2017 - 2018 CAPS Seed Grant Program Awards

We are pleased to announce that after a thorough internal and external review process, 9 awards have been made to fund exceptionally promising, innovative materials research on campus through the 2017 CAPS Seed Grant Program.

The awardees/colleges are listed here with additional information below:

These awards total $568,806 in internal research funding. The program was able to fund 32% of the proposals submitted this year; 9 out of a total 28. Congratulations to the nine research teams whose projects were selected this year for seed grant funding.


Lead PI: Bharat Bhushan

Title: Design and Nanofabrication Strategy for Bioinspired, Multifunctional Materials For the Collection of Water from Fog
Overview: Plant and animal evolution has provided mechanisms for organisms to survive in dry environments by pulling water from the air. Harnessing those mechanisms may provide a path to collect and provide safe drinking water, particularly in areas of the world where clean water is scarce. Through this transformative research, new nanomanufacturing techniques for the creation of bioinspired, durable materials for water collection are being developed. Such materials can improve the efficiency of existing fog-harvesting strategies and aid in the development of a portable water collection system for individual applications that could serve as a viable supplemental source of water for communities all over the world.
Outcome Summary: Freshwater sustains human life and is vital for human health. Water scarcity affects more than 40% of the global population and is projected to rise in certain areas as a result of factors such as climate change and population growth. For some of the poorest countries, 1 in 10 people do not have access to safe and easily accessible water sources. Thus, the current supply of freshwater needs to be supplemented to meet future needs.
In this research, chemical and structural adaptations of species in arid regions were studied and used to develop new nanomanufacturing techniques for the fabrication of bioinspired, durable materials and structures for water collection from both fog and water condensation. Large water collection nets and towers were developed to support community needs. Portable water collection systems for individual applications were also developed. Finally, consumer to military and emergency applications were discussed and water collection projections were made. 
Students and Staff Supported: Dev Gurera, Charles T. Schriner, Wei Feng, Dr. Dong Song, and Dr. Victor Multanen

Lead PI: Richard Bruno

Title: Green Tea (Camellia sinensis) for the Management of Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Overview: Green tea is rich in polyphenolic catechins that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities. Its consumption protects against disease-inducing inflammatory responses that otherwise lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) through a mechanism involving the gut-liver axis. This project focused on identifying bioactivities of specific green tea catechins that alleviate gut dysbiosis, absorption of endotoxins, and systemic inflammatory responses in a preclinical model of NAFLD. The successful completion of this work will help to support future biotechnology approaches that are directed at driving the biosynthesis of specific catechins in green tea. It will also guide clinical translational research to establish an effective dietary strategy to reduce the growing burden of NAFLD that currently affects 80-100 million Americans.
Outcome Summary: This project established the independent benefits of two green tea catechins relative to intact green tea extract on inflammatory responses along the gut-liver axis in a preclinical model for NAFLD. Both catechins attenuated disease to a similar extent as the complete extract. Important outcomes also included securing additional support from USDA-NIFA to translate these benefits for human health, authoring several publications and submitting federal grant submissions, and supporting graduate training by facilitating an MS thesis project. A new collaboration was also developed to define metabolomics responses that can potentially reveal whether the bioactivities of green tea are driven by catechins themselves, or microbial-derived metabolites generated by the gut microbiota.
Students and Staff Supported: Richard Bruno, Zhongtang Yu, Yael Vodovotz, Chris Zhu, Priyankar Dey, Bryan Olmstead, Geoff Sasaki, and Katie England 

Lead PI: Jonathan Fresnedo

Title: Development of a haploidy-inducing system for outcrossing plant species through gene-editing
Overview: This project aims to develop a strategy for generating genetically homogenous cross-pollinated plants. The implementation of this strategy is based on gene-editing and chromosome manipulation and will enable the production of plants with only one set of chromosomes, called haploids. The availability of haploids allow for the creation of genetically homogenous diploid plants, leading to more efficient plant breeding, new research into the genetics of many cross-pollinated crops, and accelerated domestication of new crops.
Outcome Summary: This project brought together researchers with distinct skills and expertise focused on the goal of applying a technique routinely used in a model species to non-model species with underdeveloped genomic resources. The project team identified knowledge gaps that need to be filled prior to the implementation of haploidy-induction through unilateral genome elimination due to a manipulated gene involved in DNA packaging. The pipeline for identifying and manipulating the DNA packaging gene allowed the scientists to submit proposals for external funding. Although these proposals were not funded, they received positive comments with respect to the comprehensiveness and versatility of the pipeline and its potential to address topics like germplasm construction in the target plant species.
Students and Staff Supported: Jonathan Fresnedo Ramirez, Anna Dobritsa, Katrina Cornish, Kyle Benzle, Rui Wang, and Cheri Nemes

