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WRRC Update Jan 10, 2007

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News from the Western Regional Research Center

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

Number 2
Wednesday, January 10, 2007   2:28:33 PM

Table of Contents



Record ID # 37      Wed, 10 Jan 2007 10:0:0 PDT         TOP
A greeting from the Center
illuminationBruce Campbell, Robert Mandrell, James Seiber, Maureen Whalen, Olin Anderson, Tara McHugh, Ray Carruthers, Bill Orts, and Mark Carter.

Dear Friends of WRRC:

We take this opportunity to wish you all a successful year in 2007!

This second issue of the Center's Newsletter will give you a sampling of our activities and accomplishments in the months since 'issue one' was compiled back in the summer, 2006. It was good to hear from so many of you in the meantime, and please keep the comments coming.

Our number of collaborations with those outside of the Center and Location, including with students and faculty, personnel at other USDA locations and in other agencies, and with commercial partners, via Cooperative Research and Development Agreements and other joint activities, is at an all-time high and increasing.

We will continue to advance the 'Innovation Center' concept for the science and scientists at this Location--in our major themes of food safety and healthfulness, new food and industrial products, bioenergy from agricultural biomass, and environmental quality enhancement, and other new areas of agricultural sciences.

On behalf of over 400 personnel at the Albany, CA Location of USDA-ARS, our Best Wishes to you all!

Jim Seiber, Director
Western Regional Research Center.

More information

KEYS: THE CENTER  Seiber, James N.  Anderson, Olin  Campbell, Bruce  Carruthers, Raymond  Carter, John Mark  Mandrell, Robert  McHugh, Tara  Orts, William J. 

Record ID # 17      Wed, 10 Jan 2007 10:0:0 PDT         TOP
A new fellow of SCRI: William Belknap
illuminationTo analyze genes in potatoes, plant physiologist William Belknap prepares potato tissue under liquid nitrogen, which keeps genetic material intact. Photo: K Hackman K7807-1

Dr. William Belknap has been elected an honorary Fellow of the Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI). Bill is a graduate of Indiana University and has been at WRRC since 1987. His research involves molecular genetics of potato improvement.The SCRI is Scotland's leading institute for research on plants and their interactions with the environment, particularly in managed ecosystems. Research at the institute focuses on processes that regulate the growth of plants and their responses to pests, pathogens and the environment. It includes genetics to breed crops with improved quality and nutritional value as fast as possible.

KEYS: THE CENTER potato molecular biology  Belknap, William  CIU Crop Improvement Utilization 

Record ID # 21      Wed, 10 Jan 2007 10:0:0 PDT         TOP
ACS Spencer Awardee: Russell Molyneux
illuminationKenneth A. Spencer award medal.

Dr. Russell Molyneux has been announced as the recipient of the Kenneth A. Spencer award from the American Chemical Society. This award is presented for outstanding achievement in agricultural and food chemistry as well as to stimulate research, education and industry to further progress in agricultural and food chemistry. The award recognizes Russell's exceptional originality in the application of chemistry to the quality assurance of livestock products and prevention of losses of livestock subjected to threats from plant poisoning, the use of natural constituents of plants to prevent contamination of food crops by mycotoxins, the identification of fungal metabolites responsible for the worldwide problem of premature death of grapevines, and the identification of hop flavor compounds. Russell is a PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Nottingham, UK 1963 and has been with WRRC since 1967 where he has prepared over 200 research papers, technical reports, and book chapters, 2 books and a patent. The award ceremony at the Kansas City, MO section of the ACS will include a mini symposium with speakers chosen by Dr. Molyneux.

Russell joins WRRC scientists A.K. Balls (1962) and Mendel Friedman (1998) as the third WRRC recipient of the Spencer Award.

KEYS: THE CENTER chemistry  Molyneux, Russell  PMR Plant Mycotoxin Research 

Record ID # 20      Wed, 10 Jan 2007 10:0:0 PDT         TOP
Annual UJNR scientific meeting hosted at WRRC

Tom McKeon acted as Secretary for the U.S. delegation to the United States-Japan 35th Annual Cooperative Program in Natural Resources Food and Agriculture Panel and acted as co-organizer of the meeting held in Sonoma, CA (October 22-27, 2006). This organization fosters bi-national research collaborations, and Dr. McKeon gave the invited lecture "Enzymes Involved in Castor Oil Biosynthesis." This conference included a visit to the WRRC by meeting attendees, organized by Maureen Whalen and Tom McKeon. Kent McCue and Grace Chen hosted a roundtable discussion on Food Functionality as a part of this visit.

