USDA

USDA Pest Management Program Targets Virus-transmitting Mosquitoes

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Wed, 02/03/2016 - 12:37
A Striking New Crape Myrtle for Florida's Gardens and Landscapes / February 3, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

Blossoms on a Big Pink crape myrtle. Link to photo information
A striking new type of crape myrtle will soon join dozens of other crape myrtle varieties now being sold in South Florida's nurseries and garden centers. Click the image for more information about it.


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A Striking New Crape Myrtle for Florida's Gardens and Landscapes

By Dennis O'Brien
February 3, 2016

A chance discovery by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists means that a striking type of pink crape myrtle could soon be gracing lawns and gardens in South Florida. Commonly called Pride-of-India or queen's crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia speciose is native to India and Southeast Asia and has been cultivated in tropical areas worldwide. L. speciosa may have the largest, brightest, and most striking flowers among the dozens of commercially-available crape myrtles, says Alan W. Meerow, an ARS geneticist at the Subtropical Horticulture Research Station (SHRS) in Miami, Florida.

Meerow calls the new release 'Big Pink' and says that it will grow up to 19 feet in 5 years and flower from March through the end of summer or into fall. Big Pink is not as cold hardy as other crape myrtle varieties, which are found as far north as Pennsylvania, limiting its range to South Florida.

Meerow and his colleagues have grown and cultivated Big Pink since 2005 when they came upon a street planting of queen's crape myrtle trees with pink, purple, light lavender and near-white flowers on an avenue near ARS facilities in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. The team collected seeds and started growing Big Pink outdoors at the SHRS and ultimately selected six seedlings. Of those six, one of the two pink-flowered trees stood out for its larger, more brightly colored blooms. Researchers established cuttings in varying soil types and over 10 years found no problems with pests or diseases.

Big Pink will soon join dozens of crape myrtle varieties that are now being sold in South Florida's nurseries and garden centers. Cuttings are currently only available for research purposes. Once more Big Pinks are grown, expect to see them at local nurseries.

ARS is the USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.

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

Categories: USDA

New ARS Bee Genebank Will Preserve Genetic Diversity and Provide Breeding Resources

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Tue, 01/26/2016 - 07:15
New ARS Bee Genebank Will Preserve Genetic Diversity and Provide Breeding Resources / January 26, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

Semen being collected from a honey bee with a capillary tube. Link to photo information
Semen collected from honey bees and cryopreserved (frozen) will form the basis of a new national bee genebank. Click the image for more information about it.


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New ARS Bee Genebank Will Preserve Genetic Diversity and Provide Breeding Resources

By Kim Kaplan
January 26, 2016

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is organizing a national bee genebank as part of the agency's response to ongoing problems facing the country's beekeepers. Average losses of managed honey bee colonies have increased to more than 30 percent per year due to pathogens, pests, parasites, and other pressures including deficient nutrition and sublethal impacts of pesticides. These stresses have threatened the continued business sustainability of commercial beekeepers.

The genebank, which will be located in Fort Collins, Colorado, will help preserve the genetic diversity of honey bees, especially for traits such as resistance to pests or diseases and pollination efficiency. It will also provide ARS and other researchers access to resources from which to breed better bees, according to entomologist Robert Danka, with the ARS Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics, and Physiology Research Unit in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Danka is helping shape the bee genebank—the Russian honey bee and Varroa Sensitive Hygiene lines developed at the Baton Rouge lab will be among those conserved first.

To help make the genebank a practical reality, ARS researchers are developing better long-term storage techniques for honey bees, including improving cryopreservation of bee sperm and embryos. Their work will include creating a way to reliably revive frozen embryos and grow them into reproductively viable adults after storage.

Another component needed to create the new genebank is a germplasm species committee, which will decide which species and subspecies to collect and preserve. ARS and Washington State University are working with beekeepers on the next steps for the committee.

ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.

Read more about the new genebank in the January 2016 issue of AgResearch.

Categories: USDA

Antimicrobial Wash Reduces Health Risks in Fresh Produce

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Wed, 01/20/2016 - 08:00
Antimicrobial Wash Reduces Health Risks in Fresh Produce / January 20, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
Read the magazine story to find out more.

Carrots, apples, melons and salad greens surrounding a bowl of salad.  Link to photo information
ARS developed a new organic antimicrobial wash for fresh produce. Click the image for more information about it.


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Antimicrobial Wash Reduces Health Risks in Fresh Produce

By Dennis O'Brien
January 20, 2016

An Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, and his collaborators have developed an antimicrobial wash that reduces the risk of foodborne pathogens contaminating fresh produce.

Joshua Gurtler and scientists at NatureSeal Inc. have found that a combination of lactic acid, fruit acids, and hydrogen peroxide can be used in a produce rinse for commercial food distributors. NatureSeal, based in Westport, Connecticut, already markets an anti-browning wash developed by another ARS team in the 1990's for sliced apples and 18 other types of produce.

E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella and other foodborne pathogens sicken approximately 1 in 6 Americans (48 million people) each year. A recent U.S. outbreak of Salmonella associated with cucumbers sickened over 765 people in 36 states and killed 4.

