UC Davis to Lead New Artificial Intelligence Institute for Next Generation Food Systems

UC Davis to Lead New Artificial Intelligence Institute for Next-Generation Food Systems

The University of California, Davis, has been awarded $20 million as part of a multi-institutional collaboration to establish an institute focused on enabling the next-generation food system through the integration of artificial intelligence, or AI, technologies. The award is part of a larger investment announced today (Aug. 26) by the National Science Foundation, or NSF, in partnership with several federal agencies — distributing a total of $140 million to fund seven complementary AI research institutes across the nation.

The AI Institute for Next Generation Food Systems, or AIFS, aims to meet growing demands in our food supply by increasing efficiencies using AI and bioinformatics spanning the entire system — from growing crops through consumption. This includes optimizing plant traits for yield, crop quality and disease resistance through advances in molecular breeding, in addition to minimizing resource consumption and waste through development of agriculture-specific AI applications, sensing platforms, and robotics. The team’s plan also intends to benefit consumers through enhancements to food safety and development of new tools to provide real-time assessment of meals that can guide personalized health decisions.

‘Paving the way to a transformation’

“The food system is ripe for disruption, with many advances over the past decade paving the way to a transformation,” said Ilias Tagkopoulos, professor in the UC Davis Department of Computer Science and Genome Center, and director of the new institute. “AI will serve as both the enabling technology and the connective tissue that brings together these elements and catalyzes this transformation to a safer, fairer and more efficient food system for the next generation.”

Other principal investigators from UC Davis include Nitin Nitin, professor in the Departments of Biological and Agricultural Engineering and of Food Science and Technology; Mason Earles, assistant professor in the Departments of Viticulture and Enology and of Biological and Agricultural Engineering; and Xin Liu, professor in the Department of Computer Science.

The institute has been designed to be inclusive, fostering collaborations to develop open-source AI solutions across the food system. Given food’s fundamental role in human health and well-being, coupled with its far-reaching impacts on the national economy and environment, the institute will bring together more than 40 researchers from six institutions: UC Davis; UC Berkeley; Cornell University; the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; UC Agriculture and Natural Resources; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service.

Engagement and collaboration

In addition to the scientific and technical objectives, the institute’s charter includes a significant focus on education, outreach and collaboration.

“Our success won’t only come from breakthroughs and innovation of new technologies and systems, but also a ready workforce, an engaged public and collaboration with industry partners to solve real challenges,” said Gabriel Youtsey, chief innovation officer at UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The institute’s plan includes programs specific for K-16 education, college internships and fellowships, curriculum enrichment, broadening participation and diversity, corporate engagement, and knowledge transfer. These programs will be bolstered by leveraging existing platforms such as UC Davis’ Innovation Institute for Food and Health, CITRIS Banatao Institute and Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Verde Innovation Network for Entrepreneurship, or VINE. Additional efforts are planned in alignment with NSF’s call to ensure AI systems are secure, safe, ethical and fair through design, accountability and transparency.

Development of the proposal for the award was facilitated by the Interdisciplinary Research and Strategic Initiatives division of the Office of Research at UC Davis. The institute is designated as a special research program under the administration of the Office of Research.

Assembled expertise offers hope

“As with many of our world’s greatest challenges, addressing the critical needs in our food supply requires extensive collaboration between experts from different disciplines,” said Prasant Mohapatra, vice chancellor for research at UC Davis. “The collection of expertise assembled for this new institute brings much hope for transformative advancements to be realized.”

Funding for the institute is provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture as part of a larger initiative led by the U.S. National Science Foundation to establish new artificial intelligence institutes to accelerate research, expand America’s workforce and transform society in the decades to come. The NSF AI institutes will collaborate with industry and government to advance the frontiers of AI as well as a range of science and engineering disciplines and societal sectors that stand to benefit from AI innovation.

“Recognizing the critical role of AI, NSF is investing in collaborative research and education hubs, such as the USDA-NIFA AI Institute for Next Generation Food Systems anchored at UC Davis, which will bring together academia, industry, and government to unearth profound discoveries and develop new capabilities advancing American competitiveness for decades to come,” said Sethuraman Panchanathan, director of the National Science Foundation. “Just as prior NSF investments enabled the breakthroughs that have given rise to today’s AI revolution, the awards being announced today will drive discovery and innovation that will sustain American leadership and competitiveness in AI for decades to come.”

Media Resources

Ilias Tagkopoulos, Genome Center, 530-752-4821, [email protected]

AJ Cheline, Office of Research, 530-752-1101, [email protected]

Andy Fell, News and Media Relations, 530-752-4533, [email protected]

Developing New Tools To Improve Food Production and Safety

Developing New Tools To Improve Food Production and Safety

The agriculture sector is facing an enormous task—to increase food production to support the planet’s explosive population growth. At the same time, the industry must address a growing number of food safety challenges associated with pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli. These challenges are driving the need for and adoption of innovative solutions at the farm level, including remote sensing and robotics. However, utilizing these new technologies effectively requires the ability to clearly interpret and analyze the vast quantities of data being collected, which comes with its own set of challenges.

