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U.S.-Israel Binational Foundations: Binational Agricultural Research & Development Fund (BARD)

The United States-Israel Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund (BARD) is a competitive funding program for mission-oriented, strategic and applied research of mutual-interest agricultural problems, conducted jointly by American and Israeli scientists. This cooperative research entails active collaboration between Israeli and Americans research institutes and has led to significant breakthroughs in advancing agricultural technologies to deal with problems faced in the field.

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BARD was created in 1978 with initial contributions of $40 million by both the United States and Israel. The endowment fund was then augmented in 1984 by another $15 million from each country. In 1994, an agreement was reached that Israel would match any U.S. suplement to the fund by the amount of $2.5 million annually. Since 1998, though, this annual supplement has been substantially reduced.

BARD funds projects for a period of three years, giving an average of $310,000 to the researchers in both countries over that period. Awards are given out based upon the details of the budget justification, the number of funded institutions in the proposed project and the nature of the specific research program.

Since its inception, BARD has evaluated more than 4,600 projects and has awarded more than $300 million to 1,300 joint projects between nearly every U.S. state as well as Canada and Australia with Israel. Additionally, BARD has sponsored 220 postdoctoral fellows since 1985 and 13 senior research fellows since 1991. They have also led 53 scientific workshops.

BARD-sponsored research has led to innovative developments, new technologies and renewed focus in drip irrigation, pesticides, fish farming, livestock, poultry, disease control and farm equipment. BARD also conducts a fellowship program and supports joint workshops.

An external review done in 2000 of BARD's performance in its first 20 years found that the foundation supported a very high caliber of research and development projects and attracted proposals from the top echelon of scientists. The review found that two-thirds of the projects were classified as excellent or outstanding and that the projects also generated a large output of scientific papers, many of which are published in the most prestigious journals.

While BARD funds agriculturally relevant and scientifically meritorious work in all traditional disciplines of agriculture; it has identified the following fields as priorities:

Increased efficiency of agricultural production; protection of plants and animals against biotic and abiotic stress; food quality, safety and security; water quality and quantity; functional genomics and proteomics; sensors and robotics; and, sustainable bio-energy systems.

BARD has also created special joint programs with American universities in Maryland, Texas, and Cornell.

Recently BARD established the MARD program to promote cooperative agricultural research and development activities between scientists in Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and the United States. During its five years of operation, MARD has funded numerous successful regional workshops, mutual visits, training seminars and similar activities that have enhanced the spirit of collaboration between Palestinian, Jordanian, Israeli and US researchers.

Recent Accomplishments for BARD:
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» Alleviating Heat Stress in Dairy Cattle

Summer heat stress is a major factor contributing to low fertility and milk production in lactating dairy cows. An integrated approach for improving dairy cow productivity was made possible by the continuing BARD support of a collaborative effort between scientists in Florida and Israel. The focus of their research was to elucidate the basic mechanisms regulating heat sensitive physiological functions that are associated with reproduction, nutrition and lactation.

Targeted investigations were performed in order to examine specific reproductive windows in which heat stress compromises reproductive function. This work has led to the development of a timed-insemination program that permits a greater number of cows to be inseminated prior to the more difficult heat stress season when embryonic death is high. The program has increased pregnancy rates during the heat-stressful summer months. A total revenue increase of about $4 million per year for Florida dairy producers is projected. Such a programmed system of reproductive management was also applied effectively to a timed embryo transfer. The basic knowledge acquired to date has provided the basis for the integration of hormonal-biochemical control of reproduction and lactation, with an environment management system, in order to optimize dairy cattle performance, health and well being.

» Breeding for Heat Tolerant Wheat Varieties

Research carried out cooperatively between scientists at ARO, the Volcani Center in Israel and Texas Tech University in the United States has focused on the mechanisms of heat tolerance in wheat. Wheat varieties must be heat-tolerant to produce under the dry hot environments of either Israel or the U.S. Great Plains. The study revealed that the ability to accumulate Heat Shock Proteins was not the important mechanism that determines heat-tolerance, measured as the ability of the variety to yield under heat stress. Instead, traits such as cell membrane stability under heat stress, heat-stable carbon assimilation, and ability to form grain from carbon reserves stored in the stems were the important characteristics. By selecting for these specific traits, elite lines of wheat were developed that are very heat tolerant. This research also developed knowledge based on appropriate genetic markers required for use of marker-assisted selection as a tool in breeding wheat for heat tolerance. BARD was a key source of funding for the basic research component of this scientifically outstanding project.

