Using Host-Induced Gene Silencing To Fight Striga: Michael Axtell
The Problem: Striga (Witchweed) is a parasitic plant that has a devastating impact on maize and sorghum crops in Africa.
The Idea: Use advanced Host-Induced Gene Silencing to engineer transgenic maize that can silence Striga mRNA.
The Risk: A single previous study, using a more rudimentary approach and with flawed methodology, had disappointing results.
Developing Transgenic Mosquitos To Study Virus Interactions: Vanessa Macias
The Problem: Small RNA biology controls interactions between mosquitoes and viruses and may contribute to the evolution of new human viral diseases, but our understanding of the mechanisms involved is limited.
The Idea: Genetically engineer the genome of the mosquito species Aedes aegypti to express recombinant tagged proteins and synthetic piRNAs, addressing existing hurdles in small RNA study and creating a suite of transgenic mosquitoes that could revolutionize study of mosquito-virus interactions.
The Risk: The project involves genetic engineering techniques that have previously rarely been attempted, and never in mosquitoes; NIH NIAID reviewers have repeatedly dubbed this effort innovative, but overly ambitious.
Seamless Microchip-Brain Interfaces In Invertebrates: Rudolf Schilder and Jean-Michel Mongeau
The Problem: The most advanced computers have yet to match the complexity displayed by the human brain when performing simple tasks; scientific understanding is still restricted and even state-of-the-art approaches have serious limitations.
The Idea: Develop a microchip for use in moth brains that mimics biological synapses, enabling seamless brain-chip interfaces that open up new possibilities for measuring and stimulating brains; if successful, this could be the foundational work on feasibility of brain-chip interfaces in invertebrates and revolutionize brain science.
The Risk: The feasibility and efficacy of in vivo chip implementation is unproven and faces a number of potential hurdles before being ready for traditional funding mechanisms.