USDA

New Imaging Technique Leads to Better Understanding of Freezing in Plants

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 14:19
New Imaging Technique Leads to Better Understanding of Freezing in Plants / October 27, 2014 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
Read the magazine story to find out more.

Three-dimensional image of an oat crown with ice crystals marked in orange.
Unique 3-D images of oats are giving new information about what happens when ice crystals form in roots and crowns, which may allow hardier varieties to be bred one day.

Video linkWatch a video (1:50)


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New Imaging Technique Leads to Better Understanding of Freezing in Plants

By Dennis O'Brien
October 27, 2014

A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) agronomist in North Carolina has used an imaging technique he developed to uncover fresh details about what happens to oats when they freeze. The work by David P. Livingston, who is with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Raleigh, has implications for growers.

Oats, for instance, won’t grow in many northern areas because of cold temperatures, and Livingston’s technique is helping scientists understand how ice forms in oats. That could help breeders develop hardier varieties of oats and expand their range. Livingston also has used the technique to examine wheat, barley, rye and corn.

The technique involves making high-resolution digital photos of slices of plant tissues and using commercial software to create a 3-dimensional perspective. The resulting images give added depth to plant structures, above and below ground. Livingston’s images are somewhat similar to images produced by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans. But, Livingston can create them from much smaller tissue samples and at a lower cost.

In recent work, Livingston, who is with the ARS Plant Science Research Unit in Raleigh, stained frozen tissue samples of oat plants and took 186 sequential images as part of a study to see how they would react to freezing temperatures in the soil. He then aligned the images and used imaging software to clear away the background colors so he could focus on cavities formed by ice crystals in the crown tissues of the oats. He then compared images from frozen plants with those from plants kept at normal temperatures.

The images revealed that when oats freeze in winter, ice forms in the roots and portions of the crown, which lies just below the soil surface and connects the roots to the stalk. The images also showed that the ice in the crown is limited to its lowest and upper level parts, apparently leaving the middle portion ice-free—at least free of crystals big enough to visualize. The crown is critical to growth because that is where the plant generates new tissue if it survives the winter cold. The results were published in 2014 in Environmental and Experimental Botany and included a video available at http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/video/mov/freezeplants.mov.

Read more about this work in the October 2014 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is USDA’s chief intramural scientific research agency, and this research supports the USDA priority of promoting agricultural sustainability.
Categories: USDA

Assessing Cotton Fiber Quality from a Tiny Sample

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 14:19
New Imaging Technique Leads to Better Understanding of Freezing in Plants / October 27, 2014 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
Read the magazine story to find out more.

Three-dimensional image of an oat crown with ice crystals marked in orange.
Unique 3-D images of oats are giving new information about what happens when ice crystals form in roots and crowns, which may allow hardier varieties to be bred one day.

Video linkWatch a video (1:50)


For further reading

New Imaging Technique Leads to Better Understanding of Freezing in Plants

By Dennis O'Brien
October 27, 2014

A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) agronomist in North Carolina has used an imaging technique he developed to uncover fresh details about what happens to oats when they freeze. The work by David P. Livingston, who is with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Raleigh, has implications for growers.

Oats, for instance, won’t grow in many northern areas because of cold temperatures, and Livingston’s technique is helping scientists understand how ice forms in oats. That could help breeders develop hardier varieties of oats and expand their range. Livingston also has used the technique to examine wheat, barley, rye and corn.

The technique involves making high-resolution digital photos of slices of plant tissues and using commercial software to create a 3-dimensional perspective. The resulting images give added depth to plant structures, above and below ground. Livingston’s images are somewhat similar to images produced by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans. But, Livingston can create them from much smaller tissue samples and at a lower cost.

In recent work, Livingston, who is with the ARS Plant Science Research Unit in Raleigh, stained frozen tissue samples of oat plants and took 186 sequential images as part of a study to see how they would react to freezing temperatures in the soil. He then aligned the images and used imaging software to clear away the background colors so he could focus on cavities formed by ice crystals in the crown tissues of the oats. He then compared images from frozen plants with those from plants kept at normal temperatures.

