USDA

'Going Green' with Stink Bug Control

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Mon, 07/18/2016 - 08:47
â€~Going Green' with Stink Bug Control / July 18, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
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ARS researchers evaluate a sorghum trap crop being used to control stink bugs in adjacent fields of peanuts and cotton. Link to photo information
Agricultural Research Service (ARS) entomologist Patricia Glynn Tillman (center), technician Kristie Graham (right), and student technician Brittany Giles evaluate a sorghum trap crop being used to control stink bugs in adjacent fields of peanuts and cotton. Click the image for more information about it.


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'Going Green' with Stink Bug Control

By Dennis O'Brien
July 18, 2016

A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) entomologist has found "green" alternatives to insecticides to control three native stink bugs that damage cotton, and the new methods are catching on with growers.

The green stink bug (Chinavia hilaris), southern green stink bug (Nezara viridula), and brown stink bug (Euschistus servus) are a particular problem in the southeastern United States, because cotton is often grown alongside peanuts. Brown and southern green stink bugs develop in peanut fields and migrate into cotton. Green stink bugs move into cotton from nearby wooded areas.

Glynn Tillman, with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Tifton, Georgia, is studying the use of "trap crops," such as soybean and grain sorghum. Trap crops are planted in small strips alongside cotton so that the stink bugs will move into them instead.

Another option is using pheromone-baited traps to capture and kill the bugs. Nectar-producing plants can be grown to attract native parasitoid wasps that attack stink bugs. Placing plastic barriers between cotton and peanut rows is yet another control method.

In a recent study, Tillman and her colleagues grew cotton and peanuts side by side for two years. In the first year, they planted soybeans as a trap crop, with and without pheromone traps, between the cotton and peanut rows. In other areas, they placed 6-foot-high plastic barriers between the rows. In the second year of the study, they added nectar-producing buckwheat plants near the cotton. Each week during the May-to-October growing season, they counted the stink bugs and stink bug eggs killed by wasps, and documented the damage to cotton bolls.

They found that physical barriers between peanut and cotton were the most effective tool and that the multi-pronged approach is an effective alternative if barriers are not feasible. They also found that soybeans were an effective trap crop and that buckwheat plants attracted beneficial wasps that reduced stink bug numbers.

Read more about this research in the July 2016 issue of AgResearch.

ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency.

Categories: USDA

A Faster Way to Get Rid of Kudzu

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Wed, 07/13/2016 - 06:27
A Faster Way to Get Rid of Kudzu / July 13, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
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Kudzu engulfs an area in Mississippi. Link to photo information
Kudzu completely engulfs this Mississippi landscape and robs it of its value. Click the image for more information about it.


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A Faster Way to Get Rid of Kudzu

By Sandra Avant
July 13, 2016

According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) study, the use of combined management programs can control kudzu more quickly than individual methods in use today.

An invasive weed, kudzu was introduced to the United States in the late 1800s. It disrupts native ecosystems, threatens natural resources, and inhibits use of forest land, particularly in Mississippi, where kudzu is pervasive. Land infested with kudzu has little or no value.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Stoneville, Mississippi, reviewed different programs known to successfully suppress kudzu. Mark A. Weaver, a plant pathologist in the ARS Biological Control of Pests Research Unit, and his team used a combination of these programs, including a herbicide-free "organic" system, to achieve a high rate of kudzu suppression and eradication.

Typically, it takes about 10 years of persistent herbicide applications to eradicate kudzu. Weaver developed a series of effective management programs that can substantially reduce kudzu over one- and two-year periods.

Once landowners remove kudzu, they can use their land productively, according to Weaver. They can establish forestry, wildlife habitats and recreational parks.

Weaver applied four different herbicides, individually or in combination, and a bioherbicide treatment at three different kudzu-infested sites. (A bioherbicide is a biologically based control agent for weeds.) He repeated these treatments for two years. Results showed a high level of suppression on the small plots after just one year. An even higher percentage of kudzu—99 to 100 percent—was killed during the second year.

The organic treatment, which simultaneously established native vegetation, killed 91 percent of kudzu after one year and 95 percent after two years. The treatment involves applying a bioherbicide application, mowing and revegetation.

ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency.

Read more about this research in the July 2016 issue of AgResearch magazine.

Categories: USDA

Unlocking Cacao's Fungal Foe

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Wed, 07/06/2016 - 11:48
Unlocking Cacao's Fungal Foe / July 6, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
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Cross section of cocoa beans in a cacao pod. Link to photo information
Cross section of cocoa beans in a cacao pod. Click the image for more information about it.

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Unlocking Cacao's Fungal Foe

By Jan Suszkiw
July 6, 2016

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists have sequenced the frosty pod rot fungus genome. That advance could speed the development of cacao tree varieties that better withstand this costly blight.

The fungus that causes frosty pod rot disease, Moniliophthora roreri, occurs in most cacao-growing countries of Central and South America. Unchecked, the disease can destroy as much as 90 percent of the beans from which cocoa, cocoa butter, and ultimately chocolate are made.

Growers use an integrated approach to control frosty pod rot by planting cacao tree cultivars that tolerate the disease. However, the fungus has shown signs of changing tactics, a worrisome development for producers and consumers alike. During the past 15 years, losses to frosty pod rot have slowly increased for varieties once considered disease tolerant, notes Bryan Bailey, a plant pathologist with Agricultural Research Service's (ARS) Sustainable Perennial Crops Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland.

Sequencing the fungus's genome has enabled researchers to observe its biotrophic (surviving on living tissue) and necrotrophic (surviving on dead tissue) phases, as well as learn how the pathogen survives in cacao plants considered tolerant to infection. For example, one theory suggests the fungus is changing genetically enabling a rapid shift from a biotrophic to necrotrophic state.

