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WRRC Update Oct 5, 2006

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News from the Western Regional Research Center

Pacific West Area / Agricultural Research Service / United States Department of Agriculture

Number 1
Thursday, October 5, 2006   7:04:16 AM

Table of Contents


Research Innovation for Food and Agriculture
illuminationCourtyard view of recently renovated North-wing laboratories.

The amount and breadth of new knowledge generated every day from the Agricultural Research Service and WRRC can be daunting. The "golden spruces" that you need to know about may be lost in this green forest. The NEWS is a fast track to the latest WRRC information.

This first electronic newsletter "NEWS" is being sent to you because of interest that you have expressed in keeping abreast of WRRC accomplishments. It emphasizes research areas that we think you will find useful and interesting.

Please give us feedback on the format and content of this "pilot" run of NEWS.

Dr. James Seiber, Center Director, and the scientific staff of the Western Regional Research Center


Record ID # 5      Tue, 29 Aug 2006 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
USDA Under Secretary Visits WRRC

Dr. Gale Buchanan, recently appointed Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics of USDA, visited WRRC and the Albany location on August 15, 2006. Dr. Buchanan is a former Director of the Agricultural Experiment Station in Georgia and active proponent of Land Grant University and ARS research. He received briefings in the Center's Food Safety research, Biobased Product / Biofuel and Plant Cell Wall research (joint with the Plant Gene Expression Center), and Healthy Foods research.


Record ID # 8      Mon, 21 Aug 2006 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
Partnering with USDA

WRRC and the Agricultural Research Service actively seek partners for technology transfer to ensure effective use of the science and technology that we create. Partnerships can take multiple forms as described in the link below ("More")

More information


Record ID # 7      Thu, 17 Aug 2006 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
Collaboration with DOE Joint Genome Institute to Sequence Genes from Switchgrass

Christian Tobias, research molecular biologist, ARS Genomics and Gene Discovery Research Unit, Albany, CA and Gautam Sarath, research molecular biologist, ARS Grain, Forage and Bioenergy Research Unit, University of Nebraska, Lincoln have joined in a collaboration with the DOE Joint Genome Institute to sequence 500,000 Expressed Sequence Tags (ESTs) from switchgrass. This will add substantially to the collection initiated at ARS and will support the continuing efforts of the ARS and other groups to improve the utility of switchgrass as an energy crop.

KEYS: BIOFUELS switch grass straw molecular biology Tobias, Christian GGD Genomics and Gene Discovery 

Record ID # 14      Tue, 1 Aug 2006 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
Ethanol Energy-Use Reduction by Cold Hydrolysis
illumination60's model of starch structure showing channels and layers of crystallinity.

Robertson, G.H., Wong, D., Lee, C.C., Wagschal, K.C., Smith, M.R., Orts, W.J. 2006. Native Or Raw Starch Digestion: a Key Step in Energy Efficient Biorefining of Grain. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 54:353-65.

Improved efficiency of grain starch to glucose is key to reducing energy use in the bioconversion of glucose to chemicals, ingredients, and fuels. In fuel ethanol production these biorefining steps use 10- 20% of the energy content of the fuel ethanol. There has been substantial prior and increased recent interest in this approach that is presented in this first review of the subject. We include incentives, developmental research, fundamental factors of raw starch digestion, and novel approaches in enzymology and processing.

More information

KEYS: BIOFUELS cereals wheat corn grain starch chemical engineering molecular biology enzymology Robertson, George H. Wong, Dominic BCE Bioproduct Chemistry and Engineering 

Record ID # 10      Thu, 27 Jul 2006 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
Ethanol Energy-Use Reduction by Novel Separation Device
illuminationSchematic view of separation device.

Energy efficiency of fuel ethanol is low in part because of the difficulty of separating water and ethanol. Scientists at WRRC have invented a solution to the problem of separating miscible compounds efficiently and with low energy requirements. This may be especially attractive to the separation of ethanol and water from fermentors in fuel ethanol production.