The images revealed that when oats freeze in winter, ice forms in the roots and portions of the crown, which lies just below the soil surface and connects the roots to the stalk. The images also showed that the ice in the crown is limited to its lowest and upper level parts, apparently leaving the middle portion ice-free—at least free of crystals big enough to visualize. The crown is critical to growth because that is where the plant generates new tissue if it survives the winter cold. The results were published in 2014 in Environmental and Experimental Botany and included a video available at http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/video/mov/freezeplants.mov.

Read more about this work in the October 2014 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is USDA’s chief intramural scientific research agency, and this research supports the USDA priority of promoting agricultural sustainability.
Categories: USDA

Assessing Cotton Fiber Quality from a Tiny Sample

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Fri, 10/24/2014 - 13:42
Assessing Cotton Fiber Quality from a Tiny Sample / October 24, 2014 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
Read the magazine story to find out more.

Materials engineer Chris Delhom (left) and technician E.J. Deshotel examine miniature spinning equipment.
Materials engineer Chris Delhom (left) and technician E.J. Deshotel examine miniature spinning equipment that is part of ARS' new "reimagined" cotton production pilot plant, which can now handle as little as 1-2 ounce cotton samples.


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Assessing Cotton Fiber Quality from a Tiny Sample

By Rosalie Marion Bliss
October 24, 2014

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) pilot plant for studying cotton textiles located at the Southern Regional Research Center (SRRC) in New Orleans, Louisiana, has been upgraded. Materials engineer Christopher Delhom has successfully “reimagined” some of the pilot plant’s cotton processing equipment. He outfitted model cotton-spinning equipment to be able to spin as little as 30-60 grams (1-2 ounces) of cotton fibers grown from selected experimental seeds. The equipment is capable of taking a very small fiber sample grown from test seeds and processing those fibers all the way through the milling process into yarn and fabrics.

The SRRC is part of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS)—the chief intramural scientific research agency of USDA.

The tiny batch of fibers can be quickly tested to gauge the new varieties’ fiber performance and viability for use on standard equipment and in textiles. Delhom and James Rodgers, who heads the ARS Cotton Structure and Quality Research Unit at SRRC, note that the pilot plant’s new miniature processing equipment accomplishes in 2 weeks what would take months to test on a full-scale industrial fleet of textile machinery. In the past, this kind of testing took place at a pace of less than 200 samples per year, using samples weighing from 25 to 150 pounds each.

Cotton grows and performs differently based on region and seed genetics. Large-scale processing equipment is customized to accommodate regional features. But, a small change in seed breed can greatly affect cotton fiber quality during processing and through to finished fabric. Getting timely information about the processing performance of new cotton varieties is key.

The pilot plant’s miniature-spinning equipment is being used to process fiber samples in the National Cotton Variety Trials, which is an ARS-led national trial of varieties involving U.S. breeders. Read more about the cotton textile pilot plant upgrades in the October 2014 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.


Categories: USDA

Fun, Friendly Website Helps Teens Eat More Veggies

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 07:15
Fun, Friendly Website Helps Teens Eat More Veggies / October 22, 2014 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
Read the magazine story to find out more.

 Food and Fitness videos. Image courtesy of Archimage, Houston, Texas.
Smart and sometimes funny cartoon characters in Teen Choice: Food and Fitness videos may help real-life teens eat more veggies, according to an ARS-funded study. Image courtesy of Archimage Inc., Houston, Texas.


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Fun, Friendly Website Helps Teens Eat More Veggies

By Marcia Wood
October 22, 2014

Videos featuring animated-cartoon teens learning about nutrition may help real-life teens eat more veggies, according to a study by scientists funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The smart and sometimes funny cartoon teens appear in short videos that are part of the experimental, science-based "Teen Choice: Food and Fitness" website. Nutrition and behavioral science researchers Karen W. Cullen and Deborah J. Thompson of the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Children's Nutrition Research Center in Houston, Texas, and Richard Buday and colleagues at Archimage, Inc., also in Houston, created the site in collaboration with hundreds of 'tween and teen volunteers.