First Step+ 10 is designed to reduce those numbers, and is expected to be used in the commercial flumes and rinse tanks that wash fresh produce, Gurtler says. The ingredients are all classified as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The wash also has been approved for use in Canada; is U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified organic; is biodegradable; and does not affect the taste, texture, smell, or appearance of produce.

To save water, some food processors reuse wash water, a practice that can contaminate produce in subsequent washes. Along with reducing the risk of contamination, the new rinse will cut back on waste water because processors won't have to replace water in their tanks as frequently.

To test First Step+ 10, Gurtler inoculated fresh cut apples, baby spinach, cantaloupe rind, and cherry tomatoes with highly resistant outbreak strains of E. coli O157:H7, Listeria, and Salmonella. He soaked them in the wash for 5 minutes and then measured pathogen levels in the wash water and on the produce. The antimicrobial wash reduced pathogen levels on the produce by 99.99 percent. It also rid the wash water of 100 percent of pathogens, making it safer to reuse.

Along with securing FDA approval, Gurtler and his collaborators at NatureSeal have filed a patent application and presented findings at scientific meetings.

ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.

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

Categories: USDA

Bringing Up Biofuel

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Thu, 01/14/2016 - 05:18
Bringing Up Biofuel / January 14, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
Read the magazine story to find out more.

A mobile pyrolysis system. Link to photo information
ARS scientists are testing this mobile pyrolysis system for on-farm production of bio-oil from agricultural waste. Click the image for more information about it.


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Bringing Up Biofuel

By Rosalie Bliss
January 14, 2016

The idea of replacing fossil-based fuel with a renewable source of sustainable energy is enough to get any environmentalist excited. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists have advanced a process to produce a crude liquid called “bio-oil” from agricultural waste. The team is headed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) chemical engineer Akwasi Boateng with the Sustainable Biofuels and Coproducts Unit at the Eastern Regional Research Center in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania.

Crude bio-oil is produced by pyrolysis—a process that chemically decomposes plant and other organic matter using very high heat. The modified technique, called "tail-gas reactive pyrolysis," or TGRP, holds promise for improving the bio-oil that is ultimately processed into finished biofuels.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 mandates the United States produce at least 36 billion gallons of biofuels by the year 2022. This effort will require, in part, the development of a new industry to produce 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels, which are based largely on non-food sources.

The raw biomass material includes non-food-grade plant matter procured from agricultural or household waste residue such as wood and switchgrass, and animal manures. Using these materials, bio-oils are produced at an accelerated rate using a new high-output mobile processing unit. Instead of shipping large amounts of agricultural waste to a refinery plant at high cost, the mobile reactor allows conversion of the biomass into energy-dense bio-oil right on the farm.

The goal of using TGRP on the farm is to yield a higher quality bio-oil that is more marketable to biofuel producers than bio-oil made from traditional pyrolysis methods. TGRP is an important step toward the ultimate goal of producing cleaner bio-oils that can be distilled at existing petroleum refineries.

ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.

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

Categories: USDA

Tackling Cattle Fever Ticks with Vaccines

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Tue, 01/12/2016 - 08:51
Tackling Cattle Fever Ticks with Vaccines / January 12, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

Cattle in a field. Link to photo information
ARS scientists are developing novel vaccines to help protect livestock against cattle ticks that hitchhike on wildlife, such as the white-tail deer, that cross the Rio Grande River into Texas. Click the image for more information about it.


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Tackling Cattle Fever Ticks with Vaccines

By Sandra Avant
January 12, 2016

Despite a successful program to eliminate cattle fever ticks during the first half of the 20th century, these ticks still manage to cross the Mexican border into Texas. A new vaccine developed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) could control these pests and help prevent a reinfestation of cattle fever ticks in the United States. These ticks can transmit pathogens that cause bovine babesiosis and anaplasmosis—diseases that can kill cattle.

While sequencing the cattle tick's genome, insect physiologist Felix D. Guerrero and his colleagues at the ARS Tick and Biting Fly Research Unit in Kerrville, Texas, identified several proteins that, when formulated as a cattle vaccine, could potentially kill cattle ticks. One of the proteins, aquaporin, was developed into a recombinant tick aquaporin protein vaccine.

ARS researchers collaborated with their partners at the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) to test the vaccine's ability to protect cattle against infestation. In two trials, animals infested with a known amount of cattle tick larvae were divided into two pens in Brazil. In each trial, one group was vaccinated with the aquaporin vaccine, and the other group was not. When scientists compared the groups, they found that vaccinated cows had 75 percent and 68 percent fewer ticks than unvaccinated cows. Results indicated that the aquaporin protein was effective as an antigen in cattle vaccines to help prevent cattle fever tick infestations.

Although a few chemicals are available to treat cattle, ticks have developed resistance to most of them, according to Guerrero. The ARS-patented aquaporin protein vaccine provides an alternative to chemicals to reduce the risk of tick infestation. ARS is exploring the possibility of producing a commercial aquaporin vaccine with a private company.

ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency, and this research supports the USDA priority of promoting international food security.

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

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