North Carolina State University Receives Grand Challenges Explorations Grant For Groundbreaking Research in Global Health and Development

Date posted: May 10, 2012

picture of Dr. Steve LommelDr. Steve Lommel

North Carolina State University announced today (May 10, 2012) that it won a grant from Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  Julie Willoughby, assistant professor of textile engineering, chemistry and science, and Steve Lommel, William Neal Reynolds distinguished professor of plant pathology, will pursue an innovative global health and development research project, titled “Field Deployable Nutrient-Rich Biodegradable Matrix for Crop Protection.”

Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges.  Julie Willoughby’s project is one of over 100 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 8 grants announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Grand Challenges Explorations encourages individuals worldwide to expand the pipeline of ideas where creative, unorthodox thinking is most urgently needed,” said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  “We’re excited to provide additional funding for select grantees so that they can continue to advance their idea towards global impact.”

To receive funding, Willoughby and Lommel along with other Grand Challenges Explorations Round 8 winners demonstrated in a two-page online application a bold idea in one of five critical global heath and development topic areas that included agriculture development, immunization and nutrition. Applications for the current open round, Grand Challenges Explorations Round 9, will be accepted through May 15, 2012.

A key initiative is addressing global food security, specifically for this project, the team is focused on the rapidly growing Eastern Africa population.  Cassava, corn, potato and sweet potato are among the major food crops of these countries providing income and meeting staple needs for households. Poor plant health due to pests and diseases is a major contributing factor to low crop productivity. Unfortunately, subsistence farming practices in sub-Sahara Africa such as use of land-raised seeds, mono-cultivation, and virtually non-existent seed treatment techniques, result in nutrient-deprived soil and plant pathogenic nematode infestation.  As these parasitic roundworms attack crop root systems, they feed upon crucial growth nutrients reducing crop yields.  The surviving plants also are more vulnerable to secondary infections, drought, and lodging due to severely compromised root systems. It is essential to reduce the nematode population in these farming communities to increase crop yields to help improve the people’s prosperity and well-being.

This project aims to develop and validate a biodegradable cellulose matrix platform technology for seed treatment with active ingredients for crop protection enabled by nano-cargo delivery vehicles and traditional cellulosic pulping processes. The incorporation of active ingredients into a cellulose matrix, such as tissue paper, allows for widespread distribution of crop protection agents without interfering in subsistence farming practices.  The shelf-stable light-weight tissue paper can be applied at the point of seed planting where farmers can use the concept of “wrap and plant” with their own seeds.  An integral part of the project will be for  the team to establish the scientific foundation with host communities in Eastern Africa ensuring translational implementation of the prototype concept, ultimately eliminating the biotic stresses in subsistence farming that reduce crop yield and quality.

About Grand Challenges Explorations

Grand Challenges Explorations is a US$100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  Launched in 2008, over 600 people in 45 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants.  The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization.  The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short two-page online applications and no preliminary data required.  Initial grants of US$100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to US$1 million.

About NC State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences: www.cals.ncsu.edu

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is the second largest college at NC State University and one of the largest colleges of its kind in the nation, with nearly 6,000 students pursuing associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. In the classroom, we equip students for productive careers. Through research, we find solutions and develop systems with economic, environmental and social. Our extension programs are helping people in all 100 North Carolina counties and with the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians use knowledge to enhance their lives and livelihoods.

About NC State University College of Textiles: www.tx.ncsu.edu

The College of Textiles has 113 years of teaching, research, and extension.  Undergraduate degrees can be obtained in textile engineering, polymer and color chemistry, fashion and textile management, fashion and textile design and textile technology. Graduate degrees such as master of science and master of textiles and two doctorate degrees in fiber and polymer science and textile technology management are available as well as a graduate certificate in nonwovens. The new world of textiles at the College includes research and education in nonwovens, medical textiles, protective clothing, nanotextiles, smart textiles, transportation textiles, fashion, marketing, merchandising, and traditional textiles. We are home to the Nonwovens Institute and the Textile Protection and Comfort Center who also offer research and testing capabilities to the industry.  The College of Textiles has proven to be the leading textile college in the world covering all aspects of textiles from molecule to market.

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