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Category: Science

Racing for alternatives in the age of antibiotic resistance

Alice and the Red Queen in Peter Newell’s Through the Looking Glass. Biologist Leigh Van Valen is credited for hypothesizing the need for organisms to constantly adapt and evolve by referencing the Red Queen’s race. (Illustration by Peter Newell.)

Alice and the Red Queen in Peter Newell’s Through the Looking Glass. Biologist Leigh Van Valen is credited for hypothesizing the need for organisms to constantly adapt and evolve by referencing the Red Queen’s race. (Illustration by Peter Newell.)

This week is World Antibiotic Awareness week and ‘Get Smart About Antibiotics’ week. Learn more about how USDA works to ensure antibiotics remain effective to treat both people and animals when necessary and the alternatives available to traditional antibiotics.”

For billions of years, microbes such as bacteria and viruses have been in a struggle for survival in the face of naturally occurring antimicrobial substances. This struggle has continued in nature and into human society, where humans, plants, animals, and microbes themselves constantly ward off disease-causing microbes. The plight for adaptation and survival is not unlike the Red Queen’s race in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, where it takes all of the running one can do to remain in the same place.  Read more »

ERS Makes FoodAPS Purchase and Nutrition Data Easier to Access

FoodAPS data show the sources of food acquisitions (e.g., store types, restaurants, and schools) by SNAP households and by non-SNAP households of differing income levels.

FoodAPS data show the sources of food acquisitions (e.g., store types, restaurants, and schools) by SNAP households and by non-SNAP households of differing income levels.

USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) has developed a unique treasure trove of data from a survey on food purchases and acquisitions by U.S. households – USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey FoodAPS. To protect individual survey respondents’ privacy, access to the data had been restricted to researchers from academic institutions and government agencies. Now, a modified version that aggregates information so individuals cannot be identified, but still provides valuable data for research and planning is available to everyone.

What can FoodAPS data tell us? USDA’s investment in FoodAPS was undertaken to fill a critical knowledge gap and encourage research that can support an evidence-based approach to Federal food assistance policies and programs. The data are being used to address a range of questions such as where households acquire food in a typical week, which foods they acquire, how much they pay for the food and how the acquired foods match recommendations for a healthy diet. Read more »

Washington State Lab Sows the Seeds of Tomorrow’s Scientists

Virginia State University undergraduate Christos Galanopoulos learns about agricultural research and collecting field samples during his internship at ARS’s Plant Germplasm Introduction and Testing Research Unit in Pullman, Washington. Photo by Jinguo Hu, Agricultural Research Service.

Virginia State University undergraduate Christos Galanopoulos learns about agricultural research and collecting field samples during his internship at ARS’s Plant Germplasm Introduction and Testing Research Unit in Pullman, Washington. Photo by Jinguo Hu, Agricultural Research Service.

Christos Galanopoulos, a rising senior from Virginia State University (VSU), recently interned with ARS under the guidance of Jinguo Hu and Brian Irish at ARS’s Plant Germplasm Introduction and Testing Research Unit in Pullman, Washington.  He conducted a range of projects directly related to his academic field of study, agriculture. Galanopoulos, along with fellow intern John Few, IV, participated as part of ARS’s partnership with VSU’s College of Agriculture

Galanopoulos spent the first week working with Clare Coyne, a geneticist who curates the USDA cool season food legumes (pea, chickpea, lentil, etc.) collection. Coyne also collaborates with breeders to develop new varieties of legume crops offering disease resistance, higher yield, and other desired traits.   Read more »

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 »