Participants from the AI and Food Systems Data event, standing for a group photograph

Ingredients for the Food-ture: UC Davis Cooks Up Innovation

January 16-18: Campus experts hosted 3 food systems convenings

At a university renowned for breeding a better-tasting strawberry and engineering a famine-ending variety of rice, a new food revolution is surging. In a single week in January, UC Davis hosted three food innovation conferences to explore how food systems can be adapted to meet the world’s growing demands for sustainable, nutritious, and affordable foods.

UC Davis faculty and staff possess an unparalleled range of expertise across agriculture and food science, which has helped the university earn its top ranking and international recognition in agriculture and food technology. Experts in these fields participated in January’s convenings, along with leaders from industry and community groups, who brought strengths in entrepreneurship and workforce development.

“At UC Davis, we are excited to be bringing together experts from disciplines as disparate as ethical economics to organic chemistry in order to holistically improve our food systems,” said Jonna Mazet, Vice Provost of Grand Challenges. “It is time for a food revolution that will deliver wholesome food that people want to eat, at a price that makes it accessible to all.”

Cross-campus connections

On Tuesday Jan. 16, UC Davis Grand Challenges hosted a faculty, staff, and researcher networking event on campus as part of its Sustainable Food Systems Grand Challenge. “UC Davis is a huge campus with food science and agriculture touching every one of the university’s 11 schools and colleges,” said Molly McKinney, Grand Challenges’ Chief of Staff. The event was requested by researchers at UC Davis as a chance to connect, learn, and discuss research happening across campus in order to develop a comprehensive food systems agenda. “Convening experts from multiple perspectives and disciplines, with guidance by a concentrated effort and strategy, is necessary for UC Davis to make a large impact in a global food system,” said McKinney.

Flyer for the Grand Challenges Sustainable Food Systems Faculty Connect Event

UC Davis Grand Challenges hosted a Sustainable Food Systems networking event on Jan. 16 to help faculty, staff, and researchers from across campus meet and discuss innovative ideas for positively impacting our world’s food systems.

More than two dozen people attended, including faculty, researchers, and staff from the university’s offices for Government Relations, Development & Alumni Relations, and Strategic Communications. The event kicked off with a networking round robin in which attendees shared responses to the prompt, “What is the most impactful/ambitious project relating to sustainable food systems that you’re currently working on or would like to be working on?” During the meeting, Grand Challenges facilitated discussions around future research directions, collaborations, and avenues for disseminating research and policy recommendations. Attendees had a chance to sign up for Strategic Communications’ Experts Lists and for opportunities to partner with the university’s government relations experts in Sacramento and Washington, DC.

Next generation food innovation

On Wednesday Jan. 17, UC Davis hosted Artificial Intelligence and Food Systems Data to Enhance Human and Planetary Health, a food systems event that focused on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and data science to enhance the nutrition and sustainability of foods. The full-day event was co-sponsored by the UC Davis AI Institute for Next Generation Food Systems (AIFS), UC Davis Innovation Institute for Food and Health (IIFH), and Periodic Table of Food Initiative.

Participants from the AI and Food Systems Data event, standing for a group photograph

Experts and leaders from across UC Davis, industry, and government attended the AI + Food Systems Data to Enhance Human and Planetary Health event on Jan. 17 (Photo credit: Phong Duong).

With 11 keynote speakers and over 60 registrants, discussions at the conference examined the use of AI and data science to improve how we employ technology for sustainable farming and to design new bioactive ingredients that unlock and enhance the nutritional potential of food. Food and agriculture technologies are advancing rapidly, and stakeholders in these industries are racing to identify scientifically sound, data-driven solutions to improve human and planetary health, according to Veronica Keys, Program Assistant for IIFH.

