University of Rochester

University of Rochester Professor to Receive Grand Challenges Explorations Grant

May 9, 2012

Grant Will Be Used for Groundbreaking Research in Global Health and Development

University of Rochester biologist John Jaenike has been named a recipient of a grant from Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The $100,000 grants are given for innovative projects that "break the mold" in trying to solve important problems in global health and development.

Jaenike's project, which will apply his previous research to help protect crops from pests without using toxic pesticides, is one of more than 100 projects funded in the eighth round of the Grand Challenges Explorations program.

Two years ago, Jaenike published the surprising discovery that animals infected with a beneficial bacterium can pass the trait on to their offspring. The bacterium, Spiroplasma, is found in some common fruit flies and provides the flies with resistance to a tiny, parasitic worm called a nematode. Nematodes also attack plants, causing crop losses each year of more than $125 billion, much of it in the developing world. The goal of Jaenike's Grand Challenges Explorations-funded proof of concept project is to see if in controlled trials the bacterium can protect crop plants from nematodes in the same way it protects fruit flies. If that is possible, it could both reduce the use of toxic chemicals and increase crop yields.

"Along with environmental health concerns about the use of toxic nematicidal compounds, small-scale farmers in developing countries often cannot afford them, and the nematodes may evolve resistance to them," said Jaenike. "Therefore, there is much interest in the development of nematode-resistant crops."

"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, Jaenike 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 agricultural development, immunization and nutrition. Applications for the current open round, Grand Challenges Explorations Round 9, will be accepted through May 15, 2012.

About Grand Challenges Explorations
Grand Challenges Explorations is a US$100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, over 600 people in 45 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants. The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization. The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short two-page online applications and no preliminary data required. Initial grants of US$100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to US$1 million.