KEYS: THE CENTER  McKeon, Thomas  McCue, Kent  Chen, Grace  Whalen, Maureen  CIU Crop Improvement Utilization 

Record ID # 35      Wed, 10 Jan 2007 10:0:0 PDT         TOP
Food for our fathers: Part I. A piece of our story
illuminationRecruitment poster now in the University of Wisconsin collection. The poster highlighting civilian activities in support of war efforts is in the style of 16th-century Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo. Note beard and nose are built from a farmer holding a sheaf of wheat and there is a chemist in the background.

World War II placed many emergency demands on the civilian population. Scientists and engineers at the new WRRC set up and ran dehydration training schools to train a corps of experts who built and operated new dehydration facilities. Dehydrated foods were in high demand for soldiers' and civilians' rations in combat zones. This saved space and weight in the backpack and in shipment and no refrigeration was required. By producing compact lightweight foods the susceptibility to transoceanic supply intervention by submarines was also reduced. Incentives were offered to canners to convert to dehydration. Hands on training was provided at the Center (then the Western Regional Research Laboratory) in the pilot plant and allied laboratories.

Now iconic chemists, nutritionists, entomologists, engineers, and food technologists participated. Included were Agnes Faye Morgan (Morgan Hall, UC Berkeley), Cruess (Cruess Hall, UC Davis), Weigand (Weigand Hall, Oregon State University), Prescott and Proctor(MIT cofounders of IFT), Mrak (Chancellor of UC Davis; Mrak Hall, UC Davis), Essig (Essig Entomology Museum, UC Berkeley), Hanna (UC Davis mechanical tomato harverster), and others.

Recognition of the limitations of conventional dehydration technology led to extensive research in this and other preservation methods at the Albany laboratory.

KEYS: THE CENTER vegetables fruits chemical engineering food engineering food science microbiology plant physiology enzymology  Robertson, George H. 

Record ID # 19      Wed, 10 Jan 2007 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      Wed, 10 Jan 2007 10:0:0 PDT         TOP
CRADA for natural rubber from guayule

Colleen McMahan, Maureen Whalen and Frederick Hahn completed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with Yulex Corporation in October 2006. This agreement furthers the commercial introduction of natural rubber derived from the desert native plant guayule, the result of decades of ARS research at the Albany location. The function of this CRADA is to improve guayule as a rubber source to accelerate the deployment into the marketplace of commercial inventions including hypoallergenic biomedical products.

More information

KEYS: BIOBASED PRODUCTS / INDUSTRIAL CROPS guayule  McMahan, Colleen  Whalen, Maureen  Hahn, Frederick  CIU Crop Improvement Utilization 

Record ID # 32      Wed, 10 Jan 2007 10:0:0 PDT         TOP
Ag BioEnergy (ABE), new architectures for bioenergy
illuminationImage Number K9843-1 At WRRC, technician Sarah Batt uses a robot to pick yeast colonies and transfer them onto starch plates, where they'll be screened for desirable enzyme production.
Photo by Scott Bauer.

The ABE program at WRRC is a cross-research-unit attack on the critical research issues leading to biofuels. It embodies the original vision of the Center by the founding 76th congress who projected bringing ".. into stimulating conjunction a group of inquiring, creative minds and the assemblage of unusual facilities which not only are the necessary tools of discovery in peacetime, but are doubly valuable in times of national emergency."

The scope of the program is to research new architectures for bioenergy production. Hence we are concerned with the architectures of the crop plant growing in the field, the molecules applied to the disassembly of the crop components, the biochemical pathways of the fermenting organisms, and the refining technologies.

The Center uniquely conducts research spanning molecular biology to pilot plant to create new pathways and architecture for the bridge from CO2 to fuel.

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KEYS: BIOFUELS wheat rice grass switch grass corn cellulose starch straw ethanol  Anderson, Olin  Orts, William J.  Whalen, Maureen  BCE Bioproduct Chemistry and Engineering  CIU Crop Improvement Utilization  GGD Genomics and Gene Discovery 

Record ID # 23      Wed, 10 Jan 2007 10:0:0 PDT         TOP
Improved wheat quality

The scientific paper "A wheat QTL for grain protein Zn and Fe content is a NAC gene regulating senescence" co-authored by Ann Blechl appears in the prestigious journal Science in the November 24, 2006 issue. This research is aimed at increasing the nutritional value of wheat by isolating and characterizing a wheat gene that had been associated with grain protein, zinc and iron contents. A version of this gene from wild durum (pasta) wheat can be introduced into domestic wheats by breeding or genetic engineering to increase the protein, zinc and iron contents of domesticated wheats, making them more nutritious.