Lead PI: Patrice Hamel

Title: Engineering pathways for biofuel production in microalgae
Overview: In the face of declining fossil fuel supplies and the world’s increasing demand for energy, there is an urgent need for alternative and economically viable energy sources. The goal of this project is to engineer a freshwater microalga for the production of biohydrogen (H2), a clean and renewable replacement fuel.
Outcome Summary:
H2 production is limited by the provision of electrons to the hydrogenase (HYD), a highly O2-sensitive enzyme catalyzing H2 formation. The team aimed to: 1) provide an experimental platform for hypothesis-driven optimization of H2 production and 2) enhance understanding of H2 metabolism via molecular dissection of the pathways controlling this process. Based on our current knowledge of H2 production, we combined two mutations in genes (pgrl1 and tla3) that we hypothesized limit the production of H2 in the first approach. The resulting engineered strain displayed a significantly enhanced H2 production level. In the second approach, we characterized a mutant (phx14) isolated from a forward genetic screen, which displays attenuated H2 production, accompanied by decreased HYD activity in cell-free lysates. We found that the phx14 gene in microalgae produces a protein that may hydoxylate proline and produce more H2. We hypothesize the transcription or stability of the maturase-encoding transcripts is directly or indirectly under the control of PHX14.
Students and Staff Supported: Andrew Castonguay, Nitya Subrahmanian, Dr. Dubini and Dr. Gonzalez-Ballester (U. Córdoba, Spain)


Lead PI: David Mackey

Title: Defining host and virus genetics underlying the contribution of Arabidopsis ethylene signaling to resistance against geminivirus infection
Overview: Geminiviruses, which are serious pathogens of critical staple crops (cassava, maize, beans), specialty crops (tomato, pepper), fiber crops (cotton), and potential biofuel crops (grasses) world-wide, are problematic due to a lack of resistant germplasm and the disappointing efficacy of transgenic resistance approaches. Current control measures include limiting vector populations with insecticides, which themselves are a significant health concern. Our long-term goal is to create knowledge that will inform strategies to develop resistant plants by breeding, transgenic or gene editing approaches. We propose to test the overarching hypothesis that signaling dependent on the gaseous plant hormone, ethylene, is a key component of host defense against geminiviruses. The work will test the hypothesis that a key geminivirus virulence factor perturbs Et-signaling and viral DNA methylation, a previously established activity, by targeting a single, central metabolic pathway in infected plant cells. 
Outcome Summary: The Bisaro lab had previously shown that virulence factors of geminiviruses inhibit the methyl cycle, with the consequence of limiting availability of the methyl donor for DNA methylation, which is a defense response against viral genomes. Because the inhibited pathway also supports the production of ethylene, we hypothesized that the virulence factors would also inhibit production of this plant hormone. Preliminary data have supported this prediction and additional experiments support the extension of this hypothesis that ethylene contributes positively to plant defense against viral infection. These data have prepared us to apply for federal funding for the continuation of the project.
Students and Staff Supported: Dr. David Bisaro, Aaron Bruns, Mingzhe Shen, and David Lankitus


Lead PI: Peter Piermarini

Title: Discovery of natural drimane sesquiterpene lactones from Madagascan medicinal plants (Cinnamosma sp.) for mosquito vector control
Overview: Plants produce a diverse array of secondary metabolites that deter a wide range of herbivores, including insects. Thus, they are a potential valuable source of novel insecticides and repellents for mosquito control. Our project aims to discover natural products from endemic Madagascan medicinal plants (Cinnamosma species) that kill and/or repel mosquitoes to facilitate the development of next-generation mosquito control products for limiting the spread of emerging mosquito-borne diseases, such as Zika virus. 
Outcome Summary: The goal of the seeds project was to identify natural compounds (e.g. drimane sesquiterpenes) in medicinal plants of Madagascar and Africa and test their efficacies as insecticides and/or repellents for mosquito control. The CAPS seed grant enhanced an on-going collaboration between the Rakotondraibe (OSU, College of Pharmacy, Division of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy) and Piermarini (OSU College of FAES, Department of Entomology) laboratories that developed semi-synthetic derivatives of cinnamodial, an abundant and potent insecticidal and repellent compound in a medicinal plant of Madagascar (Cinnamosma fragrans). The CAPS-supported research isolated several novel compounds including lactone-bearing drimane sesquiterpenes and aldehyde-bearing drimane sesquiterpenes (e.g. cinnamodial, polygodial, mukaadial, and warburganal). In brief, we demonstrated that the aldehyde-bearing compounds possessed the strongest insecticidal activity, while the aldehyde-bearing and some of the lactone-bearing compounds possessed the strongest repellent activity. These findings reveal the structure-activity relationships of cinnamodial and provide insights into the development of more effective derivatives as well as the mode and mechanism of insecticidal action. In addition, our research led to a new collaborative project with Dr. Xiaolin Cheng (OSU, College of Pharmacy, Division of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy).
Students and Staff Supported: Dr. Annecie Benatrehina, Edna Alfaro Inocente, Preston Manwill, Erick Martinez, Dr. Liva Rakotondraibe, and Renata Rusconi Trigueros 

