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Enhancing Biotechnology Capacity to Strengthen the Life Sciences in Rhode Island

Rhodes III, Rick
University of Rhode Island
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The co-investigators of this proposal have selected to focus their efforts in environmental biotechnology in three areas: plant biotechnology, aquaculture biotechnology and emerging infectious diseases.

To facilitate progress and develop a critical mass of researchers in these areas, we seek funds from the USDA to support the salaries of six postdoctoral fellows, the supplies needed by the fellows and acquisition of critical instrumentation. Postdoctoral fellows will be recruited to work on the research projects described in this proposal in active labs with extramural funding from a variety of sources.

This proposal will support six projects. We briefly describe in the following section approach and impact of each project.

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Non-Technical Summary: The University has also made a firm commitment to enhancing institutional capacity in state-of-the-art molecular biology and biotechnology. The Institution has created core facilities for genomics, proteomics, transgenics and imaging. However, input of additional funds is required for acquisition of supplementary instrumentation and the human capital required to build a culture of biotechnology research and to foster novel, relevant, investigations in areas of agricultural, environmental and economic value to the state, region and nation. The pupose of this project is secure funds to build a culture of biotechnology research and to foster novel, relevant, investigations in areas of agricultural, environmental and economic value to the state, region and nation.

Approach: 1. Characterization of Osmotic Stress Genes and Their Role in Seawater Adaptation of Salmon. Impact: Generate fundamental knowledge of the molecular mechanisms of life history changes in salmon (e.g. , the acquisition of seawater tolerance during migration) which will improve culture strategies and profits to commercial aquaculturists. 2. The Role of the TCA Cycle and Gluconeogenesis in Salmonella typhimurium Pathogenesis. Impact: Human salmonellosis symptoms include attacks of abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. We believe the approach employed in this research of generating avirulent strains of Salmonella for use in live oral vaccines holds great promise for animals and humans. 3. Molecular Responses of Oysters to Infection: Identification and Characterization of Immune-related Molecules. Impact: The growing consumer demand for bivalves (oysters, clams, scallops, mussels) coupled with declining fisheries, opens the opportunity for the expansion of bivalve aquaculture in the United States. Unfortunately, a variety of diseases severely impact bivalves in the coastal waters of the United States. Knowledge of the oyster defense systems and the mechanisms used by pathogens to evade oyster responses will assist in developing strategies to promote disease resistance. 4. A Novel Method for Gene Confinement and Increasing Biomass for Production of Biofuels in Genetically Engineered Perennial Crops. Impact: Development of a significant national capacity to utilize perennial forage crops such as switchgrass as biofuels could provide independence from foreign oil, a cleaner source of energy for road fuel to diminish greenhouse gas emissions and benefit our agricultural economy. The proposed research seeks to increase the biofuel value of switchgrass using molecular techniques to shut down reproduction and enhance vegetative growth (i.e., plant mass). 5. RNA Interference (RNAi) to Study Tick-Borne Disease Transmission Processes. Impact: Ticks are notorious as vectors of human and animal pathogens and cause annual economic losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars to cattle throughout the world. Ticks also transmit several human pathogens, including the agents that cause Lyme disease, babesiosis and anaplasmosis. Identifying viable biological targets and dissecting signaling pathways will enhance development of vaccination or pharmaceutical therapies for tick control and protection of humans and animals. 6. The Effects of a Mucus Growth Gene, MugA, Virulence Gene Expression in Vibrio anguillarum. Impact: Vibrio anguillarum causes vibriosis in fish, bivalves and crustaceans, a devastating disease that causes significant economic losses to the aquaculture industry. This work will improve management strategies for prevention of this bacterial disease. Overall, these projects address issues consistent with the goals and missions of the USDA, address immediate needs in the specified areas of biotechnology, and ultimately will lead to workforce development, contributions to the knowledge economy, increased agricultural production, community economic vitality and enhanced relationships between agriculture and the environment.

Funding Source
Nat'l. Inst. of Food and Agriculture
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Bacterial Pathogens