The diverse line-up of topics offered a close look at components of the research pipeline that are needed to integrate AI with food systems, from developing the data infrastructure to the direct links to farming, human health, and planetary wellness. “This event serves as a meeting ground for collaboration across disciplines, backgrounds, and geographies to drive forward innovative solutions that are both good for people and the planet,” said Keys. Transdisciplinary conversations like these are critical for safely developing new technologies that can have such profound impacts on the world. As home to one of the few National Artificial Intelligence Research Institutes that bridge AI and food systems, UC Davis proudly hosts these talks as it works to responsibly evolve food systems technology for the betterment of humanity and our planet.

New meats (and proteins) on the block

The third food event in the week was the two-day launch of the Integrative Center for Alternative Meat & Protein (iCAMP), which spanned Wednesday Jan. 17 and Thursday Jan. 18 at the UC Davis Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science. As the world’s population approaches 10 billion people, demand for protein will skyrocket and overwhelm our current food systems. Current estimates suggest protein demand could double in the next 25 years, according to Kara Leong, iCAMP’s Executive Director. iCAMP’s mission is to meet this growing demand by creating new sources of protein, including fungal-based meats and cultured animal meats, that are healthy, flavorful, and sustainable.

Logo for iCAMP

The Integrative Center for Alternative Meat & Protein at UC Davis was launched on Jan. 17 and 18.

On Wednesday, iCAMP hosted 36 speakers, many of whom came from iCAMP’s partners at the USDA, UCLA, Culinary Institute of America, University of Maryland – Baltimore County, and Solano Community College. The speakers brought expertise ranging from food science to workforce development and discussed each element of the production pipeline for alternative meat and proteins. “We wanted to showcase the breadth of our research, the breadth of our programs, and how we’re working with industry,” said Leong.

Experts at the event agreed that the technology is ready to be moved from the small-scale production of research laboratory benches to the large-scale production needed for commercialization and public consumption, an expansion that Leong calls “from bench to scale.” Wednesday’s sessions ended with a panel discussion about the Sacramento region’s capacity for scaling up alternative protein production, which iCAMP hopes to facilitate by creating a network of local researchers, businesses, and investors in the food technology and alternative protein sector.

On Thursday, iCAMP held a Partners Retreat, attended by representatives from academia, industry, and economic development groups. The goal for the day was to discuss iCAMP’s plan for building a strong global and regional network of strategic partners and to receive constructive feedback from key stakeholders. Establishing partnerships, collaborations, and an interactive ecosystem are iCAMP’s highest priorities, according to Leong. “We are happy to speak to industry, non-profits, governmental organizations – with all who are interested in what we are doing and becoming involved with our new center of excellence,” said Leong.

Campus-wide commitment to sustainable food systems

The events of last week were an inspiring alignment of food systems research at UC Davis and across its network of partners, representing a full pipeline from ideation to implementation. Grand Challenges provides the broader ecosystem for facilitating partnerships and access to resources within food systems research; AI researchers in AIFS and IIFH develop novel ingredients to unlock a new generation of healthy, nutritious foods; and iCAMP accelerates the translation of alternative meat and protein from benchtop discoveries to large-scale commercialization. The unique set of food expertise at UC Davis – unified under a single vision for sustainability, health, and equity – fuels the university’s unparalleled strengths in agriculture and food science and promises a bright future for its positive impact on the world’s food systems.

Beth Rose Middleton Manning featured on “Face to Face” with Gary May

On November 28th, 2023, Grand Challenges Champion Beth Rose Middleton Manning was November’s featured guest on “Face to Face,” a monthly conversation series with Chancellor Gary May.  They discussed Native environmental policy, the connection between scholarship and activism, and other topics relating to Professor Middleton Manning and her research. Professor Middleton Manning  highlighted the importance of honoring Indigenous and Native ways of knowing, and celebrated the work being done by Native activists both within the Native American Studies department and external to the UC. She also called for greater recognition of the history of our homeland and its link to contemporary tribal communities, leadership, and governance. Her research continues to inspire our work within the Reimagining the Land-grant challenge area.

