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USDA Grants Assist in Making Science-Based Biotechnology Risk Assessments

Media Contact: Jennifer Martin, (202) 720-8188

WASHINGTON, Dec. 21, 2012–The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has awarded 11 research grants to support risk assessment, mitigation and containment research pertaining to the introduction of genetically engineered organisms (GE) into the environment. The projects support the development of science for regulatory decisions and other USDA policies and programs related to biotechnology.

“As U.S. agriculture continues to take advantage of technology to help feed, clothe and shelter all people, we must ensure that new technologies are safe for American agriculture,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, NIFA director. “These grants will help us gain the knowledge needed to make sound, science-based decisions.”

USDA awarded the grants through the Biotechnology Risk Assessment Grants (BRAG) program, which was established in 1992. In addition to supporting research that assists federal regulatory decision-making, the BRAG program also supports conferences that bring together scientists, regulators and other stakeholders to discuss topics related to biotechnology and biotechnology risk assessment.

BRAG funding supports research in the following areas: identifying and developing practices to minimize risks associated with genetically engineered organisms; developing methods to monitor the dispersal of genetically engineered organisms; increasing knowledge about the characteristics, rates and methods of gene transfer that may occur between genetically engineered organisms and related wild and domesticated organisms; and providing analysis which compares impacts of organisms modified through genetic engineering to other types of production systems.

Fiscal Year 2012 awards include:

  • University of Georgia, Athens, Ga., Transmission genetics of sorghum to Johnsongrass gene transfer, $499,460
  • Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, Risks from field-evolved resistance to Bt corn by Western Corn Rootworm, $284,000
  • Recombinetics, Inc., St. Paul, Minn., TALEN-mediated chromosome targeting for monosexing and genetic containment in livestock, $499,915
  • Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center, Albuquerque, N.M., Antibody-based paratransgenics for Pierce's Disease: advanced methods for transmission blocking and environmental monitoring, $500,000
  • Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., Molecular genetic basis of insect resistance to Bt-crops, $499,997
  • State University of New York, College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry, Syracuse, N.Y., Evaluating environmental impacts of maturing transgenic American chestnut trees and their nut crop relative to chestnut trees produced by conventional breeding, $499,892
  • North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C., Genomic approaches for Bt resistance risk assessment and improvement of regulatory triggers,  $499,999
  • Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, Gene flow networks and potential invasiveness of perennial biofuel grasses (Miscanthus), $499,940
  • The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Ardmore, Okla., Conference proposal: 2012 World Congress on In Vitro Biology, $17,500
  • International Society for Biosafety Research Inc., Washington, D.C., Conference proposal: 12th International Symposium on the Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms, $25,000
  • USDA Agricultural Research Service, Brookings, S.D., An adaptive framework for non-target risk assessment of RNAi-based, insect-resistant GM crops, $497,464

In fiscal year 2012, a total of 52 proposals were submitted to the BRAG program requesting a total of $25,275,435. Awards totaling $4,280,667 were made to the nine highest ranked research proposals. The success rate was approximately 19 percent. The average research award was $475,630 (total costs) for approximately 36 months.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future.  More information is available at:


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