Featured in the October 2014 issue of Agricultural Research magazine, the site was developed to motivate adolescents to make better food choices and to be less sedentary.

The scientists first sought the input of some 100 young volunteers who shared their ideas about how to make the site easy to navigate, informative and relevant.

In follow-up research, 400 teen volunteers were asked to visit the site at least once a week for 8 weeks, peruse its information about food and nutrition, set a nutrition or fitness goal, and check their progress weekly.

The volunteers' log-on rate averaged 75 percent—regarded as "high" for an education-focused Internet site, according to Cullen.

Also, more of the volunteers who had access to the site's interactive features—including the cartoon videos and a blog—reported eating three or more servings of veggies in the past week than did volunteers whose access didn't include these and other interactive options. That's important, because getting kids to eat more veggies is apparently more difficult than getting them to eat more servings of fruit, for instance.

The scientists, who hope to make the website publicly available, documented their research in peer-reviewed articles published in 2012 in the Journal of Medical Internet Research and in 2013 in Health Education Journal.

The Children's Nutrition Research Center is a joint venture of Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital—both in Houston—and ARS, which is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.

The studies support the USDA priority of enhancing children's health and nutrition, and were funded by ARS and USDA National Research Initiative grant #2007-55215-17998.

Categories: USDA

New Issue of Healthy Animals Now Online

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 13:33
New Issue of Healthy Animals Now Online / October 20, 2014 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

 Healthy Animals icon. Link to latest issue.
Click the image for latest issue.

New Issue of Healthy Animals Now Online

By Sandra Avant
October 20, 2014

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) today posted a new issue of Healthy Animals. This semi-annual online newsletter is a compilation of ARS news and expert resources on the health and well-being of agricultural livestock, poultry and fish.

Twice a year, one article in Healthy Animals focuses on a particular element of ARS animal research. The current issue features research to help keep rainbow trout healthy by breeding for disease-resistant fish and producing plant-based fish feed ingredients that are high in protein.

Other research highlighted in this issue includes the following:

• ARS scientists discover mosquito taste receptor that is sensitive to insect repellents.
• Study shows that a bacteria-derived protein kills intestinal roundworm larvae in pigs.
• Years of USDA data give insight to how seasonal weather patterns affect cattle production.
• Researchers synthesize the chemical structure of a pheromone used by brown marmorated stink bugs to attract others.

Professionals interested in animal health issues might want to bookmark the site as a resource for locating animal health experts. An index lists ARS research locations covering 70 animal health topics. These range from specific diseases, such as Lyme disease, to broad subjects such as nutrition or parasites.

The site also provides complete contact information for the 25 ARS research groups that conduct studies aimed at protecting and improving farm animal health.

To receive an e-mail alert when a new issue is posted, contact Sandra Avant, ARS Information Staff, or sign up online.

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

Categories: USDA

Fruit Pest's Favorite Aromas Turned Against It

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Thu, 10/16/2014 - 06:58
Fruit Pest's Favorite Aromas Turned Against It / October 16, 2014 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
Read the magazine story to find out more.

 ARS researchers isolating chemicals from wine and vinegar. Link to photo information
ARS postdoctoral researcher Dong Cha (left) and ARS entomologist Peter Landolt have isolated chemicals from wine and vinegar that attract Drosophila flies. Click the image for more information about it.


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Fruit Pest's Favorite Aromas Turned Against It

By Jan Suszkiw
October 16, 2014

A blend of odors that attracts spotted wing drosophila flies (SWD) has been developed into a new lure product for improved monitoring and control of these tree-fruit and berry pests.

The blend is a combination of four different chemicals found in the aromas of both wine and vinegar. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) entomologist Peter Landolt and research associate Dong Cha, along with their Oregon Department of Agriculture colleagues, isolated the chemicals and evaluated them extensively in laboratory and field trials.