Grand Challenges is proud to partner with Professor Middleton Manning as one of our Reimagining the Land-grant Champions. Read more about Professor Beth Rose Middleton Manning at

Grand Challenges Champion Wins Grant to Partner with California Indian Communities for Climate Adaptation

In an exciting new partnership, the University of California and the State of California are joining
forces to fund over $80 million in climate action research that will help communities in California
mitigate and adapt to climate change. The funded projects were announced on August 23rd and
involve more than 130 partners from across the state, including community organizations,
industry groups, and public agencies. Among the recipients of the grants was Grand Challenges
Champion Beth Rose Middleton Manning with her project Planning Landscape Resilience for
California Indian Allotment Lands, which will receive approximately $1.6 million in funding.
In partnership with California Indian Legal Services, California Public Domain Allotees
Association, and UC Berkeley, Professor Middleton Manning is working alongside California
Indian communities to develop adaptation strategies for reducing climate and fire risk on
California Indian Public Domain Allotments. The core focus of the collaborative effort is to
engage with California Indian communities, merge climate- and fire-risk assessments with
Indigenous knowledge, and empower their communities with the tools to acquire funding that
supports place-based stewardship practices.

The project’s goal of collaborating with California Indian communities to achieve climate
adaptation aligns with two of the UC Davis grand challenges: reimagining the land-grant
university and the pursuit of climate solutions. We congratulate Professor Middleton Manning on
the award and look forward to the positive outcomes of the project.

Read more about Grand Challenges Champion Beth Rose Middleton Manning at

Innovation at the Heart of Council on Competitiveness Launch Summit

If the United States is going to remain competitive in the global economy, the country needs more innovations from more people, faster — and UC Davis can be a guide in many areas, speakers said March 27 during the first day of a “launch summit” hosted on campus by the national Council on Competitiveness.

“Here on the campus of UC Davis we are seeing place-based innovation in action,” said Deborah L. Wince-Smith, president and CEO of the nonprofit Council on Competitiveness.

The council’s National Commission on Innovation and Competitiveness Frontiers’ Phase 2 Launch Summit brought together university, research lab and workforce leaders for a two-day event that included presentations, panel discussions, breakout groups and tours of campus…

Read the Full Story Here
Portrait of Howard-Yana Shapiro and Alfred Chuang.

Howard-Yana Shapiro and Alfred Chuang to Co-Chair Advisory Board

We are excited to announce Alfred Chuang and Howard-Yana Shapiro have accepted roles as co-chairs of the UC Davis Grand Challenges External Advisory Board.

Chuang is the Founder and General Partner at Race Capital and sits on Chancellor May’s Board of Advisors. Recognized by Andreessen Horowitz as the “Silicon Valley CEO’s CEO,” Chuang has shown unmatched abilities to create and develop world-changing enterprises. As an accomplished entrepreneur and venture capitalist, he has displayed phenomenal skills in executing broad visions in highly competitive markets. As a Software Development Forum Visionary Award winner, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist, UC Davis Outstanding Alumnus Award, and UC Davis Distinguished Engineering Alumni Medal, Chuang’s deep understanding of how education can help change the world and how entrepreneurship can advance solutions to the world’s wicked problems will add exceptional insight and remarkable acumen to our developing board.

Shapiro has built an extraordinary career in sustainable agriculture and agroforestry systems, plant breeding, molecular biology and genetics during the past 50 years. He helped lead Mars, Incorporated as Chief Agricultural Officer for two decades, applying ethical production principles at a global scale and fostering the “unprecedented and uncommon collaboration” necessary for a sustainable future. A former Fulbright Scholar, Ford Foundation Fellow, winner of the National Endowment for the Humanities Award, and recipient of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Award of Distinction and Chancellor’s Lifetime Achievement in Innovation award, the Senior Fellow in the UC Davis Plant Sciences Department has dedicated much of his life to ending world hunger and malnutrition, founding both the African Orphan Crops Consortium and the African Plant Breeding Academy. Shapiro’s leadership will be invaluable as Grand Challenges engages the campus community and grows our partner networks to successfully tackle the world’s most pressing issues.