The research team's investigations included genetic sleuthing tracing the fungus to the upper Magdalena Valley of Colombia.

That discovery—reported in the August 2015 issue of Frontiers in Microbiology—has identified a location where researchers can search for cacao trees that are disease tolerant or resistant. Plant breeders could then transfer those newly identified genes into currently grown cultivars, notes Bailey.

ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency.

Read more about this research in the July 2016 issue of AgResearch.

Categories: USDA

New Cotton Disposable Disinfecting Wipes-Effective, Biodegradable

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Mon, 06/27/2016 - 08:43
New Cotton Disposable Disinfecting Wipes-Effective, Biodegradable / June 27, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
Read the magazine story to find out more.

ARS researchers inspect nonwoven fabric for use in cotton-based wipes. Link to photo information
ARS molecular biologist Doug Hinchliffe (left) and ARS textile technologist Michael Reynolds inspect nonwoven fabric for use in cotton-based wipes. Click the image for more information about it.


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New Cotton Disposable Disinfecting Wipes-Effective, Biodegradable

By Rosalie Marion Bliss
June 27, 2016

People concerned about the environmental impact of synthetic disposable wipes accumulating in landfills can now take comfort in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists' progress in developing disinfecting wipes made from nonwoven cotton that are biodegradable.

Disposable disinfecting wipes made from synthetic fibers are effective and convenient. They are soaked in a solution that contains germ-killing compounds called "quats." These compounds release readily from synthetic fibers, allowing the wipes to disinfect properly. Unfortunately, synthetic fibers decompose slowly in landfills. Cotton fibers, while biodegradable and thus better for the environment, do not readily release the germicide.

That soon could change.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have discovered new chemical formulations that allow quats to release readily from nonwoven cotton fibers, resulting in hospital-grade disinfecting cotton wipes that are both effective and biodegradable.

Research leader Brian Condon, molecular biologist Doug Hinchliffe, and colleagues in the ARS Cotton Chemistry and Utilization Research Unit in New Orleans, Louisiana, worked on the project with Cotton Incorporated.

The ARS team tested a quat called "ADBAC," a stable, cost-effective active ingredient in synthetic disposable disinfecting wipes particularly effective on hard surfaces. The quat adhered so strongly to the surface of cotton fibers that it failed to release in amounts sufficient to disinfect hard surfaces.

The ARS team developed new chemical formulas that block quats from adhering strongly to the surface of cotton fibers. The result is a cotton wipe that releases quats for surface disinfection that is strong, abrasive and fully biodegradable.

In the study, the cotton wipe containing the new ADBAC formula killed four microorganisms of great concern in healthcare environments, including MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and VRE (vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus), which are of particular concern in hospitals.

Research partner Cotton Incorporated will be marketing this technology. Adopters of the new technology will conduct further testing to broaden the list of microorganisms the wipes can disinfect.

Read more about this research in the June 2016 issue of AgResearch.

ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.

Categories: USDA

Putting Honey Bees to Work for Veterans

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Thu, 06/23/2016 - 13:49
Putting Honey Bees to Work for Veterans / June 23, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

 Link to photo information
The ARS Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Lab and the Louisiana Armed Forces Foundation are teaching beekeeping to veterans. Click the image for more information about it.

Putting Honey Bees to Work for Veterans

By Kim Kaplan
June 23, 2016

BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA, June 23—Honey bees may reduce stress and become a new business venture for those who have served in the U.S. military. That premise guides a unique partnership between the Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Laboratory and the Louisiana Armed Forces Foundation (LaAFF).

The lab, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), and LaAFF are hosting a June 25 workshop in Baton Rouge to introduce veterans to beekeeping.

"We want to give back to the veteran community," explained ARS researcher Michael Simone-Finstrom. "We do that by helping veterans, both new and experienced at beekeeping, learn about honey bee biology including their pests and pathogens. Then we provide hands-on experience with sustainable honey bees our lab has developed so they can raise healthy bees from the start."

This coaching builds a strong foundation for maintaining healthy colonies, and adding more healthy managed honey bees to the environment which helps all beekeepers, added Simone-Finstrom.

While honey bees may sound like an odd stress reliever for veterans, beekeeping really interests veterans, according to LaAFF cofounder Jaye Townsend.

"People regularly say that working with honey bees is therapeutic and has potential as a business opportunity. So, we met with ARS scientists, decided to hold an open house and found lots of interest in connecting veterans with bees," Townsend said.

Veterans with a wide variety of bee experience are participating in the workshop. One of the more experienced is U.S. Army veteran C.J. Oliver, whose family produces about 60 gallons of honey annually in Arnaudville, Louisiana.

"We (my family) see this workshop as a good learning experience as we've gone from hobby to secondary income to hopefully a full-time business one day," Olivier said.

ARS' Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Laboratory is the developer of elite honey bee strains - including bees from Russia, where factors like prolonged winters allow only the sturdiest bees to survive. Today, the Baton Rouge lab is focused on breeding for better resistance to diseases and pests that pose major problems for honey bees.

The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific in-house research agency. The Agency's job is finding solutions to agricultural problems that affect Americans every day from field to table. ARS conducts research to develop and transfer solutions to agricultural problems of high national priority and provide information access and dissemination to ensure high-quality, safe food, and other agricultural products; assess the nutritional needs of Americans; sustain a competitive agricultural economy; enhance the natural resource base and the environment and provide economic opportunities for rural citizens, communities, and society as a whole.

