After just a few years of existence and with a relatively small budget, AFRI is already showing how investigator-initiated awards can broaden the circle of scientists working in agriculture and food related concerns.

•   Scientists from MIT and Harvard are using their genome sequencing expertise to join the fight against a wheat disease called stripe rust that in the last ten years has destroyed 246 million bushels of U.S. wheat and as a threat to wheat production worldwide.

•   Biomedical researchers at Baylor are using their knowledge and insights into the biological mechanisms involved in cell behaviors to look for ways to boost the amount of iron and zinc in rice. Some 2 to 5 billion people who consume rice as a dietary staple suffer from iron and zinc deficiencies that are linked to a number of health and developmental problems, particularly in children.

•   Scientists at the University of Connecticut are using nanotechnology to develop a new vaccine to halt the spread of avian influenza in poultry facilities-a problem with enormous implications for both farmers and public health.

•   At Kansas State, chemical engineers are looking for new ways to develop biofuels and industrial chemicals from perennial grasses that can be grown on marginal lands.

•   A multi-institution inter-disciplinary team led by scientists at the University of California at Davis is undertaking an ambitious effort to enable farmers to cope with the effect of climate change, disease, and the increasing costs of fertilizer and other inputs on wheat and barley production in the U.S.

•   Scientists at the University of Missouri are engaged in a ground-breaking research project to consider what happens when humans ingest "nano-scale" products increasingly found in our food supply. In a related project, as the environmental release of engineered nanoparticles increases, scientists from Southern Illinois University are investigating whether vegetables that grow underground will accumulate higher concentrations of these particles than other crops and whether simple preparation techniques can reduce human exposures.

•   Scientists at the University of North Carolina are trying to enhance the natural immunity in oysters to two different types of bacteria that are the most important causes of seafood-borne illnesses in the United States.

•   Scientists at the Texas A&M University and the University of Missouri are engaged in research to identify cattle that use feed more efficiently. The goal of the project is to improve productivity in the meat and milk industries.

•   Scientists at the University of Florida are identifying genes that control productivity, wood quality, and disease resistance in loblolly pine, a species widely cultivated in the southeast United States. Southern states provide a significant amount of the world's wood supply, but production levels are threatened by disease, water, and soil health-problems likely to intensify with anticipated changes in climate.

"We have traditionally allocated funding for agricultural research by formulas that direct money to specific programs and institutions that have close ties to our farmers," Danforth said. "That approach has achieved great success in the past but it must be complemented with a future in which breakthrough innovations can easily come from both inside and outside the conventional confines of agricultural research." In April, former Agriculture Secretaries John Block, Clayton Yeutter, Dan Glickman, and Mike Espy sent a letter to congressional leaders urging them to boost support for AFRI. "We know, like in the past, that the results will not be immediate and are often accidental but the additional investment will mean more people can get to work now so that we have solutions in the future," they said.