» Improving Wheat-Seed Proteins by Molecular Approaches

The wheat laboratories at the Weizmann Institute, Israel and the ARS, Albany, CA teamed up through three BARD funded projects to develop the basic information needed to understand and genetically engineer better wheat quality. Among the results of this project were a better understanding of the contributions of wheat quality proteins and protein domains to the functional properties of wheat doughs and the construction of the first complete synthetic cereal storage protein gene. They demonstrated, for the first time, that one can alter parameters related to dough properties and showed the usefulness of bacterial-produced wheat-quality proteins in the study of dough parameters.

Their current BARD-supported project focuses on nutritional rather than functional attributes of the wheat-seed proteins that determine quality, including a molecular approach to increase the levels of the essential amino acid lysine in cereal grains. If successful, this latest project will lay a foundation for genetic engineering of nutritional quality, a long hoped for payoff, but a result still to be realized.

» New Spray Technology that Reduces Pesticide Use

Researchers at the Volcani Center and the University of Georgia, with funding from two BARD projects, have developed an aerodynamic/electrostatic method to deliver fine particles of either chemical or biological materials with exceptional precision and efficiency. This equipment, now patented and marketed worldwide by the University of Georgia, uses a novel and highly effective method of imparting high levels of electrical charge to finely divided liquid or solid particles. The equipment also includes electronic instrumentation to measure and characterize dose-response effects on the viability of biological particles such as microorganisms or pollen grains. Mathematical modeling and light-intensified machine-vision image analyses are used to measure microdeposition characteristics of spray droplets on leaves. Laboratory and field evaluations have documented, typically, three to six times greater particle deposition directly attributable to the incorporation of electrostatic forces of attraction as part of the air-assisted delivery system. The result is 50% reduction in the amount of pesticide dispensed per unit of land, with the same or better pest control, compared to a full-rate conventional spray application. The use of this equipment for mechanized pollination is a potential alternative to traditional pollination by bees in areas where such means of pollination is endangered by natural or man-made factors.

» Biological Control of Soilborne Pathogens

One of BARD’s major contributions has been in the area of biological control of soilborne plant pathogens. Cornell University (Geneva) and Hebrew University, (Rehovot) scientists collaborated with BARD funding that led to the commercialization of special strains of Trichoderma as biocontrol agents, primarily of root infecting fungi but also of some leaf-attacking fungi. Biological control in the rhizosphere and phyllosphere is now scientifically and technically as advanced as the companion fields of nitrogen fixation and mychorrhizal associations for biofertilization of plants. BARD funding was critical, both for the initial discovery and for later development, of a concept for use in commercial agriculture.

The initial research tested and proved the concept that seed, rather the direct application to soil, is the most effective route for the delivery of these fungal biocontrol agents into the root-soil ecosystem. Subsequently, highly competitive strains of the biocontrol fungus were developed.

Several of the Trichoderma strains discovered or developed are now being used commercially in Israel, Europe, and the United States. Several companies in Israel and the US are commercializing or have rights to commercialize these strains. Products are now being sold for use on greenhouse, turf, and row crops. Other products have been registered for control of foliar and fruit pathogens such as Botrytis gray mold and powder mildews in greenhouse environments. The broad-spectrum uses of these strains is unmatched by any other microbial biocontrol product or plant-associated microorganism. The genes encoding the biocontrol enzymes from Trichoderma are being licensed or sublicensed to companies for use as sources of disease resistance in plants, notably alfalfa, turf, ornamentals, apples, tobacco, potatoes, and grapes.

» Genomics & Breeding

In 1982, BARD very likely funded the first proposal, by any agency, for DNA level marker research in agriculture. Sponsored research uncovered the first DNA level polymorphisms in a livestock species. It initiated the shift from RFLPs to microsatellites as the major genomic marker, making major contributions to both the chicken and bovine genomic maps and including the establishment of the international reference families for chicken and bovine. Synteny (the degree of similarity between species in distribution of genes on the chromosome) relationships between bovine/human/mouse genomes were determined and used for comparative mapping and comparative positional cloning of genes. The first QTL mapping experiments were carried out with poultry and cattle. The basic statistical designs for mapping and fine mapping were developed at the Hebrew University. These include F2 and backcross designs; daughter and granddaughter designs (the latter is the major mapping design utilized in dairy cattle mapping); advanced intercross lines and full-sib intercross lines for fine mapping; selective genotyping and selective DNA pooling for cost-effective QTL mapping.

The scope of this research is international, contributing significantly to the early development of a genome map of cattle, as is reflected in the participation of both the US and Israeli teams in development of the first and second generation linkage maps of the bovine genome. A major contribution of these groups was the mapping of genes (Type I loci) that are useful for comparative mapping and exploitation of the wealth of information generated in human and mouse genome projects.