KEYS: FOOD AND CROP IMPROVEMENT FOR PRODUCTION /PROTECTION wheat molecular biology  CIU Crop Improvement Utilization 

Record ID # 33      Wed, 10 Jan 2007 10:0:0 PDT         TOP
International Gluten Workshop

At the International Gluten Workshop 2006 (San Francisco, CA September 14-16) hosted by American Association of Cereal Chemists, four members of CIU gave invited presentations on their research. Presentations included transgenic wheats with elevated levels of gluten (Ann Blechl), the effects of mineral nutrition and temperature on gluten proteins (Frances DuPont), identification of gluten subunits using mass spectrometry (William Vensel) and effects of fertilizer on allergen levels (Susan Altenbach).

KEYS: FOOD AND CROP IMPROVEMENT FOR PRODUCTION /PROTECTION wheat gluten molecular biology plant physiology  Altenbach, Susan  Dupont, Frances  Vensel, William  CIU Crop Improvement Utilization 

Record ID # 34      Wed, 10 Jan 2007 10:0:0 PDT         TOP
Outbreak associated with E. coli O157:H7 and bagged, baby spinach, September 2006

Researchers of the Produce Safety and Microbiology Research Unit assisted in the unprecedented and intensive investigation of the September 2006 outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 associated with bagged, baby spinach that caused >200 illnesses in 26 states. Research Leader, Robert Mandrell, and members of PSMRU, Michael Cooley and Diana Chou, assisted the California Dept. of Health Services and the Food and Drug Branch in sampling farms identified in traceback investigations, they then cultured samples they and other investigators obtained, isolated E. coli O157:H7 strains and fingerprinted them for identification of outbreak strains. Their results in conjunction with the results of the state and federal investigators were important in identifying a single farm/ranch as the potential source of spinach associated with the outbreak. This effort is relevant to similar studies by this group of E. coli O157:H7 incidence in the Salinas Valley region to understand the multiple outbreaks with this pathogen associated with leafy vegetables in the last decade. This work is supported in the future by a 4-year grant by the USDA-CSREES-NRI grants program to ARS (R. Mandrell, PI) and UC Davis (E.R. Atwill, Co-PI).

KEYS: FOOD PROCESSING AND SAFETY spinach pathogens  Chao, Diana  Cooley, Michael  Mandrell, Robert  PSM Produce Safety and Microbiology 

Record ID # 36      Wed, 10 Jan 2007 10:0:0 PDT         TOP
Antimicrobial edible films research highlighted by the WASHINGTON POST

As interviewed in the Washington Post (Nov 17, 2006)

'A natural, edible coating could help keep deadly E. coli bacteria and other nasty bugs away from fresh produce, U.S. Government scientists report.

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture say the new compounds reduce the risk of infection from deadly E.coli O157:H7 bacteria and other foodborne microorganisms. They report their findings in the Nov. 29 issue of the Journal of Food and Agricultural Chemistry."

More information

KEYS: FOOD PROCESSING AND SAFETY fruits vegetables food science  McHugh, Tara  PFR Processed Foods Research 

Record ID # 26      Wed, 10 Jan 2007 10:0:0 PDT         TOP
California Energy Commission awards grant for energy-efficient drying technology

The Energy Innovations Small Grant (EISG) Program of the California Energy Commission (CEC) has awarded $74,785 to Drs. Zhongli Pan and Tara McHugh for developing energy efficient processing method for drying fruits and vegetables. The goal of this research project is to develop an alternative drying technology with high energy efficiency to produce high quality dehydrated or partially dehydrated fruits and vegetables. The new processing technology would produce processed products with improved texture and nutritional quality, and lower production costs compared to current freeze-drying technologies. For more information, please contact:

KEYS: FOOD PROCESSING AND SAFETY fruits vegetables  Pan, Zhongli  McHugh, Tara  PFR Processed Foods Research 

Record ID # 29      Wed, 10 Jan 2007 10:0:0 PDT         TOP
CRADA Project: Alternative processing for dehydrated and partially dehydrated products

A Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) project has been sponsored by Innovative Foods, Inc. to develop alternative processing technologies for producing dehydrated and partially dehydrated fruits and vegetable products. The principle investigators, Drs. Zhongli Pan and Tara McHugh, will study the energy efficiencies and product quality of infrared dry-blanching of fruits and vegetables using a pilot scale infrared dryer/blancher. Both USDA-ARS and Innovative Foods Inc. are interested in promoting the adoption of the new energy efficient infrared heating technology in the food industry. For more information, please contact:

KEYS: FOOD PROCESSING AND SAFETY fruits vegetables food engineering  Pan, Zhongli  McHugh, Tara  PFR Processed Foods Research 

Record ID # 30      Wed, 10 Jan 2007 10:0:0 PDT         TOP
Extrusion cooking of legumes highlighted by Pulse Innovation Press

As highlighted in Pulse Innovation (Nov. 7, 2006). J.D. Berrios, 2006. Extrusion Cooking of Legumes: Dry Bean Flours. Encyclopedia of Agricultural, Food, and Biological Engineering. DOI: 10.1081:1-8.

Extrusion cooking technology had been used to inactivate anti-nutrients; reduce the cooking time and the amount of gas producing carbohydrates; and to improve the nutrition, texture and flavor of the developed dry bean products. This article presents a valuable and critical review of the available information on the physical, chemical, nutritional and sensorial evaluations of dry bean flours with reduced gas-producing carbohydrates and their potential utilization as safe, convenient and healthy, directly expanded extruded snacks and ready-to-eat type products.

More information

KEYS: FOOD PROCESSING AND SAFETY beans pulses food science  Berrios, Jose  McHugh, Tara  PFR Processed Foods Research 

Record ID # 25      Wed, 10 Jan 2007 10:0:0 PDT         TOP
New antibody for BSE testing

Through a collaboration with Nobel Laureate Dr. Stanley Prusiner, of the University of California San Francisco, we recently filed a patent application for a new monoclonal antibody, “Antibodies Specific for Bovine PrP,” (US Patent application PCT/US06/09752, filed March 18, 2006). This antibody is specific for a protein (PrP) mostly found in brain and spinal cord tissue, and closely associated with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE, or “mad cow” disease). Although PrP is found in all mammals, our new antibody is specific for PrP from cattle. Using Dr. Prusiner’s Conformation Dependent Immunoassay format, our new antibody provides a 500-fold increase in sensitivity. This work was recently featured in a lecture presented at the 232rd National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society in San Francisco, CA. AGFD 199, “Isolation and characterization of new anti-PrP monoclonal antibodies,” Stanker LH, Serban AV, Safar, J, Prusiner, SB. We plan to leverage this increase in sensitivity in exploring new blood tests for BSE.

More information

KEYS: FOOD PROCESSING AND SAFETY beef cattle pathogens molecular biology  Carter, John Mark  FCR Foodborne Contaminants 

Record ID # 15      Wed, 10 Jan 2007 10:0:0 PDT         TOP
New tests for detection of toxins
illuminationImage Number K11635-1 Biologist Larry Stanker (standing) and chemist David Brandon review results of a rapid immunoassay. They are developing new technology for sensitive detection of BSE, surrogate markers, and risk factors.
Photo by Peggy Greb.

Captured terrorist notebooks describe plans to attack the US food supply by contaminating commodities with potent biological toxins. Rapid and sensitive detection of these toxins is possible using commercially available tests, which were developed against pharmacy-grade purified toxins. But we expect terrorists are more likely to employ relatively crude toxin mixtures, and our challenge is to detect them in complex food mixtures. We are developing a new range of simple and rapid laboratory tests aimed at crude toxins in food. These include antibody based tests for ricin and botulinum toxin. This work was recently featured in lectures presented at the 232rd National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society in San Francisco, CA: AGRO 235, “Development of new monoclonal antibodies specific for botulinum neurotoxin type A,” Stanker LH, Merrill PA, Cheng LW, Carter JM, Brandon DL; and AGRO 234, “Development of monoclonal antibodies specific for ricin. ACS National Meeting and Exposition,” Brandon DL, Cheng LW, He X, Carter JM. After further characterization, selection of appropriate combinations for assay development, and validation using crude toxins in foods, the antibodies will be available for license.

We have also developed a sensitive PCR test for castor bean genetic material that typically contaminates crude ricin. This work has recently been accepted for publication: He X, Brandon DL, Chen GQ, McKeon TA, and Carter JM. 2006. “Detection of castor contamination in ground beef by real-time PCR,” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, accepted. The Food Emergency Response Network has shown interest in validating this assay for use in civil defense emergencies.

