Iowa State University Awards Seed Grants Supporting Bioscience-Focused Research Initiatives

By Dan Kirkpatrick, Iowa State University Office of the Vice President for Research

Faster transfer of new discoveries and technologies from the university lab bench to the commercial marketplace is a linchpin for driving real economic growth for Iowa in the biosciences.

Iowa State University is helping fuel this engine through bioscience-based research seed grants made possible by funding allocated by the Iowa Legislature. The Office of the Vice President for Research recently awarded grants for the 2020 fiscal year to four projects designed to advance new discoveries in Biobased Products and two more to support Vaccines and Immunotherapeutics.

The university purposely structured the seed grants to encourage and facilitate better industry-university collaborations to sharpen focus on research projects that present greater opportunities for commercialization in two of the bioscience categories the state has identified as crucial for future economic growth. Each project selected for funding was required to have an industry partner to help facilitate this path to eventual commercialization.

“Governor Kim Reynolds understands that the biosciences offer a tremendous opportunity to advance and grow Iowa’s economy,” said Sarah Nusser, Iowa State University vice president for research. “Our university is committed to supporting this critical priority by accelerating commercially focused research and technology transfer that can spur startups and support established industry leaders. These seed grants are a valuable first step in building a stronger and more sustainable economy by helping position the state as a leader in both the Biobased Products and Vaccines and Immunotherapeutics areas.”

Below are brief overviews of the FY20 seed grant recipients:

Biobased Products

Project Title: Valorization of Corn Steep Liquor for Production of Recombinant Antifreeze Proteins for Food Applications

Industry Partner: Kent Corporation

Principal Investigator: Buddhi Lamsal, associate professor, food and bioprocess engineering

• Each year the state of Iowa processes approximately eight to 10 million tons of corn through wet milling for food, feed, and industrial uses. This process yields a relatively low-value byproduct known as corn steep liquor (CSL). The focus of this research is to explore CSL – which is rich in amino acids, vitamins, and minerals – as a fermentation medium for producing higher-value biobased chemicals that ultimately deliver more benefit to the industry, state, and environment.

Project Title: Development of Amphiphilic Polymers for Asphalt Maintenance, Coatings, and Adhesives From Corn Sugar-Derived Glucaric Acid

Industry Partner: Archer-Daniels Midland (ADM)

Principal Investigator: Eric Cochran, professor, chemical and biological engineering

• The goal of this project is to develop and characterize amphiphilic and super-absorbent materials derived from corn sugar for use in asphalt emulsions, coatings, adhesives, and consumer products. The research offers the long-term potential of upgrading thousands of tons of low-value corn sugars into valuable polymers with multi-billion-dollar market potential.

Project Title: Novel Approaches for Improving Biobased Coatings and Composites Comprised of Iowa Biomass Derivatives

Industry Partners: Siegwork USA, Pella Corporation, Dickson Industries Inc.

Principal Investigator: Shan Jiang, assistant professor, Materials Science and Engineering

• Cellulose and starch are abundant, renewable polymers derived from Iowa crop sources, primarily corn and biomass. However, these polymers sometimes suffer from poor physical properties and water-sensitivity. The focus of this research is to 1) Understand how the hierarchical structures of biobased polymers can affect product performance and 2) Determine innovative chemical and physical approaches that help improve performance. The results of this study will help increase the use of these polymers in additives, coatings, and composite materials, providing alternative revenue streams for the Iowa biochemical industry.

Project Title: Leveraging Transposon Technology to Accelerate the Development Process of Microbial Cell Factories for High-level Production of Biobased Chemicals

Industry Partners: Kemin Industries, Cargill, Puretein Bioscience

Principal Investigator: Zengyi Shao, associate professor, chemical and biological engineering

• Shao’s industry partners are intrigued by her research team’s work in genetically engineering high-performance yeast strains to create microbial mediums that offer the potential to more cost-efficiently produce larger quantities of high-value compounds. Zeaxanthin is a product Kemin sells globally for its eye-health benefits. Norcoclaurine is a compound Puretein values because it is a precursor of many plant-sourced natural products with high nutraceutical values. And Cargill sees strong potential in Itaconic acid as a precursor for creating co-polymers used as powerful absorbents in disposable diapers and hygiene products.

Vaccines and Immunotherapeutics

Project Title: Assessment of a Recombinant Glycoprotein 2-4 Vaccine and Novel Platform for Rapid Production of Neutralizing Antibodies Against Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome in Swine

Industry Partner: Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica

Principal Investigator: Bailey Aruda, assistant professor and diagnostic pathologist, veterinary production and food animal medicine

• Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV) is estimated to cost the U.S. swine industry approximately $560 million a year. The purpose of this project is to explore if a cost-effective, single-dose recombinant PRRSV glycoproteins 2-4 (rGP2-4)/polyanhydride-based vaccine will stimulate sufficient neutralizing antibody production against a PRRSV challenge. The hope is the research will pave the way for additional animal studies with Boehringer Ingelheim while also supporting a USDA NIFA Foundational Program grant proposal to further evaluate the platform’s efficacy.

Project Title: Development of a Novel Nanovaccine Against PRRSV: Induction of Humoral and Cell-Mediated Immunity

Industry Partner: Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica

Principal Investigator: Tanja Opriessnig, professor and diagnostic pathologist, veterinary production and food animal medicine

• The cost and impact of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV) is noted in the previously mentioned project. One of the most significant challenges with the disease is its various strains and differing level of virulence in different parts of the world. The purpose of this project is to develop a nanoparticle-based PRRSV nanovaccine (NV) that encapsulates three PRRSV-2 strains from different origins. This NV formulation will be compared in a PRRSV challenge model side-by-side with a commonly used modified live virus (MLV) vaccine. Ultimately, this study will contribute to the development of an efficient PRRSV nanovaccine that combines the best qualities of the MLV and inactivated vaccines.