The research generated by these early BARD projects was undoubtedly influential in demonstrating the value of such a program.

Over and above these specific achievements lies the establishment of an ambience for genomic approaches to animal breeding that has led to their rapid adoption by the community of animal geneticists. Worldwide, major QTL mapping studies are underway or nearing completion in all livestock species. Implementation of the mapping results in commercial applications and identification and cloning of the actual genes corresponding to QTL, are the major challenges as we enter the 21st Century.

» Algal Culture

The basic knowledge and molecular tools generated from BARD support has significantly enhanced the utility of Haematococcus pluvialis and other algae as biological sources for use in pigmentation of fish and as a natural source of food colorants and for improving the nutritional quality of human diets.

BARD has supported research on the regulation of solar energy conversion to biomass and lipids in marine unicellular algae. Unicellular algae are able to synthesize and accumulate special lipid components and fatty acids, which are known for their high nutritional and therapeutic values. The research specifically focused on two species of marine microalgae that produce very long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. The scientific contributions of these projects are considered as breakthroughs in many aspects of algal research and algal biotechnology.

The molecular tools to study gene structure and gene regulation in non-chlorophyte marine unicellular algae were established. Light harvesting complexes such as fucoxanthin-chlorophyll binding protein (FCP) and violaxanthin-chlorophyll binding protein (VCP) were isolated, purified and characterized. Genomic and cDNA libraries were constructed and screened for the relevant genes. Isolated clones were characterized, creating the basic requirements for gene expression studies and genetic manipulation of algal cells.

The feasibility of algal biomass production for aquaculture and human health was established by demonstrating on a semi-industrial scale the capabilities or mass production. Nutritional studies verified the importance of algal polyunsaturated fatty acids for the development of animal and demonstrate that algal biomass fed to pregnant and lactating rodents can benefit their offspring.

» Identification of QTLs

BARD funded research aimed at developing and testing a new method for systematic discovery and utilization of quantitative trait loci(QTLs) from wild germplasm in the production of improved crop varieties using the tomato as a model system. The results indicated that wild populations of plants carry tremendous wealth of potentially valuable alleles. Many of the genes found would not have been predicted from the phenotype of the wild plants. For example, a gene was found that enhances both the red pigmentation of tomato fruit (lycopene) and the size of tomato fruit from wild species that have very small green fruit (i.e. do not make lycopene). Some of the identified QTLs have a significant effect of improving yield and quality of tomato varieties, and these are in use by seed companies in Israel and the US in their breeding programs through the application of marker-assisted methodologies. Using fine mapping and nearly isogenic lines, the two labs have now begun dissecting each QTL and have narrowed several of the QTLs determining yield, sugar content in the fruit, fruit size and shape down to individual BAC and cosmid clones.

The approach to improving tomato crop yields through QTLs introduced from wild species shows promise for exploiting the great wealth of potentially valuable alleles carried by wild relatives. QTLs with significant effects on improving yield and quality are now in use by Israeli and US seed companies who are adopting marker assisted selection methods. The work with tomato clearly indicates what is possible with other economically important crops.

» Increased Fruit Sugar Content

In tomato and melon sweetness is a major determinant of quality. BARD funded ARO scientists and their colleagues from North Carolina State University, ARS, UC-Davis and the Hebrew University to identify pathway steps that may limit sugar accumulation and to try to relieve constraints by using natural genetic variation, molecular modification, or modified agrotechniques.

In tomato, a recessive gene that affects invertase activity and hence, sucrose accumulation, was found in two wild species. Invertase mediates the hydrolysis of sucrose. The gene was introduced into fresh market and processing tomatoes by both traditional breeding and genetic engineering strategies. Two other genes that promote fructose accumulation are being used to breed sweeter fresh market tomato varieties.

Another strategy was to increase fruit sugar content by increasing the content of transient starch in young fruit, using a natural variant of ADP-glucose pyrophosphorylase, a key, limiting enzyme. The variant, from a wild species, has a higher activity for an extended period of fruit development and increases both starch and final sugar content in the fruit. Breeding lines with this variant are being used in breeding programs. In melon, invertase has a major role in establishing sucrose levels in mature fruit. Genetic variants were found and two genes for the enzyme in melon fruit were cloned. A gene for the important fruit sucrose translocator has also been cloned. A previously unknown enzyme was discovered: alkaline alpha-galactosidase controls sugar import into the fruit and also has some potential in food biotechnology in removing oligosaccharides that contribute to flatulence from soybean milk. The gene for this enzyme has been cloned and is presently the subject of ongoing research.

