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WRRC Update March 26, 2009
WRRC UPDATE
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Update from the Western Regional Research Center

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


Thursday, March 26, 2009   

Rev. (Thursday, March 26, 2009   1:41:40 PM)

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Table of Contents

THE CENTER      
TOP
Center Director Bids Adieu
Photo of James N. SeiberDr. James N. Seiber, Center Director, retired. Dr. Jim Seiber, WRRC Director since 1998, announced his retirement from USDA-ARS, effective January 2009. Dr. Seiber initiated a number of joint activities with WRRC’s partners and stakeholders, including an annual meeting series started in 2004, this electronic Update, and a compilation of user friendly articles describing WRRC’s research and findings originating from Agricultural Research – USDA-ARS’s monthly research news magazine.
Dr. Seiber rejoined academic life at the University of California Davis as the Department Chair, Department of Food Science and Technology, and continues as Editor of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Current WRRC Research Leaders will be serving 60 day temporary assignments as the Acting Center Director. The schedule for the temporary assignments is as follows:
Bruce Campbell: January 6, 2009 – March 8, 2009
Tara McHugh: March 9, 2009 – May 8, 2009
Maureen Whalen: May 9, 2009 – July 7, 2009
William Orts: July 8, 2009 – September 7, 2009
The announcement for the open WRRC Center Director position, as well as complete information on how to apply, can be accessed through www.usda.jobs.gov, job announcement number ARS: SES: 09-03 at the "more information" link below.


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Keywords: * THE CENTER *



Organizational Unit: WRRC

Record ID # 127      Thu, 26 Mar 2009 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
WRRC and Lawrence Livermore National Lab Initiate New Seminar Series
Graphic logo containing words Western Regional Research Center and a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge against a pattern background. Dr. James Seiber (retired), WRRC, Dr. Christian Tobias, WRRC and Bob Glass, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), established a new Seminar Exchange Series that began in December 2008. This series has acted as a catalyst toward sharing research and information and toward facilitating a stronger working relationship between the two Centers.
One of the Acting Center Directors, Dr. Bruce Campbell, is participating in the exchange program. He will be presenting a seminar at LLNL on June 4, 2009 regarding methods for controlling mycotoxin contamination of food commodities and proven methods for controlling fungal infections of plants and humans. A number of LLNL scientists have already presented seminars at WRRC. If you are interested in obtaining a schedule of the upcoming seminars, please contact Dr. Christian Tobias.

Keywords: * THE CENTER * mycotoxin *

Contact: Christian Tobias

Organizational Unit: GGD Genomics and Gene Discovery

Record ID # 120      Thu, 26 Mar 2009 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
WRRC's Fourth Spencer Award Recipient
Medal with Dr. Spencer's likeness.Photograph of the Kenneth Spencer Medal. Congratulations to WRRC’s Dr. Ron G. Buttery, the 2008 Kenneth Spencer Award Recipient. The Kenneth A. Spencer Award (formally the Charles F. Spencer Award) for outstanding achievement in agriculture and food chemistry is administered by the Kansas City section of the American Chemical Society. The award recognizes meritorious contributions to the field of agriculture and food chemistry. The Kansas City section presents this award in the hope that it will give added stimulus in research, education and industry to further progress in agriculture and food chemistry.
Past WRRC recipients of this honor are Dr. Arnold K. Balls, Dr. Mendel Friedman, and Dr. Russ Molyneux.

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Keywords: * THE CENTER *





Record ID # 129      Thu, 26 Mar 2009 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
Presidential Award to WRRC’s Pan
Photo of scientistZhongli Pan, Research Engineer, Processed Foods Research Unit, WRRC. Congratulations to WRRC’s Dr. Zhongli Pan in the Processed Foods Research Unit (PFR), on being selected for a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). Dr. Pan was selected for this award based on the combination of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology as well community service demonstrated through scientific leadership and community outreach. His research deals with novel food processing technologies using infrared microwave and other processing treatments to improve the quality and safety of foods.
The Presidential Award is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers. The White House, following recommendations from participating agencies, presents the award annually. Dr. Pan was honored at a ceremony and reception held at the White House on December 19, 2008. John H. Marburger III, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, was the host.

