CAFNR Faculty Part of Approximately $11 Million in Funds from UM System, Mizzou Following Strategic Research Investment

The University of Missouri System has announced $20.5 million in awards for its first round of research funding to address grand challenges, foster system-wide collaboration and enhance faculty research through new equipment. This is part of the System’s plan to strategically invest $50 million in research and creative works over the next five years, announced last fall. Researchers from CAFNR are part of approximately $11 million of the funding, along with colleagues from other MU colleges, and, in one case, from UMKC. Three of the funded projects are led by CAFNR faculty.

“I am very proud that CAFNR was so well represented among the funded projects,” said Shibu Jose, CAFNR’s interim associate dean for research. “Our research is vital to the top priorities of the UM System, and is also looking to solve the most important issues in our world today. This just shows the extremely high level of research happening in our college and its relevance to the people of the state and beyond.”

The System received more than 115 proposals for this year’s strategic investments, 19 of which were funded. Eleven million is provided by the UM System, and the remaining funds are from the four universities.

Project selection looked to support the system’s highest priority, the NextGen Precision Health Initiative and Institute, in addition to funding projects that showcase collaboration across the four System campuses, according to the UM System.

CAFNR’s funded research projects include (CAFNR-affiliated researchers are starred):

Missouri Resource for Cryo-Electron Microscopy
PI: Michael Chapman*, MU
Co-PIs: Donald Burke, Jack Tanner*, Tommi White, Lloyd Sumner*, Xiaolan Yao

This proposal aims to acquire a Talos Arctica™ Cryo-Electron Microscope (EM) to equip researchers with the leading cryo-EM technology to investigate fundamental biomolecular interactions and enable pharmaceutical development, but will also have remote operation capabilities for scientists throughout the state who prefer to mail samples rather than travel to Columbia. In the coming months, University leaders will coordinate with Dr. Chapman and other faculty colleagues to leverage this investment and develop a center for excellence in electron microscopy with donors and industry partners.

NovaSeq Instrumentation and Sequencing: Leveraging MU Resources for Advancing Research
PI: Wesley Warren*, MU
Co-PIs: Leslie Lyons, Robert Schnabel*, Kevin F. Staveley-O’Carroll, Douglas C Miller, Peter J Tonellato

Technological advances in DNA sequencing have revolutionized biomedical science and health care approaches, but constant technological advances require continued investment. This proposal aims to maintain MU’s excellence in research by providing researchers with the Illumina®NovaSeq system, the latest disruptive technology that offers quantum enhancements in speed, volume and quality of sequencing at a significantly lower cost – an upgrade that will allow MU’s sequencing capabilities to match or exceed those of the top research universities around the world.

Modeling Early Pregnancy in Humans
PI: Thomas Spencer*, MU
Co-PIs: Toshihiko Ezashi*, Amanda Patterson*, Laura Schulz, Danny Schust, Bret Ulery

Problems during early pregnancy can cause infertility, miscarriage and other complications, but this crucial period is poorly understood because it is impossible to obtain tissue samples from pregnant women in the first trimester. This project aims to develop the first model of human implantation in a laboratory dish without using human embryos, opening new possibilities to study early pregnancy, develop reproductive therapies and solve fertility problems that affect 50% of all women worldwide during their life.

Establishment of the NextGen Data Analytics Center
PI: Praveen Rao, UMKC; Prasad Calyam, MU
Co-PIs: Zhu Li, Viviana Grieco, UMKC; Peter Tonellato, Deepthi Rao, Prasad Calyam, MU; Sanjay Madria, Missouri S&T; Timothy Middelkoop, Kannappan Palaniappan, Satish Nair, Ye Duan, Trupti Joshi*, MU

The traditional model of a central supercomputer resource that serves the majority of campus users falls short of the new reality in which collaborative, interdisciplinary and highly data/computation-intensive resources are not always within campus boundaries. This project will support a “community-scale” research computing approach that will advance systemwide research and education collaborations and seamlessly integrate local and remote resources, directly supporting the NextGen Precision Health Initiative in addition to many other research collaborations across the UM System. This center will be the first of its kind in the UM System, capable of analyzing and storing massive datasets, bringing new capabilities to our researchers and students in an era of the rapidly growing demand for data scientists. In the coming months, university leaders will coordinate with Drs. Rao and Calyam and other faculty colleagues to leverage this investment with donors and industry partners.

Center for Vector-borne and Emerging Infectious Diseases
PI: Deborah Anderson, MU
Co-PIs: Brenda Beerntsen, Donald Burke-Aguero, Deborah Finke*, Alexander Franz, Bret Ulery

Missouri is the perfect environment for mosquitos, fleas and ticks to infect livestock and humans with the horrific diseases caused by Zika, West Nile and other viruses. In response to recent major outbreaks in humans and the lack of understanding about these diseases, this research team will study insect vectors to understand the mechanics that drive the spread of disease and develop new approaches for diagnosis and treatment.