Seed Grant Program

The OHI Seed Grant Program offers internal funds to support and grow One Health research projects across the University of Tennessee system. The program seeks to create transdisciplinary synergies among faculty, staff, students, and external collaborators that embrace a One Health approach to investigations in four focal areas: (1) wildlife, livestock, plant and human health, (2) real-time monitoring of farm and environmental conditions, (3) smart data analysis and multi-scale mathematical modeling, and (4) quantifying economic impacts of current issues requiring a One Health solution.

The 2021 Seed Grant Program is expected to be announced in the fall of 2021. Recipients of the 2020 Seed Grant Program are listed below.


2020 OHI Seed Grant Recipients

  • Drs. Michelle Dennis, Nina Fefferman, Gerald Dinkins, Rebecca Hardman, Gus Engman
  • UT Institute of Agriculture. College of Veterinary Medicine, Dept. of Biomedical and Diagnostic Sciences; College of Arts and Sciences, Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture; UT Institute of Agriculture, Dept. of Forestry, Wildlife, and Fisheries

Freshwater mussels are key species for riverine ecosystem health because of their indispensable roles in water purification and nutrient cycling. However, over the last several decades, mussel populations have been severely impacted across North America by poorly-understood mortality epidemics. Since 2016, seasonal mortality events have decimated mussels of the upper Clinch River, a location treasured for unique mussel biodiversity, including 20 federally endangered species. This study aims to determine likely causes of mortality in the Clinch River with an in-situ experiment that measures seasonal changes in the health of sentinel mussels maintained in silos at impacted sites. Observations of growth and survivorship, clinical signs of disease, hemolymph indices, histopathology, and bacterial microbiome shifts during the experiment will be paired with population dynamic data from previous mortality events. These data will help build predictive models considering observed spatiotemporal patterns and likely causative agents to draw conclusions about causes of mussel mass-moralities. 

  • Drs. Matthew Gray, Neelam Poudyal, Nina Fefferman
  • UT Institute of Agriculture, Dept. of Forestry, Wildlife, and Fisheries, Center for Wildlife Health; College of Arts and Sciences, Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Dept. of Mathematics

The regional, national, and international trade of wildlife has facilitated the movement, spillover, and global emergence of numerous infectious diseases including SARS-CoV-2, viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus, and chytrid fungi. Wildlife pathogens and zoonoses have cost global economies trillions of dollars and substantial human life and biodiversity loss, leading to increasing calls to regulate or prohibit the trade of exotic wildlife. The wildlife trade industry exists as a network of nodes which can amplify or dampen pathogen dynamics and thus affect spillover risk. Each node in the network has their own economic and psychosocial values that affect their behaviors and practices, which in turn affect network behavior and subsequent pathogen dynamics. Further, consumers and government can affect network behavior via product demand, perceived values of biodiversity, and regulations or policies. This bidirectionally coupled system of spatially explicit disease processes and socioeconomic feedbacks in a hierarchical network presents unique challenges and novel opportunities to understand pathogen transmission and spillover risk. We hypothesize that socioeconomic incentives targeting industry and consumer behavior will alter emergent structural properties of a live animal trade network and influence patterns in pathogen dynamics. We will identify incentive structures that motivate nodes to alter behaviors and decrease pathogen spread in industry and spillover risk to wild populations. Understanding the social and economic incentives that shape the topology of disease networks requires a multi-scale approach that considers node and network factors driven by socioeconomic behavior, such as changes in consumer demand for particular species. Our overarching task is to characterize the amphibian trade network in the US by considering disease processes across two hierarchical scales with possible socioeconomic feedbacks.

