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Russian wheat aphids. Click here for full photo caption.
Russian wheat aphids

Science Update


Wheat Aphid Is Target of Biotech R&D

Gene-engineered wheat that repels Russian wheat aphids is the objective of a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) between ARS and Axis Genetics, Ltd., based in Cambridge, England. Achieving this goal would lower wheat growers' reliance on insecticide. The tiny aphids first appeared in U.S. wheat fields about 1986. Since then, they have run up an estimated $850-million tab in insecticide and other costs. The ARS-Axis effort is likely to succeed because the ARS scientists recently streamlined methods for giving wheat new genes.

USDA-ARS Crop Improvement/Utilization Research Unit, Albany, California, phone (510) 559-6072.

ARS Designs Automated System To Aid Poultry Inspection

Scientists at ARS have designed a system that uses fiber optic probes to shine a light on chicken quality in processing plants. The probe trains light beams onto the carcass, and a computer interprets the reflected light. Certain reflected spectra signal that the chicken had septicemia disease or was improperly bled. In studies, the probes were 95 percent accurate in spotting these two problems—the most frequent reasons poultry inspectors remove chicken carcasses from a processing line. An automated probe system could remove these carcasses before they reach inspectors. The system is being tested at several eastern processing plants.

Yud-Ren Chen, USDA-ARS Instrumentation and Sensing Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland, phone (301) 504-8450.

When Alcohol Is Drunk, Calories Count

The alcohol in a martini or two can't be ignored if you're trying to lose weight. Some reports have suggested alcohol revs up body metabolism and gets rid of the alcohol before it can add calories. But a recent ARS study of 48 men and women over a 16-week period shows that alcohol contributes 7 calories per gram, as widely thought. So, moderate drinkers can count on 70 to 90 calories just for the alcohol in a can of beer, jigger of liquor, or 4-ounce glass of wine. Of course, the drink's nonalcohol calories also count.

William V. Rumpler, USDA-ARS Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, Beltsville, Maryland, phone (301) 504-8360.

With New Corn, Worms May Bite Off More Than They Can Chew

ARS and a private firm, Northrup King, have entered into a CRADA to evaluate corn hybrids bioengineered to resist fall armyworm and southwestern corn borer. Scientists with the company gave corn plants a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria. The gene makes a protein that kills caterpillars. Sprays and powders of the bacteria have been sold as a biocontrol for more than 30 years. Chemical insecticide remains the most common control, however. Unchecked, borers can cut yields as much as 40 percent, while army-worms can cause total yield loss.

W. Paul Williams, USDA-ARS Corn Host Plant Resistance Research Unit, Mississippi State, Mississippi, phone (662) 325-2735.

California Is Cleared of Fungal Guilt-by-Association

An ARS scientist in Maryland has helped persuade China to lift its quarantine on California wheat. She did it by uncovering a 78-year-old mistake over a fungus. The Chinese had imposed a zero-tolerance level for spores of Tilletia controversa fungus, which causes dwarf bunt. This wheat disease is not known to occur in China. The quarantine is traced in part to a 1917 USDA document. In it, a collector reported collecting the fungus in California. But it actually came from Oregon. The evidence includes National Archives documents and specimens from the U.S. National Fungus Collection.

Amy Rossman, USDA-ARS Systematic Botany and Mycology Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland, phone (301) 504-5364.


"Science Update" was published in the May 1995 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.


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