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Posts tagged: NIH

On the Front Lines for Our Children

Cross-posted from the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network blog:

When you think about organizations engaged in the War on Cancer, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) may not be the first that comes to mind. Yet, we are on the front lines of the battle to reduce obesity, a known risk factor for many types of cancer, each and every day.

The impact of obesity on future health outlooks is shocking. The American Society of Clinical Oncology estimates that one in three cancer deaths in 2012 were related to obesity, poor nutrition or physical inactivity. In the next ten years, obesity is predicted to overtake tobacco as the number one preventable cause of cancer. That estimate is supported by the National Institutes of Health’s prediction that by 2030, we could see an additional 400,000 cases of cancer in the United States as a result of continuing obesity trends. Read more »

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 »

USDA launches National Institute of Food and Agriculture and a New Era in Agricultural Science

Today we are formally launching a new enterprise in USDA science, a National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).  NIFA will be a real agent of transformation in how we do science at USDA, not just in this new agency, but across the board.  As I reflect on this pivotal moment for USDA science, I am reminded of another transformative episode in USDA history:  the Morrill Act of 1862 that created the land-grant university system that has been the scaffold for building the research enterprise we have today.

Most of us know the basic history of the Morrill Act – passed by Congress and signed into law by President Lincoln in 1862 to establish land-grant universities “to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts.”  The 15 years it took to pass this Act, represent the steadfast political will and tremendous commitment from all the stakeholders for American agriculture, who recognized the importance in creating the land-grant system.  In 1862’s agrarian society, the land-grant universities were instrumental in developing new technologies and also putting those technologies into practice by farmers.  This allowed us to improve our agricultural productivity and establish ourselves as leaders in a global economy.

Today, we need to continue to focus on improving agriculture productivity – but we see a broader range of challenges we have the capability to solve: sustainability of our natural resources, energy independence, child health, food safety, and global hunger and food security.  In launching NIFA today, President Obama and Secretary Vilsack are following Lincoln’s example and putting science at the forefront to create a better world.Secretary Vilsack often refers to the USDA as an “every day, every way” department.  One way in which USDA is working to solve every day problems that American citizens face is through agricultural science.  I am excited to say that right now we have a great opportunity to not only transform the way we approach science, but also to transform how we apply that science to improve the nation’s, and even the world’s, quality of life.

There are three keys to this transformation:  We will frame our issues in terms of big, bold challenges that require us to enlarge the scope of our work; we’ll be working on large projects where we see great potential for breakthroughs on a scale we haven’t imagined before; and we’ll pick research where we know the impact on human health and wellbeing can be tangible and meaningful.  In order to ensure we are on track and setting appropriate research priorities using these principles, I have begun a top-to-bottom review of all USDA science assets.

NIFA will work with the best and brightest scientists to find innovative solutions to global problems.  With a timely, integrated approach and collaboration with other federal agencies, NIFA will also serve as a vital contributor in science policy decision-making.  In a show of support for NIFA, officials from the White House, Departments of Energy and State, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Food and Drug Administration will be attending our launch event today with Secretary Vilsack.  I encourage you to watch the webcast of today’s event to learn how NIFA will work with these federal science partners to leverage our research investment to achieve maximum impact.

While the focus today was on launching NIFA, my commitment is to transform science at USDA more broadly and more systematically to deliver results to the American people.  I believe it is important that we refocus our science resources in ways that can bring fundamental change to the way we address some of the most vexing of society’s problems.  NIFA’s structure, for example, will be centered around problem-specific scientific disciplines, which allows us to better identify the research needed to yield scientific breakthroughs.  I see five key priority areas in which NIFA will focus significant resources to enhance agricultural sustainable production and global competitiveness:

·         Support for new science to boost U.S. agricultural production and improve the global capacity to meet the growing demand for food, will allow us to address global food security and hunger facing many vulnerable populations around the world.

·         NIFA will help fund the creation of scientific information that producers need to plan and make decisions to adapt to changing environments caused by climate change.

·         In support of President Obama’s goal of energy independence, NIFA will work to develop and sustainable energy source through biofuels, biomass and bio-based products research.

·         By ensuring that nutritious foods are affordable and available and that families are able to make informed, science-based decisions about their health, NIFA will work to combat childhood obesity.

·        NIFA’s support of new research of microbial resistance and development of new food processing technologies will help ensure that American’s have access to a safe food supply.

Agricultural science lays the foundation to solving your everyday problems, but in order to realize those benefits we will need that steadfast will and commitment. Today was a groundbreaking day for all of us at USDA as we refocus our science resources and efforts.  From agricultural production, nutrition and food safety to energy independence and the sustainability of our natural resources, I am confident that NIFA’s investment in science will help secure America’s future.

Rajiv Shah,

USDA Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics

Foodsafety.gov: ‘One-stop-shop’ Web site for food safety information

We’re happy to announce today the re-launch of the FoodSafety.gov website, a single place to find food safety information from across the government. Think of it as a kind of “one-stop-shop” offering everything you need to stay food-safe and healthy. The site, operated by the Department of Health and Human Services, includes information from the Department of Agriculture, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, Food Safety and Inspection Service, National Institutes of Health and other government agencies and offices.

Among the things you can do on the new FoodSafety.gov website:

· See all food product recalls and alerts from all government agencies in one place (You can even grab a constantly updating alerts “widget” to put on any blog, website or personalized web “start” page.)

· Report a food problem,

· Ask questions of food safety experts,

· Get tips to help you make safe and healthy decisions at home, in the market, at school and in the workplace,

· Find expert information on preventing, recognizing and treating food-borne illnesses,

· Learn about the food inspection process · Find links to your state and local public health agencies,

· View videos, listen to podcasts, subscribe to e-mail alerts and RSS feeds, follow Twitter and use other multimedia to keep current on food safety topics, or

· Download educational materials for schools, community groups and public health agencies.

The new FoodSafety.gov site is an outgrowth of the Food Safety Working Group, an effort announced by President Barack Obama on March 14, 2009, designed to establish programs and procedures to ensure a safe food supply for the American people. One recommendation produced by the inter-agency group is to use new technologies, including FoodSafety.gov and emerging social media, to communicate critical food safety information to the public.

From the beginning, the process has included input from many interested parties. That outreach continues today. Have comments or suggestions about the new FoodSafety.gov Web site? Leave comments here on this blog.