Categories: USDA

A Database Just for Bumble Bees

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Thu, 06/23/2016 - 11:06
A Database Just for Bumble Bees / June 23, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
The western bumble bee, Bombus occidentalis
The western bumble bee, Bombus occidentalis. Click the image for more information about it.

ARS entomologist James Strange evaluates a queen bumble bee (Bombus appositus)
ARS entomologist James Strange evaluates a queen bumble bee (Bombus appositus) during a search for new wild bees with potential to become the next generation of agricultural pollinators. Click the image for more information about it.


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A Database Just for Bumble Bees

By Jan Suszkiw
June 23, 2016

Look up the word “bumble,” and the definition may read something like “To move or act in a confused, awkward or clumsy manner.” But the bumble bee, a member of the genus Bombus, is anything but clumsy. In fact, the insects are expert aviators, alighting with precision inside flowers and vigorously shaking pollen loose from their stamens.

Some bumble bee species are pollinating professionals on par with honey bees. At the Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) Pollinating Insect-Biology, Management, Systematics Research Unit in Logan, Utah, scientists are conducting multi-faceted studies on Bombus species of all shapes, sizes and colors to ensure their wellbeing and usefulness to agriculture—especially in pollinating greenhouse-grown plants, primarily tomatoes.

One project, the USBombus database, actually arose out of concern over the national decline of four Bombus species—including the western bumble bee, Bombus occidentalis, which had been reared commercially up until the early 2000s, notes James Strange, an ARS entomologist in Logan.

USBombus—the largest database of a contemporary North American bumble bee survey—was created in 2010, following a three-year effort by Strange and other ARS and university scientists to assess the abundance and distribution of wild Bombus populations across a wide range of habitats. These included urban, agricultural and natural environments, such as alpine forests and prairies.

Housed at the Logan lab as part of the U.S. National Pollinating Insects Collection, the database originally stored information on 17,930 adult bumble bee specimens collected from 41 states and representing 39 total Bombus species. That number has expanded to over 80,000 specimens and counting, as more historic and current collections are added, notes Strange.

Some of the latest specimens include a few he collected and identified this past May while he was participating in Centennial Bioblitz events hosted by the U.S. National Park Service at the North Cascades and Olympic national parks in Washington State.

The data—which include the bee specimens’ species name, sex, caste, location, collector, preferred plants and other information—have proven useful on several fronts, including taxonomic studies and monitoring of Bombus populations to ascertain their health and “conservation status” by groups such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. (“Conservation status” refers to the likelihood of a species’ future survival in the face of habitat loss, disease and other threats.)

USBombus and the National Pollinating Insect Database, which includes specimens dating back to the 1800s, can be accessed on the Internet via the Global Biodiversity Information Facility website at http://www.gbif.org/.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) principal intramural scientific research agency.
Categories: USDA

Science Detectives Investigate a 'Mitey' Big Problem

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Wed, 06/22/2016 - 07:06
Science Detectives Investigate a 'Mitey' Big Problem / June 22, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
Varroa mite attached to the back of a honey bee. Link to photo information
Varroa mites, like the one attached to the back of this honey bee, can decimate unprotected hives. The tiny parasites feed on the bees' blood and can infect them with harmful viruses. Click the image for more information about it.

Close-up of Varroa mites in the bottom of a brood cell. Link to photo information
Close-up of Varroa mites in the bottom of a brood cell—home to vulnerable bee larvae. Click the image for more information about it.


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Science Detectives Investigate a 'Mitey' Big Problem

By Jan Suszkiw
June 22, 2016

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists are hot on the trail of a honey bee killer, and their detective work has taken them from hives in Tucson, Arizona, to those in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Led by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) supervisory research entomologist Gloria DeGrandi-Hoffman, the team is staking out the entrances of victimized hives, eyeing the comings and goings of foraging honey bees that they suspect may be unwitting accomplices.

Instead of cordoning off the sites with crime-scene tape, the scientists are blocking access to the hives using cut lengths of PVC pipe with a slit about midway down. There, a sliding wire-mesh door separates incoming bees from outgoing ones.

None of the busy little winged bearers of pollen and nectar will get by without inspection-and for good reason: the researchers suspect the bees are physically harboring their target: an oval-shaped, pinhead-sized parasite called the Varroa mite.

The Varroa mite is public enemy number one to not only honey bees nationwide, but also the 90-plus flowering crops that depend on the insects to pollinate them, including apples, almonds, blueberries and cantaloupe.

The team's investigations in Bismarck this June are actually a follow-up study to the one they completed last year at two Arizona sites. Findings from that study suggest that bees can bolster their hives' existing mite population by carrying in Varroas from other colonies-an influx that most often occurs in the fall, especially November.

Varroa populations grow slowly because females produce only three to five offspring. If mite populations in colonies are low, then they should remain that way for at least a season before chemicals called "miticides" need to be applied, explains DeGrandi-Hoffman, who leads ARS's Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson.

Sometimes, though, Varroa numbers soar to potentially hive-wrecking levels during the fall. To the researchers, this suggested that factors other than mite reproduction were involved-namely, "mite migration" via foraging bees and wayward "drifters" from other colonies. At the Arizona hive sites, this influx of migrating mites correlated to population increases of 227 to 336 percent, starting in November. The findings appeared in the February 2016 issue of Experimental and Applied Acarology.

In addition to further investigation at a Bismarck apiary, the researchers will also evaluate placing hives in refrigerated storage in the fall to head off mite migration into colonies. They'll determine the strategy's effectiveness based on whether it reduces the need for miticide applications, keeps Varroa populations low and results in high winter survival rates for colony members.

ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency.

Categories: USDA

USDA Scientists and Beekeepers Swap Colonies to Better Bees

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Tue, 06/21/2016 - 11:39
USDA Scientists and Beekeepers Swap Colonies to Better Bees / June 21, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

ARS insect physiologist and Geezer Ridge Farm beekeeper swapping of boxes of honey bees. Link to photo information
ARS Bee Research Lab insect physiologist Miguel Corona (left) and Geezer Ridge Farm beekeeper Ed Forney in the midst of swapping of boxes of honey bees in a new partnership aimed at improving colony losses. Click the image for more information about it.

USDA Scientists and Beekeepers Swap Colonies to Better Bees

By Kim Kaplan
June 21, 2016

BELTSVILLE, Md., June 21, 2016 —The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Bee Research Laboratory and Geezer Ridge Farm apiary have begun an unusual partnership that may help honey bees take another step up the survival ladder.

"Usually with science, researchers finish a study and turn the results over to beekeepers to apply; then researchers start on the next experiments and so on," explains entomologist Jay Evans, research leader of the Beltsville, Maryland lab and one of the USDA's pioneers in bee health science.

This time, the Bee Research Lab is studying the success Geezer Ridge Farm in Hedgesville, West Virginia, has had improving honey bee health after applying USDA research results.

Last winter, beekeepers Cheryl and Ed Forney lost only 4 percent of their bee colonies compared to the national average of 30 percent.

"We believe strongly in science-based beekeeping. It's the Bee Research Lab—some of the most talented and published researchers in the country—that helped us get our colonies as healthy as they are now. From their (ARS') information, we've adapted management strategies and bred bees that are tailored to the Mid-Atlantic's climate," Ed Forney said.

To see if this success is scientifically repeatable, Geezer Ridge Farm and the ARS Bee Research Lab are exchanging colonies. Forty USDA hives have already taken up residence in West Virginia and another 80 may join them to see if they will survive the 2016-2017 winter in better condition under Geezer Ridge Farm management.

"This is an opportunity to give back. We are going to see if we can stabilize the USDA research colonies and make them as sustainable as the stock here at Geezer Ridge Farm," Forney added.

Thirty-five of Forney's 250 colonies have come to Beltsville where ARS researchers will study their basic biology and genetics to see if they differ from the average honey bee. In the process, they'll try to pinpoint whether their increased survival is due to better genetics, better management, or both.

Three ARS Bee Research Lab scientists are involved in the partnership with Geezer Ridge Farm. Each focuses on a different research area addressing threats to bee health. Insect physiologist Miguel Corona, who initiated this collaboration, focuses on bee nutrition such as devising new ways to deliver more protein in honey bee diets. Entomologist Steven Cook is studying how to improve honey bees' physiological health as well as their abilities to overcome stress. Lastly, Jay Evans's work concentrates on researching and combating bee disease.

The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific in-house research agency. The Agency's job is finding solutions to agricultural problems that affect Americans every day from field to table. ARS conducts research to develop and transfer solutions to agricultural problems of high national priority and provide information access and dissemination to ensure high-quality, safe food, and other agricultural products; assess the nutritional needs of Americans; sustain a competitive agricultural economy; enhance the natural resource base and the environment and provide economic opportunities for rural citizens, communities, and society as a whole.

Categories: USDA

Saving Water in Southern High Plains Dairy Production

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Mon, 06/06/2016 - 05:41
Saving Water in Southern High Plains Dairy Production / June 6, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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A test plot of finger millet
Finger millet uses less water than corn and sorghum and could be a good source of cattle feed.


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Saving Water in Southern High Plains Dairy Production

By Dennis O’Brien
June 6, 2016

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists are trying to save water in one of the fastest growing dairy regions in the United States by encouraging use of a drought-tolerant crop the same way it’s sometimes used in India—as cattle feed.

Dairy production is growing fast in the Southern High Plains region of West Texas and New Mexico, and most of the dairy producers there use corn silage or alfalfa as a key feed component. Corn and alfalfa require more water than other crops, thus stretching the Ogallala Aquifer, the source of water for that region, beyond capacity.

Prasanna Gowda, an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) engineer, knew that dairy cattle in his native India are raised on finger millet (Eleusine coracana) and that milk from finger millet-fed cows there sells for a higher price.

As part of their research, Gowda and his colleagues grew five finger millet varieties in Bushland for 120 days, selecting plants of each variety based on crude protein, fiber content, and other nutritional qualities. They compared the finger millet’s nutritional qualities to those of corn and sorghum from neighboring plots.

Gowda found that finger millet had higher levels of potassium than corn, twice as much calcium, four to five times as much phosphorus, and comparable levels of protein, fiber and total digestible nutrients. (Calcium and phosphorus deficiencies reduce dairy cattle’s appetites and growth and lower milk production.) Finger millet also used less water than corn and sorghum. The one drawback was that finger millet produced lower yields than corn.

The results showed that finger millet could be a viable feed source for dairy cattle as a supplement to corn and that it could help save water in areas where water is limited, Gowda says.

Gowda was based in Bushland, Texas at the time of the study, but has since moved to the ARS Grazinglands Research Laboratory in El Reno, Oklahoma.

ARS is USDA’s principal intramural scientific research agency. Read more about this research in the June 2016 issue of AgResearch magazine.

Categories: USDA

Experimental Trap Disrupts Citrus Pests Love Life

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Tue, 05/31/2016 - 13:24
Experimental Trap Disrupts Citrus Pest’s Love Life / May 31, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Asian citrus psyllid on leaf
An acoustic trap that lures and captures male Asian citrus psyllids may help protect citrus trees from Huanglongbing disease, which is transmitted by the pest. View related video.