Welcome Alfred and Howard!

Professor Christine Kreuder Johnson Appointed New Director for the UC Davis Institute for Pandemic Intelligence

UC Davis Grand Challenges is pleased to announce Professor Christine Kreuder Johnson as the new Director of the Institute for Pandemic Intelligence (IPI). Dr. Johnson has been serving as a Champion for the Grand Challenge on Emerging Health Threats since inception in 2022. The Institute for Pandemic Intelligence was also founded as part of the UC Davis Grand Challenge for Emerging Health Threats in 2022.

“Dr. Johnson possesses unparalleled knowledge of how to mitigate pandemic threats,” said Dr. Jonna Mazet, Vice Provost of Grand Challenges. “She is the ideal person to lead the university’s work in building a collaborative, transdisciplinary network to prepare for impending threats to health.”

Harnessing the Power of UC Davis for Pandemic Prevention

Preparing for the next pandemic requires implementing innovative practices and technologies developed by UC Davis and our partners to identify, respond to, and mitigate epidemics with the goal of saving lives. Professor Johnson brings over 20 years of experience in education, research, policy, partnerships, and strengthening capacity for pandemic prevention and global health security.

At UC Davis, Dr. Johnson has been leading initiatives to investigate the root causes of emerging infectious diseases and identify novel solutions to mitigate and prevent pandemic threats. Her research activities focus on zoonotic disease spillover and spread dynamics, epidemiologic drivers of zoonotic disease transmission, ecosystem level processes that impact wildlife population health and emerging infectious diseases, and mechanisms underlying species declines. She provides epidemiologic support to national and state agencies during unusual outbreak events and has developed and implemented risk-based approaches for surveillance and standardized risk assessment to enable systematic data analysis across a range of field studies from the local to global scale.

Her accomplishments include the design of core didactic instruction in One Health, ecosystem health, and population health for graduate and professional degree programs and primary mentorship to over 45 graduate students and post-doctoral scholars. From 2009-2020, Professor Johnson served as epidemiologist for USAID’s Emerging Pandemic Threats PREDICT project, which aimed to optimize global surveillance activities to identify infectious disease threats at high-risk animal-human interfaces and worked with host country governments and international organizations to meet global health priorities. She also directed surveillance activities for PREDICT to implement concurrent animal and human sample and data collection needed to detect disease spillover, amplification, and spread and inform risk mitigation strategies.

Currently, Professor Johnson serves as Principal Investigator for the EpiCenter for Emerging Infectious Disease Intelligence (NIH-NIAID Centers for Research in Emerging Infectious Disease), which seeks to strengthen disease detection capabilities for high priority zoonoses and understand adaptation in spillover and transmission, providing epidemiologic insight to mitigate risk and prevent epidemics. This work, implemented with collaborating scientists in Peru and Uganda, is investigating the influence of environmental change, especially deforestation and climate, on ebolaviruses, coronaviruses, and arboviruses at the edge of forest and urban ecosystems. Professor Johnson also directs the EpiCenter for Disease Dynamics, which is a team-based learning environment using data intensive approaches to inform solutions to complex problems spanning animal, human, and environmental health.

“Through the Institute for Pandemic Intelligence, we hope to harness the power of UC Davis and capture what triggers these emerging health threats with early detection and new technologies. We also are working to understand how these threats impact both humans and animals, and how we can inform community engagement and environmental stewardship,” said Dr. Johnson.

Dr. Johnson serves as Professor of Epidemiology and Ecosystem Health in the School of Veterinary Medicine, as Associate Director of the One Health Institute. She was elected into the National Academy of Medicine for pioneering approaches to surveillance of emerging diseases at the animal-human interface and investigating environmental drivers for spillover of viruses. She is also a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a distinguished U.S. Science Envoy for the Department of State.

