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Three research-led projects at Purdue awarded $143,000

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October 18-20, 2023 / Tucson, AZ
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The Story

The Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization recently awarded more than $143,000 to three research-led projects.

Each project is being led by researchers from Purdue’s College of Agriculture, College of Engineering and College of Veterinary Medicine, according to a press release.

The projects are being funded through the Trask Innovation Fund, which supports short-term projects that enhance the commercial value of Purdue’s intellectual properties, the release says.

Guri Johal, a professor in the department of botany and plant pathology in the College of Architecture, received $49,013 for his “Cloning and Validating the Gene Responsible for a Novel, Dominant Dwarf Mutant of Maize” project.

Johal is currently developing a corn variant that could impact worldwide corn productions, especially regarding corn’s height, according to the release.

“Short-statured corn is more resilient than traditional corn and requires less inputs and farmland,” Johal said. “This enhances the margin for farmers and protects the environment in the process. The corn industry also stands to gain as more seed will be needed to plant the crop at higher densities.

Johal’s short-corn variant, D16, will be further supported by the Trask fund.

“This Trask award will allow me to hire a postdoctoral fellow trained in genetics and genomics to clone the gene that underlies D16,” he said. “Once the mutant gene is cloned, we will have to validate it in either corn or another model plant, such as Arabidopsis. The correct cloning of the gene will also be validated by targeted mutagenesis of D16 in corn.”

Dr. Deborah Knapp, a distinguished professor of comparative oncology in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Saeed Mohammadi, a professor of electrical and computer engineer in the College of Engineering, were jointly awarded $44,656 for their project, “Detecting Transitional Cell Carcinoma and Leptospirosis in Urine.”

The Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Friday, April 26, 2019 in West Lafayette.

This project focuses on creating a fast, noninvasive and low-cost cancer screening technique, according the release. While the project’s initial focus is detecting bladder cancer found in dogs, the eventual goal is to detect cancer and other diseases in humans.

“Deborah is a world-renowned researcher on TCC (transitional cell carcinoma). She will help with testing TCC and control samples,” Mohammadi said in the release. “We hope to improve the sensitivity and specificity of our technique so it can be used to detect the disease at early stages and improve the prognosis of the disease. If this can be established, there will be a good potential for the application of such a simple and noninvasive technique for screening cancer in humans.”

The final researcher to gain financial support from the Trask fund is Torbert Rocheford, the Patterson Endowed chair for Translational Genomics in Crop Improvement in the College of Agriculture’s agronomy department.

Rocheford received $50,000 for his project, “Developing High-Carotenoid Orange Sweet Corn.” Once developed, Rocheford’s project will be licensed to NutraMaize, Rocheford’s own startup company led by his co-founder and son, CEO Evan Rocheford.

Evan Rocheford, chief executive officer of NutraMaize LLC, holds up orange corn along with ears of yellow and white corn. The orange corn was developed by his father, Torbert Rocheford, the Patterson Endowed Chair in Translational Genomics for Crop Improvement in the Purdue College of Agriculture’s department of agronomy through a process known as biofortification to naturally increase the amount of provitamin A carotenoids in corn.

Torbert Rocheford pointed out that Americans are at a significant risk of losing their vision as they age due to a lack of carotenoids in their diets, predominantly lutein and zeaxanthin.

“Lutein and zeaxanthin are predominantly found in green, leafy vegetables, which unlike sweet corn, are consumed in very low quantities in the U.S.,” Rocheford said in the release. “The goal of developing high-carotenoid varieties of sweet corn is to create an accessible and popular food that can make a meaningful impact on the amount of health-protecting lutein and zeaxanthin consumed by Americans.

“As the commercial leader in Orange Field Corn, NutraMaize is excited to partner with Purdue to bring this exciting innovation to market that has the potential to positively impact the health status of millions of Americans.”

Source: Three research-led projects at Purdue awarded $143,000

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