Based on those findings, Trece, Inc., in Adair, Oklahoma, commercially formulated the compounds into a novel blend and controlled-release lure, which is marketed under the trademark "PHERO-CON SWD," along with a related trap.

According to Landolt, with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Wapato, Washington, farmers and pest managers need improved methods of attracting, monitoring and managing the flies to prevent potential losses of cherries, berries, grapes and other fruit crops. The lure's availability should provide growers with better information to use in making pest-management decisions, such as where, when or whether to spray.

Left unchecked, female SWD flies deposit their eggs beneath the surface of host fruit, where subsequent larval feeding causes it to soften, bruise and wrinkle, notes Landolt, who is in the ARS Fruit and Vegetable Insect Research Unit at Wapato.

Capturing SWD with lures containing wine and vinegar isn't a new approach. But Landolt's group was first to conduct a top-down examination of which chemical constituents in the liquids' aromas attract specifically these flies.

In extensive testing, they showed that ethanol alone was less attractive than wine, and acetic acid alone was less attractive than vinegar. Similarly, combinations of ethanol and acetic acid were also less attractive to the flies than wine-plus-vinegar blends, which suggested that other constituents were at work. Of 20 total Chardonnay wine and rice-vinegar chemicals the researchers evaluated, acetoin and methionol triggered the strongest responses in the flies when combined with acetic acid and ethanol.

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

Read more about the lure in the October 2014 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Categories: USDA

Studies Steadily Advance Cellulosic Ethanol Prospects

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Tue, 10/14/2014 - 07:03
Studies Steadily Advance Cellulosic Ethanol Prospects / October 14, 2014 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
Read the magazine story to find out more.

 Switchgrass. Link to photo information
ARS research is helping improve production of ethanol from switchgrass. Click the image for more information about it.


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Studies Steadily Advance Cellulosic Ethanol Prospects

By Ann Perry
October 14, 2014

The potential for producing cost-effective cellulosic ethanol that uses plentiful and sustainable cellulosic plant biomass continues to grow, thanks to research at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists at the Bioenergy Research Unit in Peoria, Illinois, have recently completed studies on multiple approaches that could help streamline cellulosic ethanol production. ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency, and this work supports USDA's priority of finding new sources for producing bioenergy.

In one study, a team led by ARS chemical engineer Bruce Dien looked at using switchgrass, a perennial grass native to the prairie, for ethanol production. The team concluded that biomass producers could optimize cellulosic ethanol production by planting Kanlow variety—a lowland ecotype—and harvesting at either mid-season or post frost. Results from this study were published in Environmental Technology in 2013.

ARS chemist Michael Bowman led another study of switchgrass xylans, which is challenging to convert to sugars with enzymes because of its complex chemical structure. Bowman determined that structural features of xylan remained the same as the plant matures, even though the amount of xylan changed with maturity. This is good news for biorefiners, because it suggests that they can use the same biomass hydrolyzing enzymes to break down xylans in all switchgrass biomass, no matter when the crop is harvested. Results from this study were published in Metabolites in 2012.

ARS molecular biologist Ronald Hector led work on the microorganisms needed to ferment xylose—molecules that make up xylans—into ethanol. Distiller's yeast used by corn ethanol producers does not ferment xylose. An enzyme called D-xylose isomerase, or XI, catalyzes the missing metabolic step for fermentation of xylose to ethanol. Hector's team isolated four novel XI genes encoding the enzyme from rumen and intestinal bacteria and expressed them in distiller's type yeast strains, conferring the ability for them to ferment xylose.

Then the scientists took the most promising yeast strain from this first round of trials and improved its growth and fermenting capacities through further adaptations. The result was a yeast strain that grew almost four times faster than other strains that contained XI enzymes and one that could produce ethanol at significantly greater yields than other yeasts engineered to ferment xylose to ethanol. The scientists published their findings in Biotechnology for Biofuels in 2013.

Read more about this work in the October 2014 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

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