Become a fan on Facebook Follow us on Twitter USDA Blog Feed Watch USDA videos on YouTube Subscribe to receive e-mail updates View USDA Photos on Flickr Subscribe to RSS Feeds

Posts tagged: ARS

Workshop Discusses Delving Deeper into the Animal Genome

Data gathered from the AgENCODE project will ultimately improve cattle breeding.

Data gathered from the AgENCODE project will ultimately improve cattle breeding.

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.

The idea that around 80 percent of human DNA is “junk” DNA with no real purpose never sat well with scientists.  So in 2003, researchers funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health started working on a project called ENCODE, which was designed to study the role of non-coding “junk” DNA in genetic expression and to define basic functional units in the human genome.

USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists are spearheading a parallel project called AgENCODE, which takes a similar approach to exploring the mechanics of DNA regulation in key livestock species. “We can identify 70 to 90 percent (or more) of the DNA coding elements in animal genomes, but we don’t know much at all about the non-coding elements,” says ARS National Program Leader Jeffrey Silverstein, who is helping to organize the AgENCODE effort. “We think many of these non-coding segments regulate gene activity, and we need to understand how these segments affect the expression of an animal’s physical traits, which is very important in breeding.” Read more »

The Buzz about Bees

An alfalfa leafcutting bee, Megachile rotundata, on an alfalfa flower. This bee is widely used for pollination by alfalfa seed growers.

An alfalfa leafcutting bee, Megachile rotundata, on an alfalfa flower. This bee is widely used for pollination by alfalfa seed growers.

There’s a lot of buzz right now about honey bees—their health and their future.

The good news, where honey bees are concerned, is that there is good news.  Just last month, the results of the annual winter bee loss survey were released, and losses of managed honey bee colonies from all causes were 23.2 percent for the past winter—a significant drop from the 30.5 percent loss reported for the winter of 2012-13.

But the really good news is that when it comes to pollination, honey bees aren’t the only game in town. Read more »

Celebrating 90-Plus Years of USDA’s International Activities

Asher Hobson in Rome, who six years later would become the first head of the Foreign Agricultural Service.

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 »

100+ Years of Tracking Nutrients Available in the U.S. Food Supply

Nutrient Content of the U.S. Food Supply: Macronutrients per Capita per Day, 1909-2010. Click to enlarge.

Nutrient Content of the U.S. Food Supply: Macronutrients per Capita per Day, 1909-2010. Click to enlarge.

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.

What’s in the food we eat? Have you ever wondered if the foods past generations ate as children were more nutritious than the foods you now eat, or vice versa? Well, let’s take a look at the amount of nutrients available in foods for over 100 years!

The Nutrient Content of the U.S. Food Supply is a historical data series beginning with 1909, on the amounts of nutrients available in the food supply for consumption (not nutrients consumed), on a per capita per day basis, as well as percentage contributions of nutrients by major food groups. The series provides data for food calories and the calorie-yielding nutrients which are protein, carbohydrate, and fat (total, saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and individual fatty acids); cholesterol; dietary fiber; 10 vitamins; and 9 minerals. Food supply nutrients are closely linked to food and nutrition policy, with prominence in areas related to nutrition monitoring, Federal dietary guidance, fortification policy, and food marketing strategies. Read more »

Watching Our Water

Preventing movement of agricultural chemicals from crop fields to streams is a key part of protecting our water quality.  Here, an ARS scientist examines a farmer’s subsurface drain pipe.  Photo by ARS.

Preventing movement of agricultural chemicals from crop fields to streams is a key part of protecting our water quality. Here, an ARS scientist examines a farmer’s subsurface drain pipe. Photo by ARS.

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.

There’s no farming without water. Recent droughts in the United States and elsewhere underscore our need to conserve water in agricultural production, and studies have identified agricultural management practices that help protect water quality.  USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) researchers are making key contributions to these efforts.

For instance, ARS scientists use moisture information collected by satellites to develop the Evaporative Stress Index.  In 2012, this tool predicted that drought conditions were developing weeks before other drought monitoring networks made the same call. ARS researchers also use satellite data to design methods of estimating rainfall amounts in regions where setting up sampling stations would be a challenge, work that has long-range potential for improving precipitation estimates globally. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Protecting Our Pollinators

This week, USDA and its partners released the results of the eight annual national survey of honey bee losses. The survey shows good news—fewer honey bee colonies were lost this winter than in previous years. According to survey results, total losses of managed honey bee colonies from all causes were 23.2 percent nationwide.

That figure is a significant improvement over the 30.5 percent loss reported last winter, but it is still higher than the eight-year average loss of 29.6 percent and still far above the 18.9 percent level of loss that beekeepers say is acceptable for their economic sustainability.

While we’re pleased to see improvement this year, these losses are still too high. Read more »