Office of the Vice President for Research announces PIRI, PIRS grant recipients

By Paula Van Brocklin, Office of the Vice President for Research

The Office of the Vice President for Research at Iowa State University has announced two awardees for the 2018 Presidential Interdisciplinary Research Initiative (PIRI) and two recipients for the spring 2018 Presidential Interdisciplinary Research Seed Grant Program (PIRS). The grant winners are principal investigators of interdisciplinary research teams aiming to make ground-breaking discoveries that address state, national and global challenges.

“The presidential interdisciplinary research programs help research teams take risks in developing early-stage ideas or building large transformative teams, with the goal of accelerating discovery and creating a  positive impact on society,” said Sarah Nusser, vice president for research. “The winning teams collectively address significant issues in health and sustainability for people, animals, plants and the environment, and offer excellent examples of the capacity of Iowa State research to make a real difference in the world.”

A closer look at PIRI

Established in 2012 and sponsored by the Office of the President, PIRI provides large, interdisciplinary research groups funds ranging from $125,000 to $250,000 annually for up to three years to address emerging societal issues. The goal of PIRI is to accelerate the growth of existing interdisciplinary research teams, addressing large complex research problems to positively impact society. For their part, the research groups are expected to define an integrated interdisciplinary research effort distinguished by intellectual excellence and driven by a clear vision of fundamental advances, new discoveries or technological developments with state, national and global impacts. In addition, the groups’ work should be attractive to multiple funding agencies.

2018 PIRI recipients

The 2018 PIRI recipients and a brief look at their research follows:

Lisa Schulte Moore, professor in Natural Resource Ecology and Management, and her research team are developing the Consortium for Cultivating Human And Naturally reGenerative Enterprises, or C-CHANGE, to catalyze new science and engineering breakthroughs to deliver abundant, affordable and safe food to 10 billion people without compromising the Earth’s supportive capacity in the long term. The focus of C-CHANGE is the concept of “disproportionate benefits,” which means implementing small but strategic changes in agricultural methods to yield large, positive outcomes for both the natural landscape and human communities. As a result, C-CHANGE will promote positive outcomes for Iowa State, society as a whole and the environment through shared learning and engaged citizens; new collaborations and partnerships; renewed focus and funding; scientific breakthroughs; interdisciplinary leadership and economic development.

Paul Plummer is executive director of the newly established National Institute of Antimicrobial Resistance Research and Education, director of the Antimicrobial Resistance Consortium, and associate professor of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine and veterinary microbiology and preventive medicine. He and his university researcher partners understand that antibiotics are one of the greatest discoveries of all time, yet antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is threatening both human and animal health. This fact initiated the development of the Antimicrobial Resistance Consortium, a regional network of AMR scientists, researchers, educators and extension personnel from Iowa State; the University of Iowa; the University of Nebraska, Lincoln; Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota; and two U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service teams. Together, this group aims to reduce antimicrobial resistance through unified and proven multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional research teams; development of several large-scale, multi-disciplinary external research proposals; and creation of an industry-academic-government partnership focused on prevention, mitigation and management of antimicrobial resistance. Initiative funding will be used by the Antimicrobial Resistance Consortium to deepen Iowa State’s research portfolio in strategic areas of antimicrobial resistance in order to increase the competitiveness of the teams for large-scale extramural funding programs. Building upon these investments, PIRI funds will locally aid in positioning Iowa State faculty as key research and opinion leaders in the National Institute for Antimicrobial Resistance Research and Education.

A closer look at PIRS

Sponsored by Iowa State’s Office of the President and an endowment from the Mary G. Miller estate, PIRS grants are awarded each year. They are designed to support early-stage high-risk, high-reward projects that help researchers from different disciplines collaborate on groundbreaking research, including collecting research data, organizing research workshops and building partnerships with other research organizations. Funding for the PIRS program is a maximum $50,000 total per project, over a two-year period.

Spring 2018 PIRS recipients

The spring 2018 PIRS grant recipients and a brief summary of their research projects are below:

Diane Bassham, Loomis Professor of Plant Physiology and professor of genetics, development and cell biology, and her campus research team contend that they can compare phenotypes across a wide range of species and, therefore, translate basic findings in model species to agricultural and medical applications. The hurdle, however, is that computational tools to easily compare phenotypes across divergent organisms do not yet exist. Bassham and her research team plan to assemble a group of scientists who will create novel computational tools to identify equivalent phenotypes across a variety of organisms, leveraging knowledge gained through one organism and applying it to others, and thereby finding new genes relevant to disease processes. Together, the scientists will develop tools to identify phenologs, design protocols for testing predictions and seek external funding to continue studying the disease genes they identify.

Melha Mellata, assistant professor, food science and human nutrition, and her group of interdisciplinary researchers, are developing virtual, natural-like environments in poultry housing that combine the benefits of cage-free and free-range farms without the threat of disease outbreaks, cannibalism and high feed costs. The group will use cutting-edge tools to track behavior, stress and disease resistance to evaluate new housing environments that will positively impact the health and welfare of chickens. Establishing these measures will allow poultry producers to build best practices and create cost-effective strategies to prevent infections in cage-free poultry farms.

Next rounds of PIRI, PIRS funding

Pre-proposals for PIRI funding are due to the Office of the Vice President for Research by Jan. 15, 2019. Invitations for full proposals will be sent by Feb. 1, 2019. Full proposals are due March 18, 2019. Additional information and an application are online.

A call for the next round of PIRS proposals will be due Nov. 30.