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Category: Science

What’s the Alternative?

Prescription Bottle

Prescription Bottle

We know that antibiotics are those miracle drugs Alexander Fleming stumbled upon in the 1920’s when his lab was left untidy. Since that happy accident, scientists have identified additional naturally-occurring antibiotics and developed synthetic drugs to add to our arsenal to combat bacterial infections.

So we’ve had bacteria, through their need to survive, learning how to develop resistance to naturally occurring antibiotics in the environment for eons; long before we started purposefully adding more antibiotics to the mix. So though we need antibiotics, it would be really nice if we could find ways to rely on them less. Read more »

NIFA, Agricultural Research Tackle Society’s ‘wicked’ problems

NIFA-funded research used genetics to hornless dairy cattle.  (Image courtesy of Recombinetics)

NIFA-funded research used genetics to hornless dairy cattle. (Image courtesy of Recombinetics)

Our charge in the food and agricultural sciences is to move from evolutionary discoveries, which contribute to marginal changes over long periods of time, to revolutionary thinking to deal with ‘wicked’ problems by deploying transdisciplinary approaches that solve complex societal challenges. Similar to how the Internet-driven disruptive technologies have transformed America and the rest of the world, advances in data science, information science, biotechnology and nanotechnology can transform agriculture and our capacity to address societal challenges.

Advances in the field of genomics have helped breeders produce desirable varieties of crops and livestock and overcome challenges that had previously been undertaken via conventional breeding. For example, in the dairy industry, most cattle are mechanically or chemically dehorned early in life to protect against injury to other cattle and their handlers. To eliminate this bloody and painful process, a team of NIFA-funded researchers at Recombinetics have successfully used gene editing to introduce the hornless gene into the cells of horned bulls. While the majority of hornless cattle generated via conventional breeding produce low quality milk, gene editing offers a simple and rapid solution of generating hornless cattle that produce high quality milk. Read more »

USDA’s Collaborative and Active Engagement in the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System is Twenty Years Old and Going Strong

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on January 26, 1998 that it was going to require meat and poultry processing plants to have a science-based Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) food inspection system put into place. HACCP is a food production, storage, and distribution monitoring system for identification and control of associated health hazards using definitive scientific tests. Its purpose is to prevent contamination of food products during processing. USDA photo.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on January 26, 1998 that it was going to require meat and poultry processing plants to have a science-based Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) food inspection system put into place. HACCP is a food production, storage, and distribution monitoring system for identification and control of associated health hazards using definitive scientific tests. Its purpose is to prevent contamination of food products during processing. USDA photo.

Today kicked off “Get Smart about Antibiotics” week in the United States and the World Health Organization’s World Antibiotic Awareness Week in 2016. During this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its other federal partners want to remind families and communities about the importance of responsible antibiotic use in both humans and animals, to help reduce the development of resistant bacteria. This week, we also celebrate the 20th anniversary of the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS).  Through NARMS, USDA, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collaborate on everything relating to antimicrobial resistant bacteria.   Since 1996, USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) have been active participants in this combined federal surveillance program.

So, what is antimicrobial resistance?  As you might recall, in 1928, Dr. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, a drug that revolutionized the treatment of bacterial infections. In the years following, penicillin and the discovery and therapeutic use of other antibiotics, we have relied on antibiotics to treat and cure a variety of illnesses – in both humans and animals, across the globe. The use of these drugs has aided in the development of resistant strains of bacteria. Unfortunately, this development means that some previously treatable forms of bacterial infections are now resistant to the antibiotics that were designed to treat them. It is estimated that the decrease in effectiveness of antibiotics, results in more than two million U.S. cases of antibiotic resistant infections, annually. Some of these types of infections might require longer hospital stays and are more costly to treat successfully.  Read more »

Veterans Returning to Civilian Life Bring Skill and Talent to Farm and Ranch

The U.S. flag

Each day, nearly 1,300 veterans and their family members return to civilian life. USDA is helping many veterans transition from the military to agriculture.

In honor of Veterans Day, Deputy Under Secretary Lanon Baccam provided Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack with an overview of USDA’s support for veterans. Baccam, a proud army veteran, also serves as the Department’s Military Veterans Agriculture Liaison. Read more »

A Root Beer-Based Discovery that Saved Lives

Allene Jeanes

A one-time high school science teacher, ARS chemist Allene R. Jeanes was instrumental in developing a blood plasma extender that saved lives and a compound used to thicken household products ranging from steak sauces and cough syrups to skin lotions. (USDA-ARS Photo)

Science can do more than improve people’s lives; sometimes it can save them.

Consider the contributions of the late Allene Rosalind Jeanes, an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) chemist at what is now the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Illinois. Her efforts are particularly worth celebrating this Veteran’s Day.

Jeanes studied polymers (large molecules composed of many repeated subunits) found in corn, wheat and wood. She spent long hours investigating how bacteria could produce polymers in huge fermentation vats. Eventually, she found a way to mass produce dextran, a type of polymer, so that it could be used as a blood volume “expander” to sustain accident and trauma victims who have lost massive amounts of blood and need to get to a hospital for a transfusion. Read more »

High-Tech Agriculture Continues to Reap Rewards for Farmers and Society

A team of researchers with an unmanned aerial system

With a new view from above, diverse teams of researchers help deliver information to farmers using useful, inexpensive unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Just like a smart phone helps users learn, communicate and make important decisions, smart technology—known as precision agriculture—helps farmers know and apply critical information about the right investments in fertilizer, seed, pesticide and water needed to produce their crops. Through new technologies, farmers produce more efficiently and see an increase in profits while improving stewardship of ecosystems and local communities.

To talk about precision agriculture is to talk about mapping the amount of a crop grown per acre (yield) or the types of soils in a given area. It also includes the technology that automatically guides farm machines and controls variables like the rates of seeds, fertilizers or chemicals. Read more »