Exciting new technology development and impressive grantsmanship marked a highly productive year for UTIA faculty. Several multimillion-dollar competitive grants were awarded to UTIA faculty. Twenty invention disclosures were developed in 2014, originating from most UTIA departments including the College of Veterinary Medicine. Additionally, fourteen patent applications were submitted with eleven national and international patents awarded in 2014, demonstrating the mission orientation of UTIA’s work. Many of these awarded patents resulted in faculty-driven startup company formation along with new innovations that were highly sought after by private companies for licensing opportunities.

As institutions increase in status and reputation, an increase in larger (dollar-value) awards are typically observed. We are beginning to see this trend within UTIA over the past several years. Many new large awards today are transdisciplinary and multi-institutional, with the total budget distributed across multiple departments and institutions. Even though the total award is shared, UTIA faculty members are serving as the lead principal investigator for many of these large awards, thus increasing UTIA’s status among peer institutions, federal agencies, and other partners. For example, Dr. Neal Stewart, Racheff Chair in plant molecular biology in the Department of Plant Sciences, was recently awarded more than $2 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop new ways of transforming switchgrass as an improved feedstock for the biobased economy in the development of biobased fuels, chemicals, and materials. Dr. Doug Hayes, professor in the Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science, was recently awarded, as lead principal investigator, more than $2 million from the USDA under the Specialty Crop Program to develop new biodegradable mulches for enhanced environmental sustainability in specialty crop production. Dr. Tim Rials, professor and director of the Center for Renewable Carbon, is serving as the lead principal investigator on a five-year, $15 million multi-institutional Coordinated Agricultural Project grant from the USDA. This project will develop an integrated biomass supply system for the delivery of feedstock to the biorefinery to enhance the biobased economy.

The projects discussed above will yield new knowledge and discoveries that will help our clientele in their operations. Some projects will develop new information and technologies that are protectable through various intellectual property protection options such as patents or copyrights. In some cases these technologies are licensed to a private company for commercialization to the market; many times research agreements result between the private company and UTIA for additional work. In other cases, the technology may be delivered to the marketplace through the development of a startup company, several of which have been established recently as a result of UTIA faculty technologies; a few are described below.

Highly valued technologies and innovations are reinforced by a suite of protected intellectual property that capitalizes a given area of science. Based on several patents,

Drs. Neal Schrick and Lannett Edwards formed the startup company, Fertility Focus. This company focuses on technologies that increase reproductive efficiency and have application in farm animal as well as human reproduction. An additional patent was awarded in 2014, focused on improving embryo development and survival, that will add to the portfolio of technologies commercialized by this company, thus increasing its value.


Dr. Kurt Lamour, professor in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, has developed an application for genetic testing. His technology dramatically increases
testing capacity as compared to current technology while also significantly reducing cost. Dr. Lamour founded Floodlight Genomics in 2014 and has successfully marketed the process to an established company.


In winning the 2014 Tennessee Venture Challenge, Dr. John Sorochan, Distinguished Associate Professor in the Department of Plant Sciences, was awarded $30,000 to advance his startup company, QuickSod. Using Dr. Sorochan’s technology developed at UTIA, this company’s product provides an alternative to sod production that produces a high-quality sod in one-third the time as conventional methods. Weed pressure is reduced and the resulting sod is much lighter than conventional sod, resulting in a greater square footage of sod that can be transported on a semitrailer.



Tobacco companies have established a collaboration focused on the development of good agricultural practices (GAP) for their contract growers to follow. Jane Starnes, research associate, and Dr. Kelly Tiller, associate professor, both in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, have active programs in tobacco policy and were instrumental in the tobacco buyout program many years ago. They, along with faculty from several other land-grant institutions in the southern region and representatives from many of the tobacco companies
and tobacco buyers, formed Gap Connections to provide training and certification for the conduct of good agricultural practices for tobacco growers.


As you can see from these innovations, researchers at UTIA are achieving great successes and strides in advancing our land-grant mission. This momentum is a result of priorities put in place in the past several years to lay a foundation for greater scientific endeavors. I am optimistic about the continued progress we will see in 2015, both in securing external funding to commercialize advanced-stage discoveries and in our bench-stage science.