KEYS: FOOD PROCESSING AND SAFETY toxin microbiology  Stanker, Larry  FCR Foodborne Contaminants 

Record ID # 16      Wed, 10 Jan 2007 10:0:0 PDT         TOP
Norovirus binds to blood group A-like antigens in oyster cells
illuminationOyster gastrointestinal tissue section showing blood group A-like antigens and Norwalk virus like particles bound to antigens

Peng Tian, Anne H. Bates, Hanne M. Jensen, and Robert E. Mandrell. “Norovirus Binds to Blood Group A-Like Antigens in Oyster Gastrointestinal Cells”. Letters in Applied Microbiology; 2006; Web Release date: 18-Aug-2006.

In this study, histo-blood group antigens (HBGA) were identified in oyster gastrointestinal (GI) cells with specific monoclonal antibodies and shown to bind recombinant Norwalk virus viral like particles. All oyster varieties examined bound the rNVLPs. The results of this study suggest that human Noroviruses concentrate in oyster GI cells by specific binding to concentrated HBGA rather than by a non-specific entrapment within tissues, and provides information important for development of interventions to minimize contamination.

More information

KEYS: FOOD PROCESSING AND SAFETY seafood pathogens microbiology molecular biology  Tian, Peng  Mandrell, Robert  PSM Produce Safety and Microbiology 

Record ID # 22      Wed, 10 Jan 2007 10:0:0 PDT         TOP
Sub-speciation of foodborne pathogens by proteomics of protein biomarkers
illuminationCampylobacter jejuni presented by scanning electron microscopy.

Clifton K. Fagerquist, Anna H. Bates, Sekou Heath, Bryan C. King, Brandon R. Garbus, Leslie A. Harden, and William G. Miller. "Sub-Speciating Campylobacter jejuni by Proteomic Analysis of Its Protein Biomarkers and Their Post-Translational Modifications".

Journal of Proteome Research; 2006; ASAP Web Release Date: 19-Aug-2006.

Synopsis: Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF-MS) is utilized increasingly to identify and classify rapidly bacterial microorganisms on the basis of a unique MS "fingerprint" of protein biomarker masses. Identification of these biomarkers, by proteomics techniques, validates this chemico-taxonomic classification system for bacteria. Detection and identification of Campylobacter jejuni protein biomarkers by MALDI-TOF-MS and proteomic analysis facilitates accurate sub-speciation of this important foodborne bacterial microorganism.

More information

KEYS: FOOD PROCESSING AND SAFETY pathogens proteomics  Fagerquist, Clifton  Mandrell, Robert  PSM Produce Safety and Microbiology 

Record ID # 24      Wed, 10 Jan 2007 10:0:0 PDT         TOP
The pit detector for plums
illuminationDetail from Prunus domestica, "Pacific Prune." —Part of the Pomological Watercolors Collection at the ARS National Agricultural Library. (300 dpi version in .ZIP format)

An apparatus and method for the non-destructive detection of pits and pit fragments found in dried fruit has been developed. It utilizes a force transducer and a signal processor to determine whether or not pit or pit fragments are present in a fruit specimen, and is able to automatically separate specimens testing positive from the product. "More information" link is to patent.

Other links:

AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH. article by Marcia Wood, ARS Information Staff.
Haff, R. P., Jackson, E. S. and Pearson, T. C. Non-Destructive Detection of Pits in Dried Plums. Applied Engineering in Agriculture.Vol. 21(6): 1021-1026. 2005.

More information

KEYS: FOOD PROCESSING AND SAFETY fruits agricultural engineering  Haff, Ronald  Jackson, Eric  PMR Plant Mycotoxin Research 

Record ID # 27      Wed, 10 Jan 2007 10:0:0 PDT         TOP
UC Davis Energy Efficiency Center awards Outreach Project for infrared heating for food processing

With a leadership grant from the California Clean Energy Fund (CalCEF) of $1 million, the University of California, Davis has established the Energy Efficiency Center (EEC) to accelerate energy efficiency innovation and to stimulate the transfer of the technology into the marketplace. Recently, the UC Davis EEC has announced to fund a proposal for the outreach of the Infrared Heating Technology for Food Processing. The fund will be used to assist the commercialization of energy efficient infrared heating technology focusing on applications of simultaneous dry-blanching and sequential infrared and freeze-drying of fruits and vegetables.

KEYS: FOOD PROCESSING AND SAFETY fruits vegetables food engineering  Pan, Zhongli  McHugh, Tara  PFR Processed Foods Research 

Record ID # 31      Wed, 10 Jan 2007 10:0:0 PDT         TOP

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