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Washington businesses get $692K in USDA food production research grants

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(The Center Square) – Can increasing juvenile survival of lota lota, mixing ground-and-defatted raspberry seeds in bread, and cross-breeding Pacific oysters increase food security and economic growth in the United States?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is willing to spend money to find out.

Last week, the USDA announced funding for three private companies in Washington state to research those topics. The recipients and their grant amounts are Evergreen Aquatics of La Center ($175,000); Nutraberry of Bothell ($350,000 grant with $175,000 awarded this year); and Pacific Hybreed Inc. of Bainbridge Island ($167,000).

The trio were among 76 small businesses across the nation to share in $12.5 million in funding from USDA’s Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs. The grants are public-private partnerships with the National Institute of Food and Agriculture that aim to “transfer technology to the marketplace” while supporting research in conserving natural resources, boosting plant and animal production, and developing bio-based products.

“Small businesses play a key role in driving innovation in the food and agriculture sectors,” said institute director Dr. Manjit K. Misra in an Aug. 23 news release. “By partnering with research institutions, these small businesses are bridging an important gap between where science is conducted and how it is made available to the public.”

Here’s a summary of research proposals for the three Washington-based businesses:

EVERGREEN AQUATICS

Evergreen Aquatics is developing methods and protocols to establish burbot as a new commercial aquaculture species in the U.S.

Also known as freshwater cod, lota lota (the scientific name), or “poor man’s lobster,” the fish are considered a “novel candidate” for such ventures. The challenge, say officials, is that burbot have a relatively high mortality rate in the early stages of life after spawning in cold waters. If they survive, burbot later grow well in captivity and their fillets and roe are “highly regarded for human consumption.” As adults, burbot can grow to 12 to 47 inches in length and range from 2 to 26 pounds. They are aggressive predators in the wild.

Research is planned by Evergreen Aquatics and the University of Idaho using larval and juvenile burbot to see if survival and “reliable” production in hatchery settings can be enhanced through egg fertilization methods, water quality conditions, and development of a vaccine against bacterial pathogens which harm the young fish.

If achieved, burbot hold future promise as a commercial species for “aquaculture expansion that will contribute to increased food security and economic growth in the U.S.,” the USDA said in a summary.

NUTRABERRY

Nutraberry, was awarded USDA funding to study the nutritional benefits of micronized, de-fatted raspberry seed powders.

Researchers say raspberry seeds are rich in fiber and phytochemicals – part of a plant’s immune system – which can also provide health benefits to humans, such as addressing obesity-related chronic diseases. The seeds are a food waste from processing raspberry juice and purees used in such products as yogurts, energy bars and other beverages.

According to the USDA, testing plans call for grinding and mixing defatted raspberry seeds into five refined grain and whole wheat breads to see if they boost “beneficial gut microbes” in humans.

The research will be conducted in Spokane at Washington State University’s “Nutrition and Gut Microbiome” lab. Initially, tests will be performed through a “model digestion and absorption process.” Later, test breads will be combined with human feces and fermented in an anaerobic chamber for nutrient analysis. Recipes for the test breads will be developed by WSU’s Bread Lab.

Using the raspberry seeds in other products would reduce food waste while providing “an inexpensive, healthy, and pleasant-tasting food ingredient,” says the USDA.

PACIFIC HYBREED INC.

Pacific Hybreed Inc. received its small business grant to conduct field-performance evaluation of hybrid, cross-bred Pacific oysters.

Oyster farming has provided significant economic and social value in coastal communities for generations. According to USDA, farmed oysters require minimal energy and feed, filter large amounts of water, and remove carbon and nutrients from the sea at harvest. But the department says growers are facing “increasingly urgent threats” from environmental stresses, including those linked to climate change, which could lead to big reductions in shellfish yields in future years.

The USDA says “within-species” cross-breeding has provided “massive improvements” to yields for corn and other land crops. Now, the department wants to see if hybrid breeding can similarly boost aquaculture production of the Pacific oyster, the largest shellfish crop on the West Coast from California to Alaska.

The research project will examine different genetic lines from “pair-mated, wild-type families” in multiple locations with varying geographies and ocean conditions. If results are positive, the breeding program “could be made substantially more efficient,” the summary states.

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