The key feature of the new device is that it performs solvent extraction and evaporation through a selective membrane (pervaporation) in a single piece of equipment, configured as a spiral-wound membrane module. It provides for the replenishment of the solvent in the supported liquid membrane while the module continues in operation.

More information

KEYS: BIOFUELS cereals ethanol grain straw chemical engineering Offeman, Richard Robertson, George H. BCE Bioproduct Chemistry and Engineering 

Record ID # 6      Wed, 9 Aug 2006 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
Farming for Fuel: Oakland Tribune Interviews Biofuels Researchers
illuminationC.Tobias and J. Vogel are re-engineering prairie grass as an energy crop. (D. Ross Cameron, Oakland Tribune staff).

Scientists from the Genomic and Gene Discovery Research Unit Western Regional Research Center in Albany, CA were interviewed by Reporter Ian Hoffman of the Oakland Tribune the weeks of July 16 and 23, 2006. Research Leader Olin Anderson, Christian Tobias, and John Vogel provided information on their research aimed at improving switchgrass through molecular biology which formed the basis for a front-page article: Inside Bay Area: Farming for Fuel which ran as a front page feature in the Tribune's Sunday edition, on July 30, 2006.

More information

KEYS: BIOFUELS switch grass grass straw molecular biology Anderson, Olin Vogel, John Tobias, Christian GGD Genomics and Gene Discovery 

Record ID # 2      Thu, 3 Aug 2006 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
Leading the Effort to Sequence the Genome of the Model Grass Brachypodium
illuminationBrachypodium in silhouette.

John Vogel (Genomics and Gene Discovery Unit, Albany, CA) and David Garvin (Plant Science Research Unit, St. Paul, MN) are two of the three co-project directors (along with Dr. Michael Bevan, United Kingdom) on a project approved by the Department of Energy's Community Sequencing Program to sequence the entire genome of Brachypodium. This sequence will be instrumental to understand the inner workings of genes important in biofuel production from dedicated energy crops, such as switchgrass, and residues of important crops including the small grains (wheat, barley, rye, oats), and corn and sorghum. Brachypodium is closely related to wheat and barley, and is projected to serve as a central research tool for improving these major food crops.

KEYS: BIOFUELS switch grass grass straw molecular biology Vogel, John GGD Genomics and Gene Discovery 

Record ID # 13      Tue, 1 Aug 2006 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
ARS-NASA Collaboration on Remote Sensing of Invasive Weeds

ARS scientists in the Exotic and Invasive Weeds Unit at the Western Regional Research Center, Albany, California, will receive $300,000 through a subcontract with NASA. This is funding for the first piece of work focused on computer modeling and scheduling of remote sensing data collection using a combination of NASA tools and USDA biological information. It involves the use of NASA super computer facility at NASA Ames Moffett Field (CA) location. The second phase of the research is to apply the ARS SWAT model to several California watersheds. This phase is awaiting funding.

KEYS: ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY / INVASIVE SPECIES entomology plant physiology Carruthers, Raymond EIW Exotic and Invasive Weeds 

Record ID # 11      Wed, 26 Jul 2006 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
Scientist Noted in 'SCIENCE' for Efforts to Eradicate Invasive Seaweed.
illuminationMediterranean Caulerpa taxifolia, a disappearing act.

WRRC scientist Dr. Lars Anderson as part of the multiagency Southern California Caulerpa Action Team (SCCAT), and Chair of the teams Technical Advisory Committee, provided expertise and collaborative research that led to the successful eradication of the aggressively invasive marine alga Caulerpa taxifolia. This species has infested over 20,000 acres along the Mediterranean coast since 1985, but rapid containment and treatment actions carried out by SCCAT thwarted the first incursions of the invader in the US. The project has become a "case study" for effective response to new infestations of aquatic species. The team involved the San Diego Regional Water Board, California Department of Fish and Game, Merkel and Associates, NOAA-Fisheries, and USDA-ARS.