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Keywords: * THE CENTER * nuts * bacteria * food engineering * food safety * food science * microbiology * pasteurization *

Contact: Zhongli Pan

Organizational Unit: PFR Processed Foods Research

Record ID # 111      Thu, 26 Mar 2009 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
ARS-Mexico Agriculture and Biotechnology Workshop
Photograph of participants in ARS-Mexico meeting. The 9th ARS-Mexico Agriculture and Biotechnology Workshop took place at the University of Nuevo Leon in Monterrey, Mexico during the week of February 23-27, 2009. This workshop takes place every two years and has been an ongoing collaboration between the Agricultural Research Service and the University of Nuevo Leon since 1988. This year’s topics included food safety and technology, biological control, biomaterials and bioproducts, marine remediation and biotechnology, and technology transfer. Several scientists from the Center participated in this year’s workshop, including Dr. Bruce Campbell, Dr. Bor-Sen Chiou, David Nicholson, and Dr. William Orts. Others from ARS also participated, including Dr. Mark Jackson from Peoria and Dr. Juan Morales from Mississippi. In addition, WRRC's Dr. Syed Imam helped to organize the workshop, which was also attended by Govind Nadathur and Baqar Zaidi from the University of Puerto Rico.

Keywords: * THE CENTER *

Contact: William J. Orts, Bruce Campbell, Bor-Sen Chiou, David Nicholson, Syed Imam

Organizational Unit: WRRC, PMR Plant Mycotoxin Research, BCE Bioproduct Chemistry and Engineering

Record ID # 128      Thu, 26 Mar 2009 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
PARTNERING OPPORTUNITIES      
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New Tool for Measuring VOC Emissions
Photo of sampling system in use in the field.Sampling system in use in the field. Plant Mycotoxin Research Unit (PMR) scientists have developed a small scale, in situ method to collect volatiles emitted from almonds. The volatiles are collected from almonds left intact and in their natural environment. Volatiles can be collected at any stage of development, and thus provide a snapshot of distinct emission patterns for that particular growth phase. The collection system is comprised of an inert bag with two ports for analysis and utilizes solid-phase microextraction as the adsorbent medium. Additionally, PMR scientists have recently developed a large-scale ambient volatile collection system. This system allows for the collection of ambient orchard volatiles, of any chosen commodity, to be collected in relatively large amounts such that the components can be isolated and used for subsequent bioassays.

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Keywords: * PARTNERING OPPORTUNITIES * nuts * almond * agricultural engineering *

Contact: John Beck

Organizational Unit: PMR Plant Mycotoxin Research

Record ID # 116      Thu, 26 Mar 2009 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
Styrene From Hulls: Industrially Important Hydrocarbon Captured as a Volatile from an Almond Hull Fungus
Microphoto of fungus showing stringlike filaments.Fusarium oxysporum as viewed microscopically Scientists from the Plant Mycotoxin Research Unit (PMR) at the WRRC have recently discovered a fungus that produces relatively large quantities of styrene – an industrially important chemical used in many plastics. While investigating the volatile emission of almond hulls and fungi from almond hulls, Research Chemists Dr. John J. Beck and Dr. Glory B. Merrill noted a sample of fungi growing on almond hulls was producing virtually a single compound. After analyzing the sample by gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy, the chemists realized something inside the collection chamber was producing styrene. Teaming up with fellow PMR microbiologist Dr. Jeffrey D. Palumbo and technician Teresa L. O’Keeffe, it was discovered that a strain of Fusarium oxysporum was the responsible organism.
The researchers have reported the results of their investigation in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. In their report, the authors demonstrated the ability to grow the fungus on a large scale and not only collect the volatile styrene, but also isolate it as the pure product. The PMR scientists will explore the possibilities this research presents, as a potential "green" source of a vital commercial chemical.

