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NIFA Addresses Leveraging Research Funding in Animal Biotechnology

September 18, 2014
“We do need biotechnology as a tool!” – Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy

Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy was appointed to serve as director of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) on May 7, 2012. In his presentation, “Leveraging Research Money in Animal Biotechnology,” Dr. Ramaswamy spoke on finding the nexus between measurable health outcomes and leveraging research funding at the 2014 Livestock Biotech Summit.

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“You may have the best technology at your hands but unable to deploy it because humans become part of the decision-making process.  Sometimes this technology isn’t politically viable.”

Dr. Ramaswamy argued that we need to focus on measurable outcomes.  In leveraging funding, it is important to focus on the long term or measurable health outcomes because this will make your research, etc. more attractive to the investor.  NIFA is currently investing in genomics and gene sequencing, nanotechnology, extending SBIR grants to small animal biotechnology companies and university research facilities across the country.

The government sectors, the private sectors, a broad-base partnership to help with this.  This also helps in developing integrated animal management and animal healthcare because there no magic bullet in animal biotech.

He concluded by discussing the challenges being faced by the animal biotechnology industry.  “When it comes to biomedical applications, the public will readily accept this technology, however when it comes to food production, this technology faces can face much apprehension.  This industry can also face regulatory challenges – local and federal regulatory agencies may sometimes fear unintended consequences of approving products, leading to delays in the approval process.”

Dr. Ramaswamy commented that we can address these challenges by working to better educate the populous especially of the technology ahead.  The government sector, the private sector and relevant third parties must come together to improve messaging to the public.  We also need to develop better integrated animal management and animal healthcare.

As part of USDA’s Research, Education, and Extension mission, Dr. Ramaswamy oversees NIFA awards funding for a wide range of extramural research, education, and extension projects that address the needs of farmers, ranchers, and agricultural producers. He has published nearly 150 journal articles, book chapters, and a book.  He has received a number of awards and honors as a scientist and department head, including being named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; Fellow of the Entomological Society of America; and Distinguished Graduate Alumnus of Cook College, Rutgers University.