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Experimental Trap Disrupts Citrus Pest’s Love Life

By Jan Suszkiw
May 31, 2016

An acoustic trap developed by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists may offer an environmentally friendly way to control Asian citrus psyllids, gnat-sized insect pests that transmit Huanglongbing, a devastating citrus disease also known as “citrus greening.”

Infected citrus trees cannot be cured and often die within several years. Until such time, they may bear green, misshapen fruit with acidic-tasting juice, making the fruit unmarketable.

Concern over the cost and long-term environmental impact of using insecticides to control psyllid populations in citrus-growing states like Florida has prompted an intensive search for alternative measures, notes Richard Mankin, an entomologist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Gainesville, Florida.

To that end, Mankin designed an acoustic trap based on his experience investigating how insect pests use their sense of smell, sight or hearing to locate food and mates. Together with University of Florida graduate students, Mankin decoded the psyllid’s signaling patterns and recreated them with electronics including a buzzer and a microphone.

Many of the traps now used to control crop-damaging insects use chemical attractants, or “pheromones.” Low doses of pheromones can lure pests into traps; high doses can saturate the air so thickly that pests fail to meet and mate. The acoustic trap is different: It mimics the wing-buzzing vibrations male and female psyllids use instead of pheromones to locate and court one another in citrus trees.

In citrus trees, a male psyllid normally crawls to the female after the female responds to the male’s wing-buzzing vibrations. In laboratory studies, however, the trap is also listening to this vibration, and it responds a tenth of a second or two before the female with a fake signal, luring the males into a nearby sticky trap.

Mankin’s team is refining the trap for outdoor testing this summer. Read more about this research in the May 2016 issue of AgResearch magazine.

ARS is USDA’s principal intramural scientific research agency.
Categories: USDA

Tiny Wasp Battles Big Invasive Menace

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Wed, 05/25/2016 - 07:39
Tiny Wasp Battles Big Invasive Menace / May 25, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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The tiny wasp Tetrastichus planipennisi
The tiny wasp Tetrastichus planipennisi is an effective biocontrol for the emerald ash borer, an ash tree pest.


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Tiny Wasp Battles Big Invasive Menace

By Sharon Durham
May 25, 2016

A wispy wasp may pack a potent punch in the fight against the emerald ash borer (EAB), an insect pest that causes catastrophic ash tree losses in the United States.

EAB has wings that are deep emerald green on the outer edge and a body underneath that’s iridescent magenta. Its stunning appearance belies the fact that it is a deadly, non-native pest that has killed tens of millions of ash trees in North America since its detection in 2002 in Detroit, Michigan, and Ontario, Canada.

The cost of EAB damage is staggering. According to U.S. Forest Service estimates, responses to EAB infestation between 2009 and 2019—including treatment, removal, and replacement of more than 17 million ash trees—could total $10.7 billion.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists, along with collaborators at the University of Massachusetts, found a tiny titan—Tetrastichus planipennisi—that can reduce EAB population growth by a whopping 90 percent.

A recent 7-year field study conducted by scientists from the Agricultural Research Service (Jian Duan), the Forest Service (Leah Bauer and Mike Ulyshen), and the University of Massachusetts (Roy van Driesche and Kris Abell) showed that the T. planipennisi released between 2007 and 2010 in central Michigan spread quickly and contributed to a significant reduction in EAB population growth. T. planipennisi parasitizes EAB larvae by drilling through the bark and laying eggs on its host.

The research team observed a 90-percent decline in live EAB larvae in infested ash trees at both parasitoid-release plots and control plots. According to Duan, 7 years’ worth of field data demonstrated that the decline in EAB larvae was correlated with significant increases in EAB larval parasitism, first by native parasitoids, then by T. planipennisi. The study was recently published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

Read more about this research in the May 2016 issue of AgResearch.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is USDA’s chief intramural scientific research agency.
Categories: USDA

Two Approaches to Enhancing Tomato Flavor

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Thu, 05/12/2016 - 08:02
Two Approaches to Enhancing Tomato Flavor / May 12, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Ripe tomatoes on the vine
Tomatoes kept at room temperature will release more flavor compounds when cut up than will refrigerated tomatoes.


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Two Approaches to Enhancing Tomato Flavor

By Dennis O’Brien
May 12, 2016

Two Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Fort Pierce, Florida, have taken different approaches to enhancing the flavor of tomatoes.

ARS plant physiologist Jinhe Bai and his colleagues at the U.S. Horticulture Research Laboratory studied the effects of refrigerating tomatoes and dipping them in hot water to make them easier to peel—a practice known as “blanching.”

Bai and his colleagues divided 60 tomatoes into three groups—refrigerating one group, keeping a second group at room temperature and dipping the third group in 122 F water for 5 minutes to simulate blanching. They then used gas chromatography and an “electronic nose” to measure 45 volatile compounds associated with flavor released when the tomatoes were cut up.

The results showed that refrigeration greatly reduced 25 of 42 aroma compounds and reduced volatile levels overall by 68 percent. Blanching also greatly reduced 22 of 42 compounds and reduced volatile levels overall by 63 percent. The results spell out why it is better to store tomatoes—and wash them before use—at room temperature.

Elizabeth Baldwin, an ARS horticulturist and research leader in Fort Pierce, wanted to find tomato breeders interested in developing varieties with enhanced flavor. She also wanted to identify varieties and growing seasons best suited to two of Florida’s major tomato production areas.

