplinary collaborative team that will (a) use its collective knowledge to implement state-of-the-art procedures for assessing language development at scale; (b) develop new procedures to extend assessments and treatment procedures to new language groups; and (c) deepen analyses of data to identify factors affecting outcomes to create more effective interventions. Our team will have a clear and strong focus on early development of children at risk in ways that set the foundation for lifelong learning and social well-being.

Reminders for readiness: E-communication to support parents in promoting early childhood development 

$250k GC Interdisciplinary Work Group Collaboration

Co-PIs: Akosua O. Addo, Music; Megan Gunnar, Institute of Child Development; Richard Lee, Psychology; Sheila Riggs, Primary Dental Care; Olihe Okoro, Pharmacy Practice & Pharmaceutical Sciences; Aaron Sojourner, Work & Organizations

Team Members: Amy Gross, Pediatrics; Katy Kozhimannil, Health Policy & Management; Amy Susman-Stillman, Center for Early Education & Child Development; Susan Walker, Family Social Science

With Reminder for Readiness (R4R), we address the challenge of racial and ethnic gaps in accessing critical information about young children’s health and development by developing, piloting, and studying a culturally relevant, acceptable text messaging system for parents of infants and toddlers. In partnership with community-based organizations in Minneapolis serving the Somali community, we will develop culturally appropriate, desired messages; form the infrastructure for effective parent recruitment; and analyze the implementation of the partnerships, text messaging system and initial impact of the messages. We hypothesize that infants and toddlers of parents receiving the text messages will have improved well-child visits, immunizations, screening, and service venue use. Embedding messages about appropriate service use in a more general stream of useful, culturally responsive content will help generate high levels of engagement in child development, and partnerships between the University of Minnesota and communities and stakeholders will improve the effectiveness of the platform and the messaging.

Shared leadership lab: Analyzing success factors to address complex societal challenges

$300k GC Interdisciplinary Work Group Collaboration; includes $50k international enhancement award

Co-PIs: Akosua O. Addo, Music; Vanessa Laird, Leadership & Management; Hari Osofsky, Joint Degree Program in Law, Science, & Technology; Kathy Quick, Leadership & Management; Myles Shaver, Strategic Management & Entrepreneurship

Team Members: John Finnegan, Epidemiology & Community Health; David MacCallum, Civic Consulting Minnesota; Guillermo Narváez, Leadership & Management; Jennifer Pelletier, Minnesota Department of Health; Shiela Riggs, Primary Dental Care; Art Rolnick, Social Problems & Policy Analysis

The Shared Leadership Lab will conduct and stimulate research into the success factors of effective, cross-cutting collaboration to address grand challenges. The stakeholders, organizational forms, and funding mechanisms necessary to create, implement and sustain solutions to significant societal issues differ depending on the challenge. They may involve, for example, inter-governmental or public-private collaborations or social enterprise organizations. Understanding different forms of shared leadership and their success or limitations in different contexts is critical to building community capacity. As important, this research will help guide scholarship—indicating how and where to engage most effectively to maximize impact. Building on emerging scholarship that examines specific shared leadership applications, the Lab will focus on new research, including Grand Challenges research, involving University of Minnesota researchers. Using common survey and interview methodologies, it will provide a unique site for developing comparative analysis and actionable guidance regarding shared leadership and its success factors.

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.

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.

Integrative GC Research Initiative: Assuring Clean Water and Feeding the World

Also addresses the Enhancing Community Capacity theme

Backyard phenology: Integrating citizen science and public art to build collective agency on climate change

$250k GC Interdisciplinary Work Group Collaboration

Co-PIs: Christine Baeumler, Art; Mae Davenport, Forest Resources; Nicholas Jordan, Agronomy & Plant Genetics; Rebecca Montgomery, Forest Resources

Team Members: Chris Buyarski, Forest Resources; Francis Bettelyoun, Native Medicine Garden; Kate Flick, Forest Resources; Beth Mercer-Taylor, Institute on the Environment

The project focuses on place-based observation and study of seasons and cycles of the natural world. We will engage a wide range of urban residents fostering diverse and intergenerational participation. Participants will act both as scientists—contributing observations to an established citizen-science project (the Minnesota Phenology Network, a regional partner in the USA-National Phenology Network)—and also as artists—contributing to a collective public-art project on phenology. The Climate Chaser Mobile Phenology Lab will provide a platform to host community events and to facilitate contributions including scientific data, audio recorded stories, photography, and short video. We will study how interdisciplinary engagement in phenology affects factors that influence collective agency. We predict that integrating citizen science and socially engaged public art—thus complementing the inherently rational experience of systematic scientific observation with creative artistic experiences—will enhance place meanings, increase place identity, and ultimately, build collective agency on climate change among participants.