More about Professor Christine Kreuder Johnson

• UC Davis News: Professor Christine Kreuder Johnson to serve as U.S. Science Envoy
• On CBS 60 Minutes: The Oct. 30 episode of 60 Minutes featured the EpiCenter for Emerging Infectious Disease Intelligence work near the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
• UC Davis News: The Link Between Virus Spillover, Wildlife Extinction and the Environment
• UC Davis News: Epidemiologist Elected to National Academy of Medicine

More about Grand Challenges

Addressing our planet’s most complex issues requires new perspectives and visionary action. Grand Challenges is catalyzing the campus community to go beyond team science to holistically tackle wicked problems. Built from a foundation of grassroots work and prioritized by leaders across UC Davis, Grand Challenges cultivates and champions work to understand and find innovative solutions to complex issues. The work done by our campus community will serve as a global model and enable our world to move forward with equity and resilience.

Media Contact

Adam Jensen, Grand Challenges Communications Manager, [email protected]

CEPI teams with UC Davis to identify viruses most likely to emerge

CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and University of California, Davis have announced a new partnership agreement to advance and expand the application of “SpillOver,” a viral ranking app that directly compares the risks posed by hundreds of animal and human viruses. The database ranks hundreds of virus, host, and environmental risk factors to identify viruses with the highest risk of zoonotic spillover from wildlife to humans and to highlight those most likely to spread and cause human outbreaks.

“Together we will use cutting-edge methods to dramatically increase the amount of virus data available for risk ranking. This is a critical step forward in streamlining vaccine pipelines with the power to revolutionize epidemic and pandemic preparedness.”

CEPI will provide up to US$1.76 million in funding to take the “SpillOver” app to the next level, identifying and expanding its database to include new risk factors for disease spillover, like viruses that infect domesticated animals and viruses harboured by reptiles and amphibians. Researchers at the UC Davis One Health Institute will also pioneer a new system, using artificial intelligence, which is capable of parsing multiple sources in search of these viral data, to enable automated updates.

UC Davis researchers developed the SpillOver platform, an open database, using data from 509,721 samples taken from 74,635 animals in 28 countries and public records as part of a virus discovery project. These data were then used to rank the spillover potential (ie, the risk of a virus jumping from animals to people) of 887 wildlife viruses.


Read the Full Story Here

Searching for the Next Deadly Virus, Before it Ignites Another Pandemic

Amazing work by the UC Davis One Health Institute to detect new viruses in global hotspots was recently featured on the CBS television news magazine 60 Minutes.

Christine Kreuder Johnson, Co-Champion of the Grand Challenges Emerging Health Threats focus area, was among those interviewed about this critical effort. Click here to read more about Epi-Intelligence at the One Health Institute’s website.


From 60 Minutes: “An outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in Uganda has alarmed scientists. While no cases have yet been discovered outside Africa, the U.S. has started screening all arrivals from Uganda. Ebola is among the deadliest of pathogens capable of jumping from wild animals to humans—just as COVID-19 likely did. It’s called spillover. Disease detectives warn the threat of spillover has never been higher as urban populations grow and come into contact with wild animals and their viruses. Since 2009, American scientists have discovered more than 900 new viruses. Now, the U.S. government is doubling down, sending virus hunters to global hotspots to find the next deadly virus before it finds us. We joined a team from the University of California Davis and their Ugandan partners in the rugged Impenetrable Forest on the search for Pathogen X.”

Grand Challenges Champions: Collaboration Key to Solving Daunting Issues

A passion for connecting people and tackling the world’s wicked problems unites the UC Davis Grand Challenges Champions.

Beth Rose Middleton Manning, Isabel Montañez, Christine Kreuder Johnson, and Justin Siegel spoke about their roles as challenge champions during a UC Davis Plugged In virtual event Sept. 28. Champions are people who have partnered with Grand Challenges to facilitate campus groups pursuing transdisciplinary activities on one of the initiative’s initial focus areas: Climate Solutions, Emerging Health Threats, Sustainable Food Systems, and Reimagining the Land-Grant University.

