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Posts tagged: Cornell University

A New World-Old World Problem and How Genetic “Fingerprints” May Help

ARS scientists and NIFA-funded researchers work to improve the tools and processes to develop better grapes and grapevines. Their discoveries will make it easier for grape breeders to identify vines that combine the most desirable traits.

ARS scientists and NIFA-funded researchers work to improve the tools and processes to develop better grapes and grapevines. Their discoveries will make it easier for grape breeders to identify vines that combine the most desirable traits.

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.

When it comes to grapes, there’s a New World-Old World dichotomy. Grapevines originating in the Americas (e.g. Vitis labrusca, Vitis riparia) can resist pests and diseases, but they generally don’t have the taste or aroma of grapes with European origins (Vitis vinifera).  But European grapes are more susceptible to pests and disease.

Grape breeders try to combine the best of both worlds, but here’s the problem: if you cross one grape with another, there is no guarantee your progeny will inherit the desirable traits. And because it takes so much time to grow a grapevine, produce grapes from those vines, and for those grapes to be evaluated, bringing a new grape to market can take 20 years or more. Scientists can speed things up by identifying genes that give grapes the right blend of the best characteristics. Identifying the genes will tell you the characteristics of the vine without having to wait for it to grow. Read more »

Digitizing Our Agricultural History; 77 Years of Annual Statistics Now Online

<em>Agricultural Statistics</em> has a long history of publication and is an important archive for researchers to study the history of U.S. farming.

Agricultural Statistics has a long history of publication and is an important archive for researchers to study the history of U.S. farming.

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.

Did you know that more than 11 million Americans worked on farms in 1930, of which 8.3 million were family workers? Compare that to the fewer than 1.5 million workers employed in agriculture during the peak harvest months of 2011.

Every year, the Department of Agriculture releases a reference book of major agricultural statistics for the United States and countries around the world. It is a one-stop location for annual production, consumption, trade, and price data for all sorts of crops and livestock, as well as spending for government programs, farm economics, and lots of other statistics important to our country’s agricultural system. Agricultural Statistics has a long history of publication, and is an important archive for researchers to study the history of U.S. farming. Read more »

Breeding Local Seed for Local Food

They say that variety is the spice of life. Well, you can’t get much more variety than in the plant world. Genetic variation exists for many traits in all crops. For example, although most carrots on grocers’ shelves are orange, carrots can also be white, yellow, green, or purple. Most potatoes are susceptible to potato late blight, but some wild potato species are immune. Carrot color may be unrelated to where the carrots are grown, so a local grower can grow whatever color carrot people enjoy. Variation for disease resistance or tolerance to different soil types, however, does affect local adaptation.

Many local foods can be bred specifically to adapt to local conditions and preferences. Since local breeding takes manpower, the costs for these seeds can spill over to the customers. One solution is participatory plant breeding where breeders and farmers collaborate to contribute genetic variation; resources such as fields and labor; and expertise in breeding, crops, and farming. Read more »

Nanotechnology Project Opens at Disney World

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.

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A visit to the happiest place on earth now opens a window to some of the smallest things on earth.

A new long-term exhibit at Walt Disney World’s INNOVNTIONS at Epcot® opened last month to educate the public about nanotechnology and the science of the very small. Take a Nanooze Break features a number of interactive activities that allow visitors to explore common objects at the nanometer scale, manipulate models of molecules and interact with scientists and engineers who conduct the latest nanotechnology research.

The exhibit gives new meaning to the phrase “it’s a small world after all” using six dynamic videos produced by Cornell University researcher Carl Batt and funded by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.  The episodes, which were produced in collaboration with the international radio program EarthSky, cover both the potential benefits and risks of nanotechnology.  As part of the grant to Batt, the public will be surveyed to gain an understanding of their opinions about nanotechnology and the information conveyed by the videos.

Nanotechnology is the science of studying and producing materials and devices of nanometer size–billionths of a meter, or about 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.  The emerging field of nanotechnology will no doubt lead to unprecedented understanding and control of the fundamental building blocks of all physical things. Potential applications are possible in plant and animal agricultural production, diagnostic devices to ensure food safety, food processing and manufacturing, human health and nutrition, biotechnology, medicine and drug delivery, information technology, homeland defense, energy production and efficiency, and environmental improvement.

Additional USDA funding into nanotechnology research has led to the development of a fabric that can detect biohazards such as E. coli, biosensors that can help detect diseases on farms and in hospitals, and to tracers that can uncover the sources of pollution in farm fields and waters.

The Epcot exhibit was based on the National Science Foundation-supported Nanooze children’s magazine and Web site designed to get kids excited about science and nanotechnology. With millions of people who visit Epcot each year, this work presents a great opportunity to share the latest advances in nanotechnology and how it can benefit our daily lives.

NIFA-funded videos are part of this exhibit, now being displayed at Epcot Center. Credit: Cornell University Chronicle
NIFA-funded videos are part of this exhibit, now being displayed at Epcot Center.
Credit: Cornell University Chronicle

Dr. Hongda Chen, National Program Leader for Bioprocessing Engineering and Nanotechnology at USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.