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Idaho universities receive $20 million federal research grant

September 20, 2018

Idaho’s three research universities were awarded a $20 million grant recently from the National Science Foundation to study how rainbow trout and sagebrush adjust to changing environments, according to a news release from the University of Idaho.

The grant will fund a project incorporating more than three dozen researchers from Boise State University, the University of Idaho and Idaho State University, the release said.

The grant was awarded as part of the National Science Foundation’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, a program that funds projects in states that have historically received smaller amounts of federal research funds in areas related to science, engineering and technology. This is the eighth grant awarded to Idaho through the program.

Researchers will study the genetic, environmental and social systems connected to rainbow trout and sagebrush populations. The goal is to uncover and predict how rainbow trout and sagebrush — considered keystone organisms in the American West — adjust to changing environments.

“What we study is the capacity of populations and individuals in populations to adapt in certain environmental conditions,” said Ron Hardy, director of the University of Idaho’s Aquaculture Research Institute and a scientific leader on the new project.

The research could be applied to other species of plants, animals or bugs through genetic modeling. For example, identifying the genes that allow redband trout (a subspecies of rainbow trout commonly found in Idaho streams and rivers) to survive in exceptionally warm water could serve as a model for studying other species’ genetic disposition to adapt to similar conditions.

Rainbow trout and sagebrush were chosen because researchers have access to a database with an abundance of genetic information and material on those species. That wealth of information will allow the project to go faster, Hardy said.

Idaho is one of seven states receiving a grant through the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. Each state will have projects funded for five years.

The program is meant to boost Idaho universities’ capacity to compete with bigger states for grants, according to Laird Noh, chairman of the Idaho Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research Committee.

Past projects in Idaho that utilized the grant program include a study to “increase the state’s capacity to sustainably manage ecosystems affected by urban growth” and a study of “hydraulic change in high-elevation watersheds,” according to the Idaho Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research website.

Receiving a grant like this strengthens universities’ ability to conduct nationally competitive research and it’s an attractive pull for professors and researchers to work in the state, Noh said.

Boise State and Idaho State will hire a total of six new faculty with experience relevant to this project.

“One of the great virtues for the state of this program is that it has brought all three universities together, communicating and working toward common goals in science,” Noh said.

The $20 million grant is 83 percent of the total cost of the project. Another $4 will come from Idaho’s Higher Education Research Council, funding the remaining 17 percent of the total cost.

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