AgriNerds, one of 14 startups enabled in FY 2018­–19 by technology developed at UC Davis, is helping farmers harness the power of these technologies by providing a data management and visualization tool to integrate and interpret this information in real time. Their Web-based application uses both machine learning and decision sciences to help farmers optimize production yield, food safety and operational efficiency.

The technology is based on the work of Maurice Pitesky from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine-Cooperative Extension and former students Roberto Carrasco, Joseph Gendreau and Tristan Bond.

The team received proof-of-concept funding from the UC Davis Data, Informatics and Application Launch (DIAL™) Grant program from the Office of Research to develop and test the initial versions of the product. The startup is working with several poultry companies to further optimize their custom machine learning ­algorithms in order to expand operations throughout the agricultural sector.

Improving Africa’s orphan crops and eradicating stunting in children

Improving Africa’s orphan crops and eradicating stunting in children

UC Davis is partnering with Mars, Inc. in a global plant-breeding consortium that is fighting malnutrition and poverty in Africa by improving the continent’s traditional food crops. These “orphan” crops have been largely ignored by science because they are not internationally traded commodities, but are the food crops grown in the back gardens of the 600 million people who live in rural Africa.

The initiative was inspired by a presentation by Christine Stewart, assistant professor of nutrition at UC Davis, which highlighted the global issue of stunting — a medical affliction resulting from chronic malnutrition that affects a staggering 39% of children in the developing world, and over 130 million children in Africa alone.

The African Orphan Crop Consortium — conceived by Howard Shapiro, a senior fellow in the part-of-th-group-members-counting-cleome-seedsCollege of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences at UC Davis and the chief agricultural officer at Mars — has chartered an ambitious goal to map and make public the genomes of 101 indigenous African food crops. The genomic data gathered on crops will help plant breeders improve the nutritional content, productivity and resilience of Africa’s most important food resources.

The consortium brings together experts from Mars, UC Davis, and a wide range of researchers, industry groups and policymakers. Together, collaborators have contributed about $40 million of in-kind support to the program.

UC Davis has developed an intensive, hands-on curriculum for the consortium’s African Plant Breeding Academy and its state-of-the art genomics laboratory hosted by the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi, Kenya. There Africa’s best plant breeding scientists and technicians are being trained to use the latest equipment.

By the end of 2016, more than 50 scientists will have graduated. By July 2016, the group had sequenced 26 whole genomes, resequenced 13, and provided transcriptomes for 21.

“Globally, only 57 plants have ever been genetically sequenced,” Shapiro notes. “The African Orphan Crops Consortium is adding another 101. Graduates of the Academy are professors and heads of research institutes at the top of their game. They now have the ability to make decisions about plant breeding faster, which will lead to higher yielding and more nutritious plants. All of this is happening to benefit some of the poorest people on the planet’s most malnourished continent.”

Through this program, UC Davis faculty travel to Africa and are expected to train 250 breeders over five years. Graduates are already becoming active partners in the orphan crop effort.

women-each-holding-a-measuring-stick-for-their-cleome-plots-prepare-to-sing-after-sowing-seedDaniel Adewale, plant breeder with the Ondo State University of Science and Technology in Okitpupa, Nigeria, graduated last year. He is using the skills he learned to improve the African yam bean, increasing its essential amino acid content and reducing its cooking time. “By helping breeders improve these forgotten crops, I believe the African Orphan Crop Consortium will cure malnutrition in Africa,” Adewale said.

The group collaborates with researchers all over the world, and all of its sequence information will be posted to the internet and offered free to anyone, on the condition it not be patented. “Because we share all our information, we can build on each other’s research,” said Allen Van Deynze, professional researcher with the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences and a founding member of the consortium, who visits Nairobi each year as part of his commitment to teaching in the academy.

Innovation that feeds the world

UC Davis professors, Jorge Dubcovsky of plant sciences and Jan Dvorak of agronomy and range science, examine wheat in a campus field. Photo taken in 2010.

UC Davis professors, Jorge Dubcovsky of plant sciences and Jan Dvorak of agronomy and range science, examine wheat in a campus field.

Jorge Dubcovsky, Ph.D., a worldrenowned plant geneticist who leads the UC Davis wheat breeding program, develops genetic resources for improving the yield, disease-resistance and nutritional value of wheat — one of the most widely grown cereal crops on the planet. Global demand for wheat continues to increase dramatically, up nearly 20% from just ten years ago (U.S. Wheat Associates Annual Report).

