USDA Agricultural Research Service Ready for 2019 after Stellar 2018 Performance
WASHINGTON— If the scientific and technological achievements of 2018 are any indication, the upcoming year promises to be just as successful for the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) as it continues to deliver scientific solutions to national and global agricultural challenges.
As the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) chief in-house scientific research agency, ARS employs 2,000 scientists at 90-plus research locations across the country and overseas. A global leader in agricultural discovery through scientific excellence, ARS is committed to delivering cutting-edge scientific tools and innovative solutions to support the nourishment and well-being of all people; the sustainment of the nation’s agroecosystems and natural resources; and the economic competitiveness and excellence of the nation’s agriculture.
"The achievements we highlight today are a testament to the creativity, expertise and commitment our scientists demonstrate every day in tackling these critical national areas," said ARS Administrator Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young. “I’ve no doubt they’ll continue to build on that foundation of excellence into the new year and beyond.”
ARS’s 2018 accomplishments include:
FY17 Annual Report on Technology Transfer — This report, released in December 2018, highlighted 166 new inventions and 68 patent applications in the 2017 fiscal year. ARS and other USDA agency research innovations included tornado “safe rooms” built of cross-laminated wood, “sachets” that extend the life of produce, soybean germplasm with heat-tolerant genes, and tires of rubber made from a flowering desert shrub. The annual Technology Transfer Report lists technology produced through research either conducted or supported by USDA.
Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research — Matthew Rouse, an ARS plant pathologist in St. Paul, Minnesota, received the prestigious award for his leadership on global research to shore up the defenses of wheat against stem rust and other diseases. Presented by the World Food Prize organization and endowed by the Rockefeller Foundation, the honor recognizes the science-based achievements of individuals under the age of 40 who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity, or availability of food in the world. Rouse is the seventh scientist to receive this award.
Rouse’s winning contributions included coordination of an ARS spring wheat nursery project in Kenya and Ethiopia to develop wheat lines with resistance to Ug99. A strain of the stem rust fungus Puccinia graminis, Ugg99 threatens up to 90 percent of the world’s wheat crop and much of its barley, posing a significant global food security threat. Were it to arrive in the United States, Ug99 would imperil approximately 46 million acres of wheat, which ranks third among U.S. field crops in terms of planted acreage, production and gross farm receipts, according to USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS).
The Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research is named for Norman E. Borlaug (1914-2009), a world-renowned wheat researcher and Nobel Peace Prize recipient (1970).
TACgauze™ — For more than fifty years, individuals suffering from wounds primarily used gauze made of woven cotton to help control bleeding. This woven gauze, traditionally used in medical treatment by civilian and military organizations, is expensive to produce and has a significant portion of its production occurring overseas.
This status quo changed with the development of TACgauze, a nonwoven cotton gauze developed through the cooperative research of scientists at the ARS Cotton Chemistry and Utilization Research Unit in New Orleans, Louisiana. Commercialized in November, the gauze is made of greige (raw, unbleached) cotton, and in trials, was 33 percent lighter and 63 percent more absorbent than standard crinkle-type gauzes made of processed cotton. It also promoted clotting more quickly. Military and civilian agencies are now evaluating TACgauze for widespread use on and off the battlefield, and spinoff applications are in the works.
H&H Medical Corporation, the ARS industry partner for the development of TACgauze, is headquartered in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Bioproducts — Although California is known as wine country, for every two bottles of wine made, one bottle of waste is produced. This waste includes grape stems, seeds, and skins and is an example of the 30-40 percent of American produce that is wasted for a variety of reasons each year, including perceived imperfections and financial concerns.
Finding ways to turn unmarketable fruits and vegetables into new, value-added products are the focus of scientists at the ARS Healthy Processed Foods Research Unit in Albany, California. With wine byproducts, unit scientists have developed a health-promoting flour made from the discarded seeds of grapes, which contain healthful compounds such as protein, lipids, carbohydrates, and antioxidants. Clinical trials of the flour are underway to evaluate the cholesterol-lowering and other health benefits in people, potentially opening the door to a new market for grape growers and the U.S. winery industry, which generates about $40 billion annually in domestic sales.
Nut Calories — Nutrition is an integral component of a healthy lifestyle. Over the years, nutrition science has become more sophisticated, and research is revealing that counting calories isn’t always as simple as it may seem.
When looking at the caloric count of tree nuts— including almonds, walnuts, and pistachios— scientists at the ARS Food Components and Health Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, discovered that individuals tend to absorb fewer calories from tree nuts than originally thought. For example, scientists determined that the “bioavailability” (the degree to which food nutrients are available for absorption and use in the body) of calories for almonds is 4.6 calories per gram. That’s 23 percent less than the currently accepted 6.0 calories per gram! Providing such accurate information on what the body can use calorie-wise is key to reliable food labelling for industry and ultimately, to consumer awareness and health.
These achievements are just a few of the many ways in which ARS research impacts Americans across the board— from producers and processors to consumers.