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VSU Awarded $800,000 in Agricultural Research

Published date: November 22, 2017

Researchers within the Virginia State University’s Agricultural Research Station (VSU-ARS) have received two United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) capacity building grants (CBG) worth more than $800,000.

One three-year grant, valued at $416,248.00, was awarded to Dr. Guo-Liang Jiang and his colleagues Dr. Shuxin Ren, Dr. Xu, Dr. Vitalis Temu and Dr. Maru Kering, for their research in trait characterization and germplasm development of edamame and dual-purpose specialty soybean. The project aims to significantly strengthen VSU’s research capacity in plant sciences, particularly in breeding, genetics, genomics, and agronomical management of soybean and specialty crops.

Edamame and specialty soybeans are a high-value crop and an excellent option for small farmers in southern Virginia who traditionally grew commercial tobacco. As more people in the U.S. have become aware of edamame’s nutritional benefits, market demand for edamame and specialty soybeans has grown. Very few U.S. breeding programs focus on edamame and/or specialty soybeans, so the U.S. market relies on imports from China and other Asian countries.

“This award will greatly help us to strengthen our capability and competence in related research; further develop and expand the scope as well as the content of research; and increase collaboration with other faculty at VSU and cooperation with USDA-ARS units and land-grant universities,” Dr. Jiang said. “In particular, our research will be expanded from edamame focus to other food-grade specialty soybeans.”

The second three-year grant, valued at $295,274, will explore the use of high-pressure processing (HPP), a non-thermal technology, to reduce salt in processed meat products. Excessive consumption of dietary salt is a pressing health concern. The American Medical Association, the American Heart Association, the American Public Health Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called for urgent action to reduce the level of salt, specifically sodium, in the American diet. Processed foods contribute 75 percent of salt to the American diet, and processed meats are the second highest source of salt.

“I am very happy and excited to receive this grant,” Dr. Yixiang Xu said. “Our project addresses the national need to identify solutions for improving human health, nutrition, and food safety. Salt reduction in processed foods is a high priority for consumers, health professionals and the food industry.”

Dr. Xu and Dr. Kim’s were awarded the grant for their proposal to investigate the efficacy of HPP in combination with grape pomace, a source of natural compounds with antioxidant and antimicrobial activities, as a means to reduce salt in processed meats to address human nutrition and food safety issues.

HPP—which retains most of the nutritional and sensory qualities of food—is predicted to become the most commercially important food processing technology worldwide in the next 10 years, especially for the meat and poultry industry. Research institutions within the U.S. and globally have studied HPP. Currently though, no research and training capacity in HPP technology is available at any 1890 land-grant institution. 1890s land-grant institutions like VSU are historically black colleges and universities dedicated to providing educational opportunity for all through innovative scientific research and community-minded extension programs.

“Research capacity in non-thermal technologies developed through this project will be integrated with other research and extension areas at VSU like food safety, meat science, human nutrition and specialty crops and will substantially enhance the overall research capability at the VSU-ARS,” Dr. Xu said.

Collaboration between the project’s principal researchers at VSU with external partners from USDA-ARS will promote an interdisciplinary approach to strengthen VSU research capacity on meat safety and quality. In addition, the involvement of students in this proposed research provides a platform for exposing minority students to state-of-the-art research and technologies, and thereby strengthens their academic experience and job-market competitiveness.

Founded in 1882, Virginia State University is one of Virginia’s two land-grant institutions and is located 20 minutes south of Richmond in the village of Ettrick.