She and her colleagues raised 38 types of tomatoes over seven years in south Florida and west-central Florida, timing production for harvest in March, June and December.

They used human taste-test panels to evaluate flavor and measured the tomatoes’ sugars, acids and 29 key aroma compounds.

The results showed that the tomatoes needed to contain a certain amount of acids to have adequate flavor and that the more sugar they contained, the better they tasted. Tomatoes harvested in June had more sugar and fruity volatiles than those harvested in December, probably because they received more sunshine. Tomatoes harvested in March ranked in the middle in flavor.

Read more about tomato flavor research in the May 2016 issue of AgResearch.

ARS is USDA’s chief intramural scientific research agency.

Categories: USDA

Cranberry Juice Can Boost Heart Health

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Wed, 05/04/2016 - 12:58
Cranberry Juice Can Boost Heart Health / May 4, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

Cranberries growing.
Volunteers who drank cranberry juice twice a day for 8 weeks had lower levels of several risk factors for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and stroke than volunteers who drank a placebo.

 


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Cranberry Juice Can Boost Heart Health

By Dennis O’Brien
May 4, 2016

Drinking two glasses of cranberry juice a day can lead to significant heart health benefits, according to a study led by Janet Novotny, an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) physiologist at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland.

Novotny gave 56 people either low-calorie cranberry juice or a similar-tasting placebo twice a day for 8 weeks and found that the juice lowered several risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes and stroke. The 30 women and 26 men were given 8-ounce servings at breakfast and dinner in a double-blind study in which they ate only foods provided as part of the study.

The cranberry juice was sweetened with sucralose and had the same juice content (27 percent) and nutrients as most sugar-sweetened cranberry juice available in stores. The placebo was a flavor-matched, calorie-matched, artificially colored beverage. The research was funded by Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc. Ocean Spray provided the juice, but was not involved in conducting the study or analyzing the results.

After 8 weeks, volunteers given the juice had lower levels of 5 of 22 indicators of cardiometabolic risk in their blood, compared with volunteers given the placebo. The differences could be considered “a notable result,” Novotny says. Cardiometabolic risk is the combined risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes and stroke, which together causes more deaths in the developed world than anything else. CVD alone causes 930,000 deaths in the United States each year. Risks of developing CVD, diabetes and stroke can be modified with diet and exercise.

Previous studies have shown that cranberries are rich in the types of polyphenols associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke. But Novotny’s study is the first to show that cranberries confer such health benefits in a controlled-diet, double-blind clinical trial, which is considered the gold standard in health and medical research.

Read more about this research in the May 2016 issue of AgResearch.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief intramural scientific research agency.
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ARS Molecular Biologist James Giovannoni Elected to National Academy of Sciences

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Wed, 05/04/2016 - 08:57
ARS Molecular Biologist James Giovannoni Elected to National Academy of Sciences / May 4, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

Molecular biologist James J. Giovannoni
ARS molecular biologist James J. Giovannoni elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

ARS Molecular Biologist James Giovannoni Elected to National Academy of Sciences

By Kim Kaplan
May 4, 2016

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) molecular biologist James J. Giovannoni is among the newest members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). One of the highest honors in the science community, NAS election recognizes significant achievements in original research.

Giovannoni, with ARS' Robert W. Holley Center for Agriculture and Health in Ithaca, New York, revolutionized the understanding of fruit ripening biology and genetics. Building on that work, he pioneered research in fruit ripening epigenetics, which is a natural layer of chemical instructions superimposed over DNA.

His 2002 landmark discovery of the tomato gene RIN, which regulates ethylene, opened a new frontier in understanding the biology of fruit ripening. It raised a real possibility that someday commercial farmers would grow better tasting tomatoes while meeting supermarket shelf-life and transportation needs.

But it is Giovannoni's discovery that epigenetics plays a pivotal role in tomato ripening that has opened the door to new ways of thinking about how plant development may be regulated genetically beyond the DNA sequence alone.

Giovannoni, working with colleagues in the United States, Great Britain and Israel, has shown that RIN-like genes also control ripening in melons, banana, and even strawberries. Since that discovery, Giovannoni and his colleagues have isolated and characterized other genes contributing to a broader understanding of ripening control and the regulation of fruit quality and nutritional value. His work with ARS and the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research at Cornell University has also helped lead the international effort to sequence the tomato genome contributing to indispensable genetic information for additional vegetable crops.

In 2015, Thomson Reuters named Giovannoni to its annual list of "Most Influential Scientific Minds," with his publications cited in the top one percent of researchers in plant and animal sciences. ARS is the in-house research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Detecting Decay Inside Bagged Lettuce with 'Electronic Eye'

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Fri, 04/29/2016 - 08:28
Detecting Decay Inside Bagged Lettuce with 'Electronic Eye' / Month x, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
Read the magazine story to find out more.

 Link to photo information
ARS scientists developed imaging technologies to detect decay in bagged cut lettuce. Click the image for more information about it.


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Detecting Decay Inside Bagged Lettuce with 'Electronic Eye'

By Sharon Durham
April 29, 2016

Fresh-cut lettuce sold in bags is a desirable yet highly perishable product because tissue decay can start a few days after processing and is difficult to detect through the bag with the naked eye.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant geneticist Ivan Simko, with the Crop Improvement and Protection Research Laboratory in Salinas, California—in collaboration with researchers from Australia—designed a system for the early detection and evaluation of decay.

The researchers developed two lettuce-decay indices to help select breeding lines yielding longer-lasting cut lettuce. The indices also allow researchers to identify lettuce damage caused by freezing temperatures.

