Dr. Fernando Torres, (left) APHIS Director of the Plum Island Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (FADDL), shows Under Secretary Avalos (center) and Jessica Mahalingappa (right) a sample to demonstrate one diagnostic tool that staff use at FADDL.
Two departments, one mission. That’s the reality for scientists working at Plum Island Foreign Animal Disease Laboratory in New York. The island—owned and operated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—is critical to the USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) mission to protect U.S. livestock from the introduction and spread foreign animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease. It provides a biologically safe and secure location for APHIS scientists to diagnose animal diseases. For two weeks this spring, Plum Island was the site of an important component of our agriculture safeguarding system: sharing expertise and experience to build and strengthen the training, skills and capabilities of other nations, also known as international capacity building.
USDA and DHS welcomed 26 veterinarians responsible for evaluating animal disease outbreaks from 11 Spanish-speaking countries to a training called the International Transboundary Animal Disease (ITAD) Course, funded by the Organismo International Regional de Sanidad Agropecuaris (OIRSA). The course, provided entirely in Spanish, helps familiarize veterinarians with ten of the most serious animal diseases. The trainings provide a highly-trained global network capable of readily identifying and containing these diseases around the world, minimizing damage to animal agriculture and people’s livelihoods. Read more »
Asher Hobson in Rome, who six years later would become the first head of the Foreign Agricultural Service.
The modern Foreign Service is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, as is the American Foreign Service Association. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge signed the Foreign Service Act into law, combining the United States diplomatic and consular services to create the United States Foreign Service. By that time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had already been posting employees overseas for 42 years.
Thanks to President Coolidge’s curiosity, we possess a rare snapshot of USDA international activities in 1924. On December 22 of that year, Coolidge, in his characteristically laconic style, sent a one-line letter to Secretary of Agriculture Howard Gore: “I shall appreciate it if you will send me as soon as possible a list of the representatives the Department may have abroad, their posts and just what they are doing.” Surviving copies of urgent correspondence in the National Archives in College Park testify to the flurry of activity that ensued over the next two weeks as a data call went out to all USDA field offices. Read more »
Photo of S. galinae by Jian Duan, Research Entomologist, USDA ARS Beneficial Insects Introduction Research Unit
May 18-24, 2014 is Emerald Ash Borer Awareness Week
In our efforts to preserve and protect American ash trees from the damaging and invasive emerald ash borer (EAB) beetle, APHIS is working diligently to find and implement solutions that have the potential to successfully conserve this beautiful natural resource. Spathius galinae (S. galinae) just could be that newest weapon in the arsenal.
The tiny stingless wasp, about the size of a typical mosquito, targets and attacks EAB larvae living under the bark of ash trees. Crawling along the bark ridges and furrows, S. galinae somehow senses EAB larvae hidden below. The wasp not only accurately locates its target, but also is able to determine relative size—showing preference for large EAB larvae. Once a suitable larva is detected, the female wasp uses its long egg-laying organ (ovipositor) like a hydraulic drill to bore down through the layers of bark and deposit between 5 and 15 eggs on its host. After the eggs hatch, the wasp offspring feed on the EAB larva, eventually killing it. A new generation of S. galinae emerges in about 35 days. Read more »
Retiring APHIS State Plant Health Director for Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island Patty Douglass inspects ALB damaged wood in Massachusetts.
One of the things I consider a highlight of my career and that I will always remember is our successful response to the July 2010 detection of the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) in Boston, Massachusetts. As I attended the May 12 ceremony commemorating the eradication of the ALB infestation in Boston and listened to the speakers share their thoughts about what it took to get us there, I had a deep sense of appreciation for the partnership among the state and federal cooperators who worked together to bring us to that day. It was swift action and continued diligence that protected Boston’s trees from further destruction.
APHIS and its cooperators were able to accomplish the goal of eradicating ALB in Boston in less than 4 years. Thanks also go to a community member who reported the infestation early. That early detection and report resulted in the loss of only 6 infested trees.
But as I celebrate our first victory over the invasive pest in Massachusetts, I am compelled to ask you to remain vigilant in inspecting your trees regularly for signs of the beetle and report any suspicious damage to your State Plant Health Director. Read more »
Sonny Ramaswamy, director of NIFA, has fun with Madagascar hissing cockroaches.
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 the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.
When you think of agriculture do you think of science and engineering? You should! Farmers are some of our original scientists, tinkering with plant varieties and farming techniques to find ways to reliably grow food. At USDA, we still do that kind of research in a never-ending effort to find better ways to produce food, fuel, and fiber. We also do a lot of research you might not think of when you think about agriculture: from forensic genetic analysis to track down unwanted pests to figuring out how to turn spent grain from distilleries into biodegradable kitty litter.
On April 26-27, the 3rd Annual USA Science and Engineering Festival took over the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. Over 325,000 people came out to celebrate discovery and innovation through over 3,000 hands-on activities and 150 performances and lectures. USDA pulled all of the stops to show our geeky side and hopefully convince a few young booth visitors to consider agriculture when they think about careers in science. Read more »
Can you find the snake? A Burmese python peeks out from its hiding place in Florida. APHIS Wildlife Services experts are developing new tools to help track and remove this invasive species. Photo by Lori Oberhofer, National Park Service
How do you find something that doesn’t want to be found – something that has evolved to be cryptic, elusive, and stealthy? That is the question asked of APHIS geneticist Dr. Antoinette Piaggio. She and others at the National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) – the research arm of the APHIS Wildlife Services program – are investigating new ways to track and locate invasive Burmese pythons.
Burmese pythons have made a home in Florida competing with and feeding on native wildlife. Experts agree that new tools and techniques are crucial to monitoring and controlling the spread of this elusive snake.
“Burmese pythons are semi-aquatic and can be very hard to detect given their elusive nature and cryptic coloration,” states Piaggio. “We’ve developed a new detection method that uses environmental DNA, thereby eliminating the need for seeing or handling snakes.” Read more »