  • Drs. Jun Lin, Qiang He
  • UT Institute of Agriculture, Dept. of Animal Science; Tickle College of Engineering, Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Collaborators: Erin Patrick (USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services); Rebecca Lindsey (CDC); Li Zhang (Mississippi State University, Dept. of Poultry Science); Shinji Yamasaki (Osaka Prefecture University, Japan)

Escherichia albertii, often misidentified as Escherichia coli, has become an emerging human enteric pathogen. However, important animal and environmental reservoirs of this pathogen are still not clear. Based on recent preliminary studies, we hypothesize that chickens and raccoons are unique and significant players in the dynamic interactions among the enteric E. albertii pathogen, animals, humans, and their shared environment. To test this, we will perform a large scale study by pursuing following two aims: 1) examine the prevalence of E. albertii in US poultry production, wild raccoons, and surface waters; and 2) characterize the isolated E. albertii together with US human E. albertii strains using a panel of microbiological and genomics approaches. Completion of this project will provide insights into the ecology, evolution and transmission of E. albertii, and help us control the emerging E. albertii in a complex ecosystem using One Health approach.

  • Drs. Chunlei Su, Richard Gerhold, Michelle Dennis, Sree Rajeev
  • College of Arts and Sciences, Dept. of Microbiology; UT Institute of Agriculture, College of Veterinary Medicine, Biomedical and Diagnostic Services Dept.

Transmission of zoonotic diseases is affected by multiple transboundary factors including humans, animals, plants and the environment. Understanding the interplay of these factors is pivotal for the prevention and mitigation of these diseases. One essential step to reach this goal is to detect and identify zoonotic pathogens in clinical animals, reservoir hosts, and the environment, which provides critical information for surveillance. Currently, there is lack of an integrated system to investigate and conduct surveillance of multiple zoonotic pathogens simultaneously. Our One Health Initiative Research project is to address this problem by developing an integrated system to detect and identify zoonotic pathogens. This system aims to detect novel and known zoonotic pathogens from animals and the environment by metagenome sequencing and multiplex genotyping approaches. We expect this system will be highly scalable for surveillance of a large number of pathogens from animals, plants, humans and environment in the near future.

  • Drs. Brian Whitlock, Bhavya Sharma; Allison Renwick (graduate student)
  • UT Institute of Agriculture, College of Veterinary Medicine, Large Animal Clinical Sciences; College of Arts and Sciences, Dept. of Chemistry; UT Institute of Agriculture, College of Veterinary Medicine, Comparative and Experimental Medicine Program
  • Collaborator: Dr. Joseph Daniel (Berry College, Dept. of Animal Science)

Animals and humans frequently experience inflammation. Obesity has become a pandemic, causing chronic inflammation and impaired reproduction in humans. Lipopolysaccharide (LPS; endotoxin) is produced by bacteria and is responsible for the initiation of inflammation in obesity. The mechanism for impairment of reproduction in obese humans and animals likely involves reduction in neuropeptides in the hypothalamus . However, most research uses an acute model of inflammation; thus, there is a great need to develop a model of chronic inflammation. A valuable comparative model to evaluate the response to LPS in humans is sheep. They are similar in size, easy to handle, have large amounts of blood and tissue for collection and are physiologically similar. The focus of this study is to develop an animal model, using sheep, of chronic inflammation to determine its effects on hypothalamic neurons [KNDy (kisspeptin-neurokinin B-dynorphin) neurons] controlling reproduction.

  • Drs. Xinhua Yin, Joshua Fu
  • UT Institute of Agriculture, Dept. of Plant Sciences; UT-ORNL Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education; UT Tickle College of Engineering, Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Influences of climate change on crop production are largely unknown in Tennessee, the USA, and the world. Cotton is a major crop in Tennessee and beyond. Forecasting of cotton yield under climate change is considered an advanced tool for future planning to assure global fiber security. The objective of this project is to assess the impacts of climate (temperature, precipitation) changes under two climate scenarios (baseline RCP4.5 and RCP8.5) on cotton production and estimate the performances of sustainable management practices under climate change via computational simulation. An existing long-term cotton field experiment in Jackson, TN will be used. This experiment was initiated in 1981 and has so far been continually conducted for 40 years. The state-of-the-art DSSAT computational model will be used. Through Extensional education, farmers will recognize the impacts of climate change on future cotton production, and will adopt relevant best management practices in cotton production under climate change.