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Keywords: * PARTNERING OPPORTUNITIES * nuts * antifungal * food science * plant physiology *

Contact: John Beck, Glory Merrill

Organizational Unit: PMR Plant Mycotoxin Research

Record ID # 115      Thu, 26 Mar 2009 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
BIOFUELS      
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WRRC Collaborator and Biofuel Champion Steven Chu Selected as Department of Energy Secretary by President Obama
Graphic logo of the US Department of Energy Dr. Steven Chu, Nobel Laureate and former Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), was announced in December 2008 as President Barack Obama’s choice to head the US Department of Energy. Chu and his colleagues led development of a successful grant proposal in which WRRC bioenergy researchers Dr. John Vogel, Dr. Christian Tobias, Dr. Rick Offeman, Dr. Charles Lee, and Plant Gene Expression Center Director, Dr. Sarah Hake, participated. This research involves Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) and/or Energy Bioscience Institute (EBI). The research of JBEI/EBI ranges from plant cell wall structure, to development of new membranes for separating bioethanol from water. Dr. Chu was an architect for procuring $500 million from British Petroleum to fund the LBNL-led EBI bioenergy research.

Keywords: * BIOFUELS * switch grass * corn * energy * hemicellulose * cellulose * straw * agricultural engineering * biotechnology * chemical engineering * chemistry * enzymology * genomics * molecular biology * bioenergy *



Organizational Unit: WRRC

Record ID # 121      Thu, 26 Mar 2009 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
CROP IMPROVEMENT FOR PRODUCTION/PROTECTION      
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Differentiating Seed Oils
Photo of lecturer described in cell below.Dr. Jiann-Tsyh (Ken) Lin, Research Chemist, Crop Improvement and Utilization Research Unit, WRRC Dr. Jiann-Tsyh (Ken) Lin, a Research Chemist in the Crop Improvement and Utilization Research Unit, has developed analytical methodology that can identify the individual molecular species that make up a seed oil. Oils derived from seeds such as soy or olive are composed of a mixture of triacylglycerols (TAG), glycerol with three fatty acid molecules attached as esters. The oil contains a collection of different TAG species, depending on the fatty acid composition and biochemical characteristics of the type of seed producing the oil. Dr. Lin uses high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) coupled with mass spectroscopy (MS) or, LC-MS, to generate a “fingerprint” unique to a given seed oil. Using this technology, he has identified unusual molecular species in castor oil, and he has also generated a fingerprint of extra virgin (EV) olive oil. In addition to research applications, this technique is applicable to detection of adulteration in premium oils such as EV olive oil. Since such oils sell at a high premium compared to commodity oils, the temptation to adulterate oils has a clear economic incentive. In some oil producing nations, as much as 40% of olive oil is adulterated with cheaper food quality oils. Detecting adulteration protects consumers from fraud. Moreover, it provides consumers with food safety assurances. In 1981, an incident in Spain resulted in the death of nearly 700 people who consumed oil adulterated to resemble olive oil. Dr. Lin’s technology is of potential use to Action Agencies such as FSIS and Customs as well as oil processors and importers.

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Keywords: * CROP IMPROVEMENT FOR PRODUCTION/PROTECTION * soybean * olive * castor * oils * agricultural engineering * food science * biochemistry * food safety *

Contact: Jiann Lin

Organizational Unit: CIU Crop Improvement Utilization

Record ID # 118      Thu, 26 Mar 2009 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
FOOD SAFETY      
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Ensuring a Safe Food Supply
Picture of about 15 castor beans. Foodborne Contaminants Research Unit (FCR) research biologist, Dr. Xiaohua He, has developed sensitive polymerase chain reaction tests (PCR) for detecting genetic material that is generally found in crