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Posts tagged: Science Tuesday

Discovery Brings Wheat Flowering Mechanism to Light

Jorge Dubcovsky, professor of plant sciences at the University of California–Davis (pictured), and fellow UC Davis researcher Clark Lagarias uncovered a key determinant in the time it takes wheat to flower. Their discovery could lead to further research that would allow wheat growers to produce greater yields to feed the world’s growing population. Their work is published in this month’s edition of edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Photo courtesy of Jorge Dubcovsky.

Jorge Dubcovsky, professor of plant sciences at the University of California–Davis (pictured), and fellow UC Davis researcher Clark Lagarias uncovered a key determinant in the time it takes wheat to flower. Their discovery could lead to further research that would allow wheat growers to produce greater yields to feed the world’s growing population. Their work is published in this month’s edition of edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Photo courtesy of Jorge Dubcovsky.

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.

That handy chart on the back of seed packets tells backyard gardeners when it’s time to plant based on where they live.  Things get a bit more complicated, however, when your goal is to feed the world.

Researchers at the University of California–Davis have unlocked a long-held secret into how wheat determines when it’s time to flower.  This information is critical to wheat growers because flowering marks the transition between the plant’s growing period and the reproductive stage when the actual grain is created.  Equipped with this knowledge, breeders can develop better adapted varieties to help growers maximize yield. Read more »

Partnering with Retailers and Food Manufacturers to Make Healthy Choices Easier

The results of healthy incentives pilot released on July, 24, 2013 show that small investments can lead to increased fruit and vegetable consumption among SNAP recipients.

The results of healthy incentives pilot released on July, 24, 2013 show that small investments can lead to increased fruit and vegetable consumption among SNAP recipients.

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.

Achieving a good diet requires access to nutritious food, but it also requires good choices from among the many thousands of products available at grocery stores and other food retailers – a real challenge for consumers. How can we shape a store environment that makes healthy choices easier?

Researchers working with the Food and Nutrition Service recently conducted a thought experiment to encourage healthy purchases in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The researchers asked a number of leading experts to imagine a labeling system in place that clearly identifies the healthiest options in the stores, and develop strategies to promote them, especially for shoppers with limited resources. The strategies had to be feasible, sustainable, cost-effective, and appealing to all stakeholders: food manufacturers, food retailers, and consumers.  The study team first identified key characteristics of labeling systems — including the need to inform consumers without requiring complex interpretation, and to align with retailers’ and manufacturers’ competitive strategies and business practices. Read more »

What Kept Food Security from Improving After the Recession?

The Economic Research Service examined why lower unemployment in the post-recession period was not matched by gains in food security among U.S. households. Photo credit: Shutterstock

The Economic Research Service examined why lower unemployment in the post-recession period was not matched by gains in food security among U.S. households. Photo credit: Shutterstock

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.

USDA’s annual survey on food security among American households showed, not unexpectedly, that the prevalence of food insecurity increased during the 2007-09 recession. In the post-recession period, the highest monthly unemployment rate dropped from 10 percent in 2009-10 to 8.3 percent in 2012. But the rosier employment picture was matched by very little improvement in the level of food insecurity – i.e., households’ lack of consistent access to adequate food for active, healthy lives. The national prevalence of food security was 14.5 percent in 2012, essentially the same as in 2009 and 2010. What could be the explanation? Read more »

USDA Meteorologist Talks With Producers “In the Field”

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.

Ever wonder how USDA is able to make a forecast – either economic or weather?  It takes a lot of work.

Last week, USDA’s U.S. meteorologist Brad Rippey met with producers in southwestern Michigan. The first stop, on a rainy, stormy morning, was with Bryan Bixby, owner of Bixby Orchards in Berrien Springs.  Bixby described how spring wetness has been detrimental to fieldwork and crop quality.  For example, wet, humid conditions shortened the southwestern Michigan strawberry season and reduced fruit quality.  In addition, wetness has impeded Bixby’s efforts to complete soybean planting.  During a tour of his orchards, Bixby described how the recent winter was Michigan’s harshest since 1976-77, causing substantial mortality in peach trees — requiring him to buy peaches from South Carolina in order to meet customer demand. 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 »

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 »