Ag Utilization Centers Celebrate 75 Years of Innovation

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Thu, 10/29/2015 - 11:01
Ag Utilization Centers Celebrate 75 Years of Innovation / October 29, 2015 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
Ag Utilization Centers Celebrate 75 Years of Innovation

By Jan Suszkiw
October 29, 2015

 75th Anniversary logo.

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Improved methods of ensuring product quality, detecting foodborne pathogens and creating biobased fuels are among technological innovations arising from 75-years of scientific excellence at four Agricultural Research Service (ARS) regional utilization centers spread throughout the country. ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) chief scientific research agency.

The centers, which celebrate their 75th anniversaries during the remainder of 2015 and start of 2016, are the: Eastern Regional Research Center (ERRC) in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania; Western Regional Research Center (WRRC) in Albany, California; National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research (NCAUR) in Peoria, Illinois; and Southern Regional Research Center (SRRC) in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The centers were established circa 1940 to create new, value-added uses for surpluses of region-specific crops and their byproducts, notes Rob Griesbach, deputy assistant administrator for ARS in Beltsville, Maryland.

Today, the mission of the centers' scientists remains very much the same—albeit with an expanded list of crops, consumer expectations and marketing challenges.

Some recent advances from the four utilization centers, together with the dates of their 75th anniversary celebrations, are highlighted below.

ERRC (8/20):

  • A new mobile pyrolysis unit capable of converting two tons of agricultural biomass byproducts, such as crop residues, wood and switchgrass into bio-oil—a renewable transportation fuel and petroleum alternative.
  • An analytical method that detects six serogroups of the toxin-producing bacterium Escherichia coli O157:H7. The new method, called "latex agglutination," immobilizes antibodies onto latex particles and is now used in commercial test kits to ensure food safety.

WRRC (9/4):

  • Infrared emitter technology that rapidly peels tomatoes traveling on conveyor belts at food processing plants. Steam- or chemically based methods are now used. But tests suggest using infrared energy could save on water and could work with peaches and pears.
  • Test strip that offers same-day results on the presence of the bacterial toxin responsible for botulism in improperly processed foods and stored meats. Tests indicate the WRRC-developed strips are 100- to 1,000-fold more sensitive than similar products.

NCAUR (10/8 - 10/10):

  • Sucromalt, a low-glycemic-index syrup developed from corn, cane or beet sugars using bacterial enzymes. The sweetener digests slowly but completely in the body when consumed, helping stabilize blood sugar levels. Sucromalt has been commercialized and is being added to a variety of foods or beverages.
  • Estolides, fatty acids derived from high oleic-acid oilseed crops like canola and lesquerella that can improve the cold-weather performance and other desirable properties of biobased engine lubricants.

SRRC (3/8/2016 - 3/10/2016):

  • Biopesticides for controlling the fungus Aspergillus flavus, which produces a harmful crop contaminant called aflatoxin. The biopesticide's active ingredients are non-toxin producing Aspergillus strains that outcompete their aflatoxin-producing "cousins," helping reduce human exposure and avoiding costly losses in corn, cotton, peanuts and certain other crops around the world.
  • Technologies developed at SRRC to adapt cotton nonwoven fabric (unbleached and undyed) for disposable diapers were used by TJ Beall Company, the Seventh Generation Company, and Target stores in launching their new disposable diaper products. The Seventh Generation product—Touch of Cloth disposable diaper—was launched in 2014.

Read more about the utilization centers in the October issue of AgResearch online.

Categories: USDA

ACS Names Beltsville Agricultural Research Center as National Historic Chemical Landmark

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Wed, 10/21/2015 - 13:59
ACS Names Beltsville Agricultural Research Center as National Historic Chemical Landmark / October 21, 2015 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

 Harry Borthwick examines soybeans under a carbon arc light. Link to photo information
BARC botanist Harry A. Borthwick, a part of the team that discovered phytochrome, studied the effect of different light wavelengths on Biloxi soybeans using a huge carbon arc light salvaged from a Baltimore burlesque theater. Click the image for more information about it.

ACS Names Beltsville Agricultural Research Center as National Historic Chemical Landmark

By Kim Kaplan
October 21, 2015

BELTSVILLE, Maryland, Oct. 21, 2015 — The discovery of phytochrome by scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Beltsville Agriculture Research Center (BARC) was honored as a National Historic Chemical Landmark by the American Chemical Society (ACS) today. Phytochrome is recognized as one of the universal regulators of plant physiology and growth.

It took a 41-year hunt from 1918 to 1959 to identify this pigment-containing protein, which the BARC team named phytochrome. Red light switches phytochrome to a biologically active form, while far red light reverses it to a biologically inactive form, a process that controls germination, growth and flowering.

"Phytochrome was one of the most important discoveries in plant science of the 20th century, making possible many valuable leaps forward for agricultural science, such as growing crops in new seasons and latitudes and even creating new ways to protect plants from pests," said Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Administrator Chavonda Jacobs-Young at a ceremony to mark the award. BARC is part of ARS, USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.

For example, knowledge of phytochrome, and related photoperiodism, enabled soybean varieties to be bred to mature at staggered dates, boosting the value and importance of soybeans as a crop.

Awareness of phytochrome also brought the discovery that exposing chrysanthemums to light for just minutes in the middle of night prevents flowering. This allowed growers to time blooming, and turned mums into one of the country's most valuable ornamentals with U.S. sales of more than $135 million a year.

"The discovery of phytochrome explains how plants germinate, grow and flower in predictable cycles over the course of a year," said Pat N. Confalone, chair of the ACS Board of Directors. "This extraordinary collaboration between physiologists, biologists, chemists and other scientists at USDA demonstrates the importance of federal research in the fundamental sciences to unlock nature's most powerful mysteries." ACS, the world's largest scientific society, founded the National Historic Chemical Landmarks program in 1992 to recognize important milestones in chemical research.

The ceremony to mark this honor was followed by a symposium hosted by BARC on past, present and future research related to phytochrome. The keynote speaker was Peter H. Quail, professor, Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, University of California, Berkeley and research director of the Plant Gene Expression Center, Albany, California. His talk was titled A Pigment of the Imagination. Also speaking was Karl Norris, a member of the original ARS phytochrome discovery team and the developer of near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy, which can quantify the chemical composition of substances using certain light wavelengths.

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