Skip to main content
ARS Home » Animal Production and Protection » Research » Research Project #435959

Research Project: ARSX Disruptive Pest Challenge

Location: Animal Production and Protection

Project Number: 0208-32000-001-089-S
Project Type: Non-Assistance Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Aug 15, 2019
End Date: Aug 14, 2020

Open innovation (e.g. prize competitions, grand challenges) is an approach to problem-solving that hinges on managing knowledge flows across organizational boundaries to broaden and diversify participation in solution delivery. Prize competitions and Grand Challenges, two notable examples of this approach, have demonstrated significant value in advancing technological solutions to the most difficult problems affecting society. One critical problem in need of better solutions is the management of invading and emerging pests (referred jointly as “disruptive pests” hereafter). In the United States, invading species alone cause environmental damages and losses adding up to almost $120 billion per year, one third of it in crop and forest production losses. The partnership between Conservation X Labs and ARS seeks to design and test an open innovation approach to catalyze breakthrough solutions to disruptive pest species threatening American agriculture by: • Formulating a challenge statement seeking breakthrough solutions to disruptive pests, • Attracting 100 proposals to the disruptive pest challenge from ARS scientists, • Enabling the selection of the 10 most innovative solutions, • Designing a hackathon bringing solvers together to build upon their ideas, iteratively improving their design and developing a compelling pitch for funding.

Conservation X Labs (“cooperator”) is a 501(c)(3) organization with the mission to “Improve the efficacy, speed, cost, sustainability, and scale of conservation efforts through harnessing exponential technology, open Innovation, and entrepreneurship to end human- induced extinction.” They rank top among organizations leveraging open innovation to accelerate breakthrough solutions to environmental problems. Recognizing this distinction, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Invasive Species Council sought their partnership in their search for breakthrough solutions to threatening invading species. A recent manifestation of this partnership is the 'Ohi'a Challenge, a 2018-2019 challenge competition seeking solutions to rapidly detect and prevent the spread of an invasive fungal disease threatening the survival of Hawai'i’s iconic 'Ohi'a trees. Similarly, Conservation X Labs could help ARS implement an open innovation approach to catalyze breakthroughs in the management of disruptive agricultural pests. Critical to the success of open innovation organizations is their ability to attract solutions from a large pool of innovators competent in the domain where the breakthrough is sought. With over 2,000 Ph.D. research scientists distributed throughout the United States, ARS represents one of the planet’s most important brain trusts in the agricultural sciences. A partnership with ARS could thus enable Conservation X Labs to significantly and meaningfully expand their solver community, augmenting their ability to address Grand Challenges at the interface of agriculture and the environment.