Wheat is a vital part of the farming economy in California, grown from the Imperial Valley in the south to the Klamath Basin in the north, and from the inland valleys to the coastal agricultural regions. Due to California’s large size and diverse climate, wheat can be planted for harvest in both the fall and spring seasons, depending on the region. Dubcovsky’s ground-breaking work has enabled researchers and breeders around the world to accelerate the development of more nutritious and better-adapted wheat varieties.

Dubcovsky and his team have released eleven distinct UC wheat varieties, each protected by InnovationAccess under U.S. Plant Variety Protection, and licensed to 30 commercial entities.

Consistent with the land-grant mission of UC Davis, wheat varieties released out of Dubcovsky’s breeding program are licensed only to the California wheat industry during the first three years following release, effectively providing an economic advantage for the state. InnovationAccess works closely with the California Wheat Commission in setting up licensing arrangements. After this initial three-year period, licensing is opened to other geographical areas beyond California.

This year, Dubcovsky’s lab released the ‘Yurok’ wheat variety (UC Case 2016-066), a Dry wheat waves in the sun on Friday May 22, 2015 at UC Davis. This wheat is part of wheat geneticist and UC Davis plant science professor Jorge Dubcovsky's wheat research.semi-dwarf Hard Red Spring variety, which offers a high-yielding plant and a resulting grain with high protein content and excellent bread-making quality. This variety is resistant to current races of stripe rust disease and is well adapted to the Sacramento, San Joaquin and Imperial Valleys in California.

UC Davis and BASF announce collaboration on development of new microencapsulation technology

UC Davis and BASF announce collaboration on development of new microencapsulation technology
FLORHAM PARK, NJ and DAVIS, CA, November 2, 2016 – BASF and University of California, Davis (UC Davis) entered into a collaborative research agreement to investigate a patent- pending microencapsulation technology. Developed in the lab of University Associate Professor of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, Tina Jeoh, the technology protects and improves the performance and delivery of active compounds for broad applications, including industrial, agriculture and cosmetics.

The technology combines multiple, energy-intensive processing steps into one industrially efficient and scalable spray-drying step. This encapsulates active ingredients in Cross-Linked Alginate Microcapsules (CLAMs). As part of the project, the teams will tune the physical and chemical properties of the CLAMs to optimize protection and shelf-stability of biologically active compounds.

“As a leader in life sciences and a premier agricultural university, the interests and assets of UC Davis complement those of BASF,” said Dushyant Pathak, associate vice chancellor for Technology Management and Corporate Relations at UC Davis. “With mutual interests at the intersection of life sciences and engineering, the UC Davis-BASF collaboration helps bring forward the commercial benefits of transitional research in these areas.”

“Innovation and sustainability are main success factors for BASF’s long-term growth. In the highly competitive innovation environments we now face, collaboration with external partners such as UC Davis is crucial,” said Michael Pcolinski, Vice President Advanced Materials and Systems Research at BASF. “Our goal is to leverage external expertise to match current and anticipated needs.”

BASF and UC Davis have a long-standing relationship dating back nearly 20 years in areas of mutual interest such as plant sciences, food science and technology, biological and agricultural engineering, and the health system. BASF and UC Davis have also teamed together to help train future scientific leaders through the involvement of graduate students and post-docs in these types of collaborative research efforts.

The research agreement is an outcome of the California Research Alliance (CARA) that BASF has formed in 2014. It brings together BASF experts with researchers from widely varied science and engineering disciplines from the University of California, Berkeley, UC Davis, University of California, San Francisco, Stanford University, and the University of California, Santa Barbara.


About BASF

BASF Corporation, headquartered in Florham Park, New Jersey, is the North American affiliate of BASF SE, Ludwigshafen, Germany. BASF has nearly 17,500 employees in North America, and had sales of $17.4 billion in 2015. For more information about BASF’s North American operations, visit

At BASF, we create chemistry for a sustainable future. We combine economic success with environmental protection and social responsibility. The approximately 112,000 employees in the BASF Group work on contributing to the success of our customers in nearly all sectors and almost every country in the world. Our portfolio is organized into five segments: Chemicals, Performance Products, Functional Materials & Solutions, Agricultural Solutions and Oil & Gas. BASF generated sales of more than €70 billion in 2015. BASF shares are traded on the stock exchanges in Frankfurt (BAS), London (BFA) and Zurich (AN). Further information at

About UC Davis

UC Davis is a global community of individuals united to better humanity and our natural world while seeking solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. Located near the California state capital, UC Davis has more than 34,000 students, and the full-time equivalent of 4,100 faculty and other academics and 17,400 staff. The campus has an annual research budget of over $700 million, a comprehensive health system and about two dozen specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and 99 undergraduate majors in four colleges and six professional schools.