Lead PI: Andy Michel

Title: Identifying the Epigenetic Mechanism of Soybean Aphid Virulence
Overview: The soybean aphid is the most important insect pest for Ohio soybean and much of the Midwest. Since the soybean aphid is now resistant to commonly used insecticides, farmers need a more sustainable aphid management approach. Soybeans with natural resistance to the soybean aphid are available, but the ability of certain aphids to overcome this plant resistance prevents wide-scale use. The Michel and Slotkin laboratories are now utilizing their individual strengths to investigate the epigenetic regulation of aphid virulence. Our goal is to innovatively combine the field of epigenetics and plant-insect interactions to determine which gene(s) are responsible for soybean aphid virulence and improve the durability of soybeans resistant to the soybean aphid.
Outcome Summary: Throughout this project, the team generated and analyzed a large whole-genome DNA methylation dataset for the soybean aphid. This data set incorporates biological replicates, growth of the aphids on resistant or susceptible plants, virulent and avirulent aphid biotypes, and treatment of the aphids with a DNA methylation inhibitor drug, zebularine. The team found that the aphid only has CG context DNA methylation and that the biotype of aphid has the strongest effect of the factors we tested. We identified global trends in DNA methylation, such as the avirulent aphids having more CG methylation than the virulent, as well as effects of the drug treatment, which demonstrate that the avirulent aphid reduces DNA methylation to the level of the virulent when exposed to Zebularine. We also found specific differentially methylated regions that overlapped with RNA-seq levels of gene expression, generating specific candidate genes to test for their role in soybean aphid virulence. We have begun to test RNA interference with a few candidates such as superoxide dismutase (SOD). Our preliminary data show that fecundity of the virulent biotype is slightly decreased when on the resistant plant after RNAi. Using all these data, Michel and Slotkin submitted a $1.2M NSF proposal to the Plant-Biotic Interaction program in May 2019. 
Students and Staff Supported: Saima Shahid, Hilary Edgington, Ashley Yates-Stewart, and Michelle Chang

Lead PI: F. Robert Tabita

Title: Bioconversion of Lignocellulosic and CO2 Feedstocks to Ethylene
Overview: Ethylene is the most used organic precursor for synthesizing a myriad of important materials including polyethylene. Ethylene production represents nearly a $300 billion annual market that continues to grow. Unfortunately, the existing chemical processes for synthesizing ethylene require huge inputs of fossil fuel energy, resulting in the emission of significant levels of CO2. Our goal is to develop new and innovative ways to produce ethylene, such as replacing chemical-based processes with bio‐based methods. A new, highly productive microbial pathway to biologically produce ethylene was recently discovered in organisms that metabolize CO2 and lignocellulosic feedstocks.
Outcome Summary: For this CAPS project, we are investigating the unknown steps of ethylene production, specifically identifying the unknown enzymatic step(s) involved in converting 2-(methylthio)ethanol (MT-EtOH) to ethylene. Thus far several promising modified bacterial strains have been isolated from among several thousand that were initially screened. These strains, specifically affected in MT-ETOH growth, are currently being further analyzed to discern whether we have identified genes important for ethylene synthesis. In addition, we identified 36 proteins from the bacteria Rhodospirillum rubrum associated with an increase of ethylene production. We found two sets of nitrogenase-like proteins and, as such proteins catalyze redox-type reactions, they might convert MT-EtOH to ethylene. However, ethylene production was not changed after silencing expression of these genes. One gene required for MT-EtOH metabolism was found to encode for a ferredoxin, an electron carrier protein that might convert MT-EtOH to ethylene. Finally, we have improved conditions of ethylene production by providing a nanostructure platform that retains catalytic activity for the synthesis of desired products. We demonstrated that the first enzyme of the ethylene pathway could be sequestered in nanoparticles and future studies will involve recapitulating the entire ethylene pathway in these structures.
Students and Staff Supported: Justin A. North, Catherine Fry, and Dr. Jonathan Parquette

Lead PI: David Wood

Title: Design and Production of a Catalytic BChE Enzyme to Treat Organophosphate Poisoning
Overview: Using transgenic plants to produce human proteins can greatly improve access to important medications. The aim of this project is to provide protection against nerve agent chemicals due to accidental poisoning (i.e. insecticides) or from chemical warfare. The protein-based remedy is very complex, and for this reason, the seed grant funds are going towards working with a diverse set of collaborators with broad expertise in a variety of plants and plant-based expression systems. At this point, the construction of the DNA sequences for insertion into the plants is complete, and the team has developed significant expertise in assaying the resulting protein. Most recently, the group has added the pig version of this protein to the project, since it displays some interesting properties that may provide new insights into the project. 
Outcome Summary:The project discovered a novel mutant of the human BChE enzyme, which the team plans to develop for the treatment and prevention of organophosphate poisoning. This type of poisoning can be by insecticides in the case of civilians (as is suspected in recent tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic), or chemical warfare nerve agents in the case of military personnel. We have submitted several proposals to multiple funding agencies (NIH, DTRA) totaling approximately $7,500,000. Furthermore, we have expanded collaborations with the Battelle Memorial Institute, resulting in a joint patent application and additional proposals. 
Students and Staff Supported: Kevin G. McGarry, Jr., M.S., Dr. Patrice Hamel, Andrew Castonguay, Dr. Christopher Taylor, Dr. Hannah Shafaat, Lex Tallan, and Aniliese Deal