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UC Riverside receives grant for global health and development research

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( The Bourns College of Engineering at UC Riverside announced today (May 9) that it is a Grand Challenges Explorations winner, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Hideaki Tsutsui, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, will pursue an innovative global health and development research project, titled "A Biotic Stress Sensor Printed on Maize Leaves."

Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges. Tsutsui's project is one of over 100 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 8 grants announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

"Grand Challenges Explorations encourages individuals worldwide to expand the pipeline of ideas where creative, unorthodox thinking is most urgently needed," said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "We're excited to provide additional funding for select grantees so that they can continue to advance their idea towards global impact."

To receive funding, Tsutsui and other Grand Challenges Explorations Round 8 winners demonstrated in a two-page online application a bold idea in one of five critical global heath and development topic areas that included agriculture development, immunization and nutrition. Applications for the current open round, Grand Challenges Explorations Round 9, will be accepted through May 15, 2012.

Tsutsui's project is designed to develop a low-cost method of directly printing biosensors on maize leaves for colorimetric detection of biotic stresses. Maize (known in many English-speaking countries as corn) is one of the most widely grown staple crops in Sub-Saharan Africa and often suffers from significant loss at both pre- and post-harvest stages due to biotic stresses such as viruses, fungi, bacteria, insects and other pests and pathogens. Whereas means to improve protection of maize crops, including adoption of improved seed varieties, use of fertilizers, and application of pesticides, are available, they are not widely employed by small farmers in many countries in the region due to their high cost.

Tsutsui and his research group will design a self-inking biosensor stamp that will print a colorimetric "paper test" directly onto live maize leaves. Like a home pregnancy test, which detects human chorionic gonadotropin and displays visible lines on a paper strip, the printed biosensor will detect biotic stress markers such as fungal toxins in the plant vascular system and display graphic indicators, visually alarming the farmers to take quick and appropriate action to segregate or treat affected plants. Such a simple, low-cost, and easy-to-use method of monitoring biotic stresses could help the small farmers preventing disastrous loss of a staple food and a dominant income source and have great impact on food security of the region.

Contact: Sean Nealon
University of California - Riverside

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