One index is based on evaluations performed with hyperspectral imaging, and the other with chlorophyll fluorescence imaging.

A hyperspectral sensor identifies decay by measuring light waves that bounce off plant tissues. Unlike the human eye, which sees only visible light, hyperspectral imaging detects a much broader electromagnetic spectrum-including the ultraviolet, near-infrared, and infrared regions.

Chlorophyll fluorescence imaging measures biological activity in leaf tissue and uses light re-emitted by chlorophyll to find decay.

The cameras used in these two technologies mimic human sight while avoiding subjective errors, according to Simko. In turn, the researchers can test breeding lines for longer shelf life and breed that trait into current lettuce cultivars grown for processing as bagged produce.

This research appeared in Postharvest Biology and Technology in April 2015.

Read more about this research in the April 2016 issue of AgResearch. ARS is the USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.

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Aerial Surveys Can Spot Boll Weevil Hideouts

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Wed, 04/20/2016 - 08:06
Aerial Surveys Can Spot Boll Weevil Hideouts / April 20, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

Boll weevil. Link to video
View a video for more information.


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Aerial Surveys Can Spot Boll Weevil Hideouts

By Dennis O'Brien
April 20, 2016

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in College Station, Texas, have found a way to use digital images taken in aerial surveys to identify regrowth cotton that may be harboring boll weevils.

Cotton growers in Texas’ Lower Rio Grande Valley often mow down their cotton plants after harvest and may spray plant stalks with herbicides to prevent boll weevils from taking refuge in regrowth cotton. But the Valley is subtropical, and heavy autumn rains often prevent growers from taking those measures, making cotton plants more likely to regrow and create year-round boll weevil habitats. This “regrowth cotton” is often spread over large areas, making detection difficult.

ARS meteorologist John Westbrook, entomologist Charles Suh and agricultural engineer Chenghai Yang grew cotton, defoliated it, then mowed it down or shredded it. They also arranged for nine flights by a plane equipped with cameras that took high-resolution images of the cotton as it grew, and intermittently for about two months after it was harvested and shredded.

The scientists also conducted ground-based surveys on the same dates as the aerial surveys, measuring the height and width of cotton plants as they grew, and after plants were harvested and shredded. The team recorded the postharvest daily air temperatures and correlated them with the sizes of the regrowth cotton to predict when regrowth plants would reach sufficient sizes to detect in aerial surveys.

The results show that the airborne imagery can be used to estimate regrowth when the leaf canopies of cotton plants are at least 8-12 inches wide. The scientists also were able to use data on air temperature and plant size to develop a model to predict when the regrowth cotton would reach detectable sizes, based on temperature patterns. The approach will give growers better information regarding areas harboring boll weevils so they can spray for them and reduce the threat they pose in the area.

Read more about this research in the April issue of AgResearch magazine.

Categories: USDA

New Wheat Line Eliminates Discoloring in Foods

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Mon, 04/18/2016 - 09:56
New Wheat Line Eliminates Discoloring in Foods / April 18, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
Read the magazine story to find out more.

Cooked white wheat Asian noodles. Link to photo information
Cooked white wheat Asian noodles. Click the image for more information about it.


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New Wheat Line Eliminates Discoloring in Foods

By Sandra Avant
April 18, 2016

Getting rid of gray discoloring in foods such as fresh noodles, breads and refrigerated biscuits is now possible, thanks to a new white hard wheat breeding line developed by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists.

Plant geneticist Bob Graybosch, at the Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) Grain, Forage, and Bioenergy Research Unit in Lincoln, Nebraska, developed a wheat that has no polyphenol oxidase—an enzyme present in all plants that causes discoloring. The enzyme causes browning in sliced apples, black spots in cut avocados and dark marks on banana peels.

The new wheat line, 070R1074, was developed by crossing two Australian wheats entered into the ARS National Small Grains Collection in the 1930s. Collaborating with the University of Nebraska and Montana State University, Graybosch screened wheats in the Collection for polyphenol oxidase and then mated wheats with different forms of the genes that produced this enzyme. Wheat breeding lines with very low levels of polyphenol oxidase were generated from these crosses.

Although some low-polyphenol oxidase hard winter white wheats have been developed, many U.S. white wheats still have high levels of polyphenol oxidase, according to Graybosch. High polyphenol oxidase levels make U.S. producers less competitive in domestic and export markets.

In Asia, hard white wheat is popular for making products such as fresh noodles, and white whole grain breads are gaining favor in the United States. To be competitive, U.S. milling companies need wheats with low or no polyphenol oxidase.

In their research, Graybosch and his colleagues discovered naturally occurring genetic mutations in the new wheat line, which resulted in nearly complete loss of polyphenol oxidase activity. Researchers have used the trait to improve breeding lines and could eventually incorporate it into elite lines to produce highly desirable cultivars.

ARS is USDA’s principal intramural scientific research agency.

Read more about this work in the April 2016 issue of AgResearch.

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The Not-So-Sweet Truth About Sugars

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Thu, 04/14/2016 - 08:28
The Not-So-Sweet Truth About Sugars / April 14, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
Read the magazine story to find out more.

Sugar cubes on a spoon. Link to photo information
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting added sugars. Click the image for more information about it.


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The Not-So-Sweet Truth About Sugars

By Rosalie Bliss
April 14, 2016

Controversy exists over whether all sweeteners produce the same metabolic effects in consumers despite the sweeteners’ chemical similarities. A study conducted by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers indicates that consuming lower amounts of added sugars is a more effective approach to health than finding a sugar that is more neutral in terms of its health effects.

USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) nutritionist Susan Raatz and her colleagues at the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center in Grand Forks, North Dakota, studied whether there is a difference in health effects between white table sugar, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and honey. They studied the metabolic and health effects of chronically consuming sugar, HFCS and honey in volunteers. All three sweeteners contain glucose and fructose but in slightly different proportions. The paper appeared in the October issue of the Journal of Nutrition.

The study consisted of 28 volunteers with normal glucose tolerance and 27 volunteers with impaired glucose tolerance. The second group was included because they may be particularly vulnerable to negative metabolic effects of added dietary sugars, including heart disease, elevated blood fats and blood pressure, and inflammation.

Researchers included 50 grams of carbohydrates daily in the volunteers’ diets from one of the three sweeteners: honey, white cane sugar and HFCS. Each of the sweeteners was fed to the volunteers for a two-week period in random order. The participants had a 1-2 week break between treatments. By substituting the sweeteners for other carbohydrates in the volunteers’ diets, the volunteers’ weight was maintained.

Volunteers in the two groups did not show any differences in blood sugar levels based on the dietary sugar source. In addition, blood levels of triglyceride, an indicator of blood fat concentrations (a marker for heart disease risk), increased in response to all three sugars tested.

The study was partially funded by the National Honey Board.

Read more about this research in the April 2016 issue of AgResearch. ARS is the USDA’s principal intramural scientific research agency.

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Algae Enlisted to Produce Biofuel Using Discarded Papayas

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Wed, 04/13/2016 - 12:12
Algal Enlisted to Produce Biofuel Using Discarded Papayas / April 13, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
Read the magazine story to find out more.

Fresh papayas. Link to photo information
Approximately one-third of Hawaii's commercial papaya crop is not sold because of fruit defects. An algal-based system that uses juice from such papayas to produce oil for conversion into biodiesel may help Hawaii's growers recoup some of their losses. Click the image for more information about it.


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Algae Enlisted to Produce Biofuel Using Discarded Papayas

By Jan Suszkiw
April 13, 2016

Algae are the star players in an effort by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists in Hilo, Hawaii, to produce a renewable source of oil for conversion into biodiesel to help meet the island state's energy needs.

Lisa Keith, a plant pathologist with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), is spearheading the project at the agency's Daniel K. Inouye U.S. Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hilo. Over the past five years, she has been fine-tuning conditions under which Chlorella protothecoides algae can be coaxed into producing oil from discarded papayas and other unmarketable crops or byproducts, like glycerol.

The effort is part of a zero-waste system the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) is championing to ease the state's reliance on imported oil for its fuel and energy needs.

The goal of the zero-waste system is to make agriculture more profitable and to address food- and energy-security issues in Hawaii, according to Keith, with the ARS center's Tropical Plant Genetic Resources and Disease Research Unit. To accomplish this, the HDOA's Agribusiness Development Corporation awarded a $1.6 million grant in 2014 to the ARS center to support Keith and colleagues' efforts to scale up the system.

Keith's research uses specialized vats called "bioreactors," which allow for the growth of 150 liters' worth (approximately 40 gallons' worth) of algae. Her team chose to use "UTEX 249," a top-performing strain of C. protothecoides that can store as much as 60 percent its cellular weight in lipids when grown—in the absence of sunlight—on a diet of 35 percent papaya juice.

In addition to sugar, papaya juice contains carbon, a critical but costly component of current algal-based methods of producing oil for conversion into biodiesel. The zero-waste system only uses unmarketable papayas, which account for one-third of Hawaii's $11-million crop and represent a substantial revenue loss for growers there.

Learn more about the project and its potential benefits in the April 2016 issue of AgResearch. ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency.

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Roberts Delivers 2016 ARS W.O. Atwater Memorial Lecture at Experimental Biology

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Tue, 04/05/2016 - 14:28
Roberts Delivers 2016 ARS W.O. Atwater Memorial Lecture at Experimental Biology / April 5, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

Susan B. Roberts
Susan B. Roberts presents the 2016 ARS W.O. Atwater Memorial Lecture "How can nutrition scientists help reverse the obesity epidemic?" at Experimental Biology 2016 in San Diego.


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Roberts Delivers 2016 ARS W.O. Atwater Memorial Lecture at Experimental Biology

By Kim Kaplan
April 5, 2016

"How can nutrition scientists help reverse the obesity epidemic?" is the subject of Susan B. Roberts' 2016 W.O. Atwater Memorial Lecture, which she delivered today at the Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego.

Roberts is internationally recognized as an expert in nutrition and a visionary when it comes to scientifically developing and testing new methods for dealing with obesity and weight control research.

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) established the W.O. Atwater Memorial Lecture in 1968 to honor the memory of Wilbur Olin Atwater (1844-1907) and to recognize scientists who have made unique contributions toward improving the diet and nutrition of people around the world. Considered the father of modern nutrition research and education, Atwater was the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) first chief of nutrition investigations. ARS is USDA's main in-house scientific research agency.

Roberts' research has focused on combining research on the body's energy regulation with scientific exploration of ways to modify people's instinctive eating behaviors to develop strategies that successfully deal with obesity for the long term.

She summed up her Atwater Lecture by saying that obesity is the greatest threat to public health in our time but is currently receiving far less funding than other biomedical fields relative to the health problems it causes. She urges much greater funding for research and public health initiatives aimed at helping individuals and communities manage their weight.

Roberts is the author of several popular books including The "I" Diet and Feeding Your Child for Lifelong Health, as well as an online weight loss program and 240 research articles published in prestigious journals including the New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association and The Lancet.

For more information about the W.O. Atwater Memorial Lecture, see http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/lectures/atwater.htm.

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