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Posts tagged: genetics

Turning Up the Heat in Battle Against Chili Pepper Root Rot

Peppers are part of the Solanaceae family, which includes potato, tomato, and eggplant.

Peppers are part of the Solanaceae family, which includes potato, tomato, and eggplant.

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.

Good news for those who crave culinary heat.  From the chili pepper aficionados who “eat fire” to those who prefer more subtle flavors, researchers have found a way to help ensure that more of their favorite foods will be available on store shelves.

Scientists at University of California–Davis have identified a candidate gene that encodes natural resistance to Phytophthora capsici, a fungus-like pathogen that causes root rot in peppers.  P. capsici is a major limiting factor to chili production worldwide. Read more »

APHIS Geneticist Finds New Way to Track Invasive Pythons

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

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 »

Virginia Tech Animal Breeding Graduate Program Makes Strides in Online Learning

A Virginia Tech student participates in the online animal breeding graduate program. Credit: Ron Lewis, Virginia Tech.

A Virginia Tech student participates in the online animal breeding graduate program. Credit: Ron Lewis, Virginia Tech.

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.

Imagine a graduate school that combined the faculty expertise of seven universities throughout the United States. Imagine this program focused on animal genetics, using the latest research data to teach students.  Best of all, students can attend with the click of a mouse.

It’s not some futuristic university—this is a digital learning center created by faculty at Virginia Tech, and funded by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).  Ron Lewis, professor of animal genetics at Virginia Tech, received a grant from NIFA’s Higher Education Challenge Grant Program to launch this on-line graduate-level training in animal breeding and genetics in 2007. Read more »

U.S. Bovine Genetics Help Increase Milk Production in Rwanda

Many countries around the world face challenges when it comes to milk production, particularly in Africa. Over the years, USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service has helped to address this issue through education exchange programs, benefiting farmers around the world.

Rwanda is among the lowest milk-producing countries in the world, with a mere 3.2 liters produced per cow per day compared to 36 liters in the United States. Of the 1.2 million cattle in the country, only 13.6 percent produce milk. In addition, per capita milk consumption remains low at 31 liters annually compared to 100 liters in Kenya. Read more »

USDA Science Unlocks the Genetic Secrets of the Soybean

Today, the work of scientists from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), our State Land Grant Universities, and the Department of Energy (DOE) is featured as the cover story in the prestigious science journal, Nature.  I am very proud and excited that USDA science played an important part in unlocking the genetic secrets of one of the world’s most important crops, the soybean.

Together these scientists have compiled a “blueprint” of all the genetic material contained in the soybean plant.  The soybean “blueprint”, which is freely available online, will allow scientists from around the world to locate genes that control and enhance important quality traits in soybeans, like protein and oil, and agronomic traits like yield, drought tolerance, and the plant’s ability to resist pests and diseases.

USDA’s Soybean Germplasm CollectionThis blueprint will let plant scientists find genes much faster and speed up development of different and improved types of soybean. With the basic genetic blueprint in hand, the next step will be for scientists to compare the basic design to others, looking for genetic variations associated with particular traits. This is where USDA’s collection of more than 20,000 different types of soybeans will be crucial. Researchers can compare different cultivars to the blueprint, searching for genes associated with desirable traits. Once new genetic associations are identified, scientists can use the information to create better soybeans. Soybeans that can extract more nitrogen from the atmosphere, which means less fertilizer and fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Soybeans with more protein for livestock feed and better nutrition for consumers. Better soy oil for food processors; soybeans with less linolenic acid that doesn’t require hydrogenation, a process which produces unhealthy trans-fats. And even soybeans with more oil designed specifically for biodiesel or biobased applications.

An important food crop in Asia for thousands of years, today soybeans are the largest source of protein and the second largest source of vegetable oil in the world so improving soybeans has important implications for food security.  Soy products are found in numerous foods including milk and meat substitutes, soy flour, and tofu. Soybeans also have many non-food uses including environment-friendly plastics, inks, lubricants, and solvents.

Although soybeans have only been commercially grown in the U.S. since the 1920s, we are now the world’s leading soybean producer and exporter.  The U.S. soybean crop has a farm value of about $27 billion, the second-highest value among U.S.-produced crops, second only to corn. Soybeans are also an important export commodity for American farmers accounting for about 43 percent of production in 2008. And while our research on the soybean genome has great potential to improve food security, it will also help keep American farmers competitive.

The research to decode the soybean genome is the product of a multiagency, multi-institutional effort led by scientists at the DOE Joint Genome Institute, the University of Missouri-Columbia, USDA, and Purdue University, with additional financial support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Dr. Perry Cregan and his team from the ARS Soybean Genomics and Improvement Lab in Beltsville, MD

Other USDA and university scientists involved include USDA scientists from the ARS Soybean Genomics and Improvement Lab in Beltsville, Maryland, and researchers at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Since the first plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, a small flowering plant in the mustard family, was sequenced in 2000 and the human genome was first sequenced in 2003, scientists have learned a great deal about the role of genes. However, sequencing the genome is but a first step. The genome of an organism is no more than a list of parts. More research is needed to discover the functions and interactions of the genes in order to understand the workings of the entire organism.

ARS Geneticist David Hyten harvests leaf tissue from one of many plant progenies derived from the cross of the soybean cultivar Williams 82 with a wild soybean. The soybean genome project is one of many genome sequencing projects of agriculturally important plants and animals being carried out by USDA and other scientists.  Other projects include sequencing corn, rice, wheat, sorghum, cow, pig, sheep, and honeybee genomes.  Just this week USDA scientists and others announced they had sequenced the genome of the woodland strawberry, a model system for a group of plants within the Rosaceae family which includes many economically important fruit, nut, ornamental and woody crops, such as almond, apple, peach, cherry, raspberry, strawberry and rose.

Research to understand genomes is a vital investment in our future to ensure our farmers can continue to meet the world’s needs for food, feed, fiber, and bioenergy in the face of climate change, emerging pest and disease threats, and a growing population.  The knowledge from this research will translate into new technologies and products that will benefit not only farmers and producers but also people the world over.  USDA science will be crucial to our success.

Molly Jahn is USDA’s Acting Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics