NC State’s AFNC Awards First Grants for Foundational Research

Robert Beckstead and Marissa Herchler

This week, the new Animal Food & Nutrition Consortium (AFNC) in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at NC State University announced its first round of research grants of $50,000, both to researchers in the Prestage Department of Poultry Science.

Professor Robert Beckstead’s project will address “a clear need,” he said, to identify biomarkers that can be used to quickly measure areas of gut health as they relate to changes to the diet or addition of feed additives.

Marissa Herchler’s project will use turkeys to focus on gut health and using artificial intelligence (or neural networking and machine learning) to make connections between performance parameters and expression of certain genes.

Herchler said she applied for AFNC funding for its opportunities to collaborate on research with industry.

“I’d like my research to reach as many people as possible,” Herchler said, “and [the AFNC] is a great avenue to do so.”

The AFNC is an industry-member supported consortium, focused on animal feed, nutrition and gastrointestinal health. It’s part of the Food Animal Initiative, a collaboration between CALS and the College of Veterinary Medicine. The mission: to promote innovation and advances in the nutrition, metabolism and gastrointestinal health of production and companion animals.

AFNC from the inside out

As part of its mission, the AFNC awards research grants for pre-competitive projects driven by industry needs.

[S]ponsor research that will impact not just you, but all of the sector.

Paula Barngrover of Premex cited funding research as a company goal – and reason for joining the AFNC.

“To fund research that is equally beneficial for the sector and the companies, but is not specifically competitive … is why we chose the proposals we funded,” Barngrover said.

The funded proposals “are very related” in their focus on biomarkers for determining gut health, she said. Barngrover urges others in industries impacted by animal food and nutrition to participate in the consortium, noting that they can sponsor research that will impact the entire sector.

Want to get involved? Here’s how it works.

The call for research proposals went out on January 9; proposals were due March 27. Full and association consortium members  voted on the proposals at their first Industrial Advisory Board meeting on May 15. Full members (Premex and Phytobiotics) cast two votes each while associate members (Nutriad USA, Kay Dee LLC, Oligo Basics) cast one vote each.

Beckstead and Herchler were notified at the end of May that their proposals were accepted and their projects will start in early August. AFNC-funded projects are intended to be foundational in nature, with research results available at the end of the year of funding.

“A multitude of feed products have been proposed to modulat[e] gut health in the bird,” Beckstead said. “Assessing the activity of these products to protect against gut damage in most cases is invasive, time-consuming, costly and variable… This grant from the AFNC will provide the funds to identify and test some of these biomarkers, thus improving the ability of our group to evaluate feed additives and provide better information to the industry regarding the potential use and benefits of these products.”

Funded projects should produce “preliminary or seed data” applicable to the allied animal food and nutrition industries, according to Consortium Director Peter Ferket. Funded projects are intended for short turn-around times with maximum potential for application or solution-based outcomes.

Any NC State faculty can apply for funding.

Deborah Thompson, Director of Research Partnerships for CALS, emphasized that the AFNC – and the projects it funds – are “interdisciplinary and cross-college.” Any NC State faculty member can apply.

The AFNC is actively building consortium membership. Benefits include access to funded project outcomes and the ability to help determine research priorities. The AFNC invites organizations to join the consortium – a new, innovative group that embodies NC State’s think and do attitude.

Learn more about the AFNC