“I think the opportunity for transdisciplinary engagement, research, communication, teaching, and training has never been better, and that is incredibly exciting to me,” Emerging Health Threats Champion Christine Kreuder Johnson said.

Watch the Full Virtual Event Here

Sustainable Food Systems Champion Justin Siegel highlighted his desire to be involved with the initiative by recalling a conversation he had with Howard-Yana Shapiro, Senior Fellow in the UC Davis Plant Sciences Department and Co-Chair of the Grand Challenges Board of Advisors. Shapiro noted that, while Siegel’s prior work on celiac disease was noble and important, the innovations impacted a relatively small percentage of the world population, inspiring Siegel to pursue additional world-changing work.

“Don’t you want to effect 50 or 100 percent of the world? Don’t you really want to do things that touch everybody’s lives,” Siegel recalled Shapiro saying. “And it just sat with me, and I was like, ‘The answer is, yes, I definitely do.’”

The scale of global problems can feel overwhelming at times, but the UC Davis campus community is making great contributions to solving these problems. The goal of the Grand Challenges initiative is to escalate our impacts by harnessing the power of the breadth and depth of expertise on our campus, along with our connected global networks, to make even more significant and immediate improvements in the lives of billions of people.

Climate Crisis Champion Isabel Montañez discussed not being daunted in the face of seemingly immense obstacles when it comes to global problems like climate change.

“It’s the innovative and purposeful research, such as what is being carried out here at UC Davis, that has a very high potential to turn around these impacts of climate change, and in our not-so-distant future,” Montañez said.

Reckoning with how UC Davis was founded, the heinous ramifications for Indigenous peoples, and creating a more just university will be a key component of Reimagining the Land-Grant University, said Champion Beth Rose Middleton Manning, noting the importance of community when it comes to devising real solutions.

“We’re going beyond the land acknowledgment to build relationships, partnerships, collaborations, and projects that are mutually beneficial,” Middleton Manning said. “We’re further realizing the promise of democratizing education by investing in diversity and inclusion.”

How each of the initial focus areas overlap and influence one another was a frequent point of discussion during the virtual event. UC Davis’ unique potential to address such a broad range of intertwined issues was also highlighted.

“We’ve all been saying these are wicked, tricky questions and the problems are deeply interconnected, and there’s not a one-word answer to any of these,” Siegel said.

Vice Provost for Grand Challenges Jonna Mazet, who moderated the panel, discussed the importance of developing comprehensive solutions, as well as including people and disciplines who have not been previously represented.

“We are now intentionally and aggressively accelerating our work on some of the world’s most daunting challenges,” Mazet said. “And, importantly, expanding the role and visibility of voices in the social sciences and arts and other disciplines to help society connect with and implement effective solutions.”

And, all agreed, those solutions have never been more needed than right now.

“This is a defining moment in so many ways and Davis is incredibly well-placed to meet the moment,” Kreuder Johnson added.

Grand Challenges is growing and additional opportunities to be involved are happening soon. To get involved, please contact us at [email protected]. Follow us on Twitter: @GC_UCDavis.

Grand Challenges Announces Initial Focus Areas

Climate change presents growing risks to life on Earth, personal decisions take on increased significance in an age of emerging health threats and antiquated food systems impact millions of lives every day. UC Davis is a model for universities around the world, and how we operate as a land grant university has never been more important – especially because of our ability to make positive change.

Broad and often nuanced solutions are needed for the host of complex problems facing the world. UC Davis Grand Challenges was initiated to help remove obstacles to transdisciplinary collaborations and to use the power of expertise in our campus community to find more holistic solutions to some of these daunting issues. The initiative is working rapidly to bring disciplines together in new ways to advance UC Davis’ global impact.

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