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A USDA Broadband Grant Connects a Bering Sea Island to the World

Saint Paul Harbor in the Pribilof Islands. The Native community will soon receive improved broadband service thanks to USDA funding support. Photo courtesy of Scott Schuette and used with permission of TDX.

Saint Paul Harbor in the Pribilof Islands. The Native community will soon receive improved broadband service thanks to USDA funding support. Photo courtesy of Scott Schuette and used with permission of TDX.

The significance of a recently awarded USDA Community Connect Broadband grant to the predominantly Native town of Saint Paul, Alaska, can’t really be appreciated until you know about this isolated community on one of the Pribilof Islands in the middle of the Bering Sea.  It is not served by the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system and the major shipping routes are 250 miles to the south.  The island is too far from the closest urban centers (more than 700 miles) to reach by light aircraft.  No commercial jet service is available.   Most supplies arrive by charter or flying service while freight arrives by barge, seasonally when the Bering Sea is ice-free.  Winter travel in the Bering Sea can be extreme with violent seas and high winds.  Air travel throughout the remaining months is often disrupted by heavy fog and ice fog.  To say this is a remote area is an understatement.

The Community Connect project is desperately needed on Saint Paul Island.  Available 2010 Census statistics show the community in distress.  In 1990 the population was 763; by 2010 it was 479.  This is at a time when Alaska’s less remote non-Native rural population is growing.  With few available natural resources on this treeless island, Internet Connectivity is the core foundation for economic and demographic turn around. Read more »

Wheat Genome Sequenced in Breakthrough for Global Food Security

Researchers in Njoro, Kenya, evaluating wheat for resistance to Ug99 in October 2005.

Researchers in Njoro, Kenya, evaluating wheat for resistance to Ug99 in October 2005.

The Journal Nature today published a paper reporting that scientists from USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), as part of an international team, have completed a shotgun sequencing of the wheat genome. The achievement is expected to increase wheat yields, help feed the world and speed up development of wheat varieties with enhanced nutritional value. Wheat is one of the world’s “big three” crops, along with rice and corn, upon which the world’s growing population depends for nutrition.

Sequencing the genome of wheat was unusually daunting because the wheat genome is five times the size of the human genome, and has 94,000 to 96,000 genes.  This sequencing effort involved the identification of essentially all of those genes and mapping their relationship to other genes.  Previously, the size and complexity of the wheat genome had been significant barriers to performing a complete analysis, but the scientists overcame that problem by developing a new strategy that compared wheat genetic sequences to known grass genes, such as from rice and barley. Read more »

Food for Thought Exhibit: Putting the Dietary Guidelines into Action at the Koshland Science Museum

Dr. Robert Post, Deputy Director, CNPP, judges meals prepared by culinary students from DC Central Kitchen at the Koshland Science Museum’s Healthy Plate Cook-Off, on November 15, 2012.  Photo by: Chaya Pooput, Ph.D.

Dr. Robert Post, Deputy Director, CNPP, judges meals prepared by culinary students from DC Central Kitchen at the Koshland Science Museum’s Healthy Plate Cook-Off, on November 15, 2012. Photo by: Chaya Pooput, Ph.D.

On November 15, 2012, the National Academy of Sciences Koshland Science Museum here in Washington, DC, premiered its new Food for Thought exhibit. This engaging experience offers an interactive and thought-provoking opportunity for visitors to explore the practical how-to of healthy eating.

To kick off the grand opening of the exhibit, the Koshland held its second Healthy Plate Cook-Off, which featured healthy meals prepared by teams of students from the DC Central Kitchen culinary training program. The student teams were required to follow the guidance that supports MyPlate (at ChooseMyPlate.gov) in preparing their recipes and meals. The teams’ meals were judged by a panel of nutrition and health professionals for taste, appearance, and nutritional value.  I was honored to represent the Department and serve as a judge at this event. Read more »