More information

KEYS: ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY / INVASIVE SPECIES Anderson, Lars Carruthers, Raymond EIW Exotic and Invasive Weeds 

Record ID # 9      Tue, 29 Aug 2006 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
Grant to Study E.coli O157:H7 in Fresh Produce
illuminationCalifornia lettuce fields with E.Coli culture in inset.

CSREES Awards $1.17 Million Grant for study of the ecology and epidemiology of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in fresh produce production regions in California. The project involves collaboration between the ARS, WRRC, Produce Safety and Microbiology Research Unit, Albany, CA (Project Director, Robert Mandrell), UC Davis (Co-PD, Rob Atwill) and the California Department of Health Services, and assistance from representatives of produce and growers associations.

KEYS: FOOD PROCESSING AND SAFETY fruits vegetables microbiology Mandrell, Robert PSM Produce Safety and Microbiology 

Record ID # 1      Tue, 1 Aug 2006 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
Grant to Study Edible Anti-microbial Films Awarded

Notification of funding was received from the USDA-CSREES National Research Initiative that a grant proposal, "Development of novel apple and tomato antimicrobial films to improve food safety" was selected for funding. The team includes Scientists Tara McHugh and Roberto Avena-Bustillos of the WRRC Processed Foods Research Unit, Robert Mandrell and Mendel Friedman of the WRRC Produce Safety and Microbiology Research Unit, and Rob Atwill, Co-PI, University of California, Davis.

KEYS: FOOD PROCESSING AND SAFETY fruits vegetables food science microbiology Avena-Bustillos, Roberto McHugh, Tara Mandrell, Robert PSM Produce Safety and Microbiology PFR Processed Foods Research 

Record ID # 12      Wed, 26 Jul 2006 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
Preventing Aflatoxin Contamination of Food Commodities
illuminationAspergillus-infected walnuts.

Aflatoxin is a chemical made by certain fungi (eg. Aspergillus). It is one of the most potent natural cancer-causing agents known. Contamination of food by aflatoxin is a serious international food-safety and trade issue and results in billions of dollars of economic losses annually. Scientists at WRRC in the Plant Mycotoxin Research Unit (PMR) have discovered that certain natural, safe antioxidant compounds prevent fungi from making aflatoxin. Also, in collaboration with ARS scientists at the Food and Feed Safety Research Unit in New Orleans, the WRRC scientists have determined the genes that prevent making aflatoxin. Dr. Bruce C. Campbell, Research Leader of PMR, has been invited to present these findings to two up-coming symposia on latest breakthroughs in mycotoxin research. One will be at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society Sept. 12-14, 2006, San Francisco and the other will be at the Mycoglobe International Conference, Sept. 26-28, 2006, Monopoli, Italy.

KEYS: FOOD PROCESSING AND SAFETY microbiology chemistry Campbell, Bruce PMR Plant Mycotoxin Research 

Record ID # 4      Mon, 7 Aug 2006 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
Prions via Mass Spectrometry
illuminationInlet port for nanospray mass spectrometer.

Prions are the infectious misfolded protein pathogens considered responsible for causing the Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE) diseases, including Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE-"mad cow disease"). We recently developed a highly sensitive method for detection of prions using nanospray liquid chromatography coupled to mass spectroscopy (nLC-MS-MS). We have filed a US Patent Application (no. 20060110785 linked below) and are now preparing a manuscript for publication. Our method is exquisitely sensitive, at least one million times more sensitive than other methods currently in use. This improvement in sensitivity will help us develop a blood test for BSE.

More information

KEYS: FOOD PROCESSING AND SAFETY feed beef dairy chemistry microbiology Onisko, Bruce Carter, John Mark FCR Foodborne Contaminants 

Record ID # 3      Thu, 3 Aug 2006 10:0:0 PDT        TOP

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