CALS research proposals ranging from the creation of a “virtual dairy farm brain” to the effects that tiny bacteria have on our overall health are among the 21 recipients recently selected for the UW2020: WARF Discovery Initiative awards.

The goal of UW2020 is to stimulate and support cutting edge, highly innovative and groundbreaking research at UW-Madison and the acquisition of shared instruments or equipment that will open new avenues for innovative and significant research.

The seven projects with CALS affiliations are:

The Human Microbiome in Health and Disease
Cameron Currie (Principal Investigator, Bacteriology); Vatsan Raman (Co-Principal Investigator, Biochemistry); Federico Rey (Co-PI, Bacteriology); Garret Suen (Co-PI, Bacteriology)

It is estimated that more than a trillion bacterial cells are present in the human gastrointestinal tract alone. Microbes also grow on our skin, in our mouth, and even up our nose; they are everywhere and collectively this microbiota is referred to as the human microbiome. This project launches two areas of research in microbiome science — using the human microbiome as a source of new drug leads and identifying metabolites that serve as biomarkers for early life diseases (asthma and autism) and aging diseases (such as Alzheimer’s disease).

A Virtual Dairy Farm Brain: The Next Big Leap in Dairy Farm Management Applying Artificial Intelligence
Victor Cabrera (PI, Dairy Science); Tom Cox (Co-PI, Agricultural and Applied Economics); Kent Weigel (Co-PI, Dairy Science); Heather White (Co-PI, Dairy Science)

This project will develop a “virtual dairy farm brain,” a state-of-the-art suite of real-time integrated dairy farm management decision support tools. This innovative project is anticipated to transform how dairy farms will operate in the future and likely become the next big leap in dairy farm management. The project is especially important and relevant to Wisconsin, the largest dairy farm state (10,000 farms), in which dairying contributes half of the agricultural economy, has an impact of $43 billion a year, and supports 80,000 jobs.

An Adaptive Computational Pipeline to Accelerate Drug Discovery
Julie Mitchell (PI, Biochemistry)

This project will deliver a new smart, adaptive chemical screening pipeline that uses virtual screening software tools to – at a fraction of the normal screening cost – speed the discovery of drug-like compounds that exhibit some therapeutically relevant activity. Instead of screening tens to hundreds of thousands of compounds, it may be possible to guide the search using computational methods and machine learning.

Laying the Foundation for a New NSF-Funded Mathematics Institute
Julie Mitchell (Co-Investigator, Biochemistry)

This project lays the groundwork for creating a Mathematics Institute at UW-Madison that will serve both the mathematics department and the campus physical, natural and computational sciences community. Mathematics Institutes are the engines of research in Math today, reaching a large number of researchers, supporting emerging branches of research, and reacting to innovation in a timely fashion.

A Plant Phenotyping Core at the Wisconsin Crop Innovation Center to Enable Discovery and Technology Transfer
Shawn Kaeppler (PI, Agronomy); Natalie de Leon (Co-PI, Agronomy); Heidi Kaeppler (Co-PI, Agronomy); Michael Peterson (Co-PI); Richard Amasino (Co-I, Biochemistry); Jean-Michel Ane (Co-I, Bacteriology and Agronomy); Andrew Bent (Co-I, Plant Pathology); Michael Sussman (Co-I, Biochemistry)

This project funds acquisition of several pieces of equipment that will create a Plant Phenotyping Core and enhance the capabilities of the newly established Wisconsin Crop Innovation Center (WCIC), as well as partially fund a staff person to implement the imaging equipment. A Plant Phenotyping Core will provide a central resource for coordination of measurements of many properties including molecular profiles, plant growth, and response to biotic and abiotic stresses. It will also provide an innovation hub where biologists, engineers, and computational scientists – both public and private – can interact to develop new technologies and analysis approaches to enhance plant biology research.

Acquisition of State-of-the-Art Solid-State NMR Instrumentation Enabling Characterization of Nanoparticles, Catalysts, Other Novel Materials, and Biochemical Systems
Katherine Henzler-Wildman (Co-I, Biochemistry); Sundaram Gunasekaran (Co-I, Biological Systems Engineering); Joel Pedersen (Co-I, Soil Science)

This project funds the acquisition of a state-of-the-art solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) instrument for the Chemistry Department Instrumentation Center. Solid-state NMR has experienced dramatic advances in recent years, and the new capabilities will be unique in the state of Wisconsin. The project will enable significant areas of materials research to be more competitive.

Bringing the Cryo-electron Microscopy Revolution to UW-Madison
Robert Landick (PI, Biochemistry and Bacteriology); Paul Ahlquist (Co-PI, Plant Pathology); Samuel Butcher (Co-PI, Biochemistry); Marisa Otegui (Co-PI, Genetics); Katrina Forest (Co-I, Bacteriology); Katie Henzler-Wildman (Co-I, Biochemistry); Hazel Holden (Co-I, Biochemistry); Aaron Hoskins (Co-I, Biochemistry); John Markley (Co-I, Biochemistry); Tom Martin (Co-I, Biochemistry); Julie Mitchell (Co-I, Biochemistry); Kate O’Connor-Giles (Co-I, Genetics); Ann Palmenberg (Co-I, Biochemistry); Ivan Rayment (Co-I, Biochemistry); Mike Sussman (Co-I, Biochemistry)

Cryo-electron microscopy (cryoEM) is currently revolutionizing the biosciences by enabling the imaging of macromolecules, viruses, and cellular substructures at near-atomic to atomic resolutions. Many UW-Madison researchers now seek to use cryoEM in diverse and innovative ways that will help keep the campus at the bioscience frontier. A cross-college cryoEM initiative seeks to enable this research with several interlinked efforts.

To learn more and see the rest of the WARF Discovery Initiative award winners, visit the UW-Madison news website.