» Biocontrol of Nematodes

Nematodes cause billions of dollars in crop damage each year in the United States and Israel, while the nematicides used to reduce their numbers in soil below economic threshold populations are being banned for environmental reasons. New biological and ecological approaches are needed to manage these pests. BARD projects have investigated the factors that attract nematodes to roots so as to reveal ways to block the attraction and thereby starve the nematodes. This group was the first to discover the presence of specific carbohydrate molecules on the skin (outer cuticle) of the nematode, which are thought to match up with (recognize) complementary receptors on the root surface. The identification, location, and characterization of these carbohydrate molecules required the use of some novel experiments.

The trait for heat tolerance was transferred from the IS5 strain to the HP88 strain of H. bacteriophora. The transfer was accomplished by allowing the heat tolerant strain (IS5) to mate with the commercial strain (HP88). The new IS5 strain may be used as an effective biological control agent in warm environments. In addition, IS5 can be used as a genetic source for cross-hybridization with other H. bacteriophora strains.

» Biocontrol of Postharvest Decay in Fruits and Vegetables

Over 25% of harvested fruits and vegetables are lost to postharvest decay. Because of health and environmental concerns, the development of biologically based alternatives to synthetic fungicides filled a critical need for the fruit and vegetable industry. BARD collaborative projects have focused on the development of biological control of postharvest diseases of fruits, as alternative methods to chemical control. A new mechanism of resistance to pathogens, based on the presence of preformed antifungal compounds in the peel of unripe fruits that inhibit fungal attack was revealed and characterized. Based on the findings of this research, nonpathogenic transgenic strains of Colletotrichum that enhance higher levels of preformed antifungal compounds were developed for biological control. Fruit were shown to be highly sensitive to pathogen or elicitors touch and responded quickly by production of oxygen species that activate the resistance process.

» Animal Husbandry

Dairy Herd Automation — A comprehensive study of automation and computer analysis for dairy management related to feeding weighing, automated recording systems, and artificial intelligence is contributing to increased efficiency of milk production in the US.

Ruminant Reproduction — A study that is of wide significance for dairying in warm environments developed methodologies to reduce thermal stress and improve feed intake, milk production and fertility. Impaired fertility under heat stress was traced to hormonal factors related to the function of the ovulatory follicle. The increasingly popular and cost effective "timed- artificial insemination (AI) program" was initiated by this project.

Bovine Genetics — Innovative statistical methods were developed to analyze variation and heritable traits in dairy cattle and to improve classical dairy breeding programs. In addition, continuation projects have initiated a shift from statistical analyses of heritability to genome mapping. This has directly contributed to the international bovine genome mapping program.

» Plant Protection

Resistance to Insect Transmitted Viruses — BARD research has elucidated the way in which the plant can prevent viral infection through disruption of the plant viral recognition mechanisms. This innovative research will lead to control of insect transmitted viral diseases in plants whose control by conventional means is extremely difficult, or carries with it serious environmental hazards.

Alternative to Methyl Bromide — Enzymes that are excreted by the fungus Trichoderma, degrade the cell wall of pathogens. Biological control of soil borne pathogenic fungi can be controlled by manipulation of these enzymes. This promises an effective alternative to methyl bromide, which will eventually be prohibited for agricultural use because of its effect on the ozone layer. Genes that overexpress these enzymes have been isolated in transgenic Trichoderma and Rhizobium. A product based on these developments is now available commercially as an alternative to the use of methyl bromide.

Control of Fungal Diseases — Molecular approaches were employed to produce new commercial tomato varieties with resistance to several important fungal diseases. These new varieties are used commercially world-wide. The study helped explain the genetic diversity of the widespread pathogenic strains of the Fusarium fungus and identified unique DNA sequences that led to the development of diagnostic probes that enable precise identification of thevirulent forms of the fungus.

» Crop Improvement

Tomato Quality — Advanced breeding methods are being used to improve the introduction of useful genes from wild and inferior varieties into elite cultivated varieties. Single genes that control the quality of tomatoes (measured by the Brix index) were identified and transferred to new varieties. This resulted in a major improvement in the Brix index and crop yield. To the California tomato industry alone, such an improvement is worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Better Bread — High molecular weight glutenin subunits in wheat seeds are critical determinants of the visco-elastic properties of bread dough. Molecular engineering of these subunits has opened the way to improved dough strength. This enables quality wheat production in tropical and sub tropical areas of the world, where such improvements are impossible to achieve through conventional breeding programs. With the growing importance of wheat world-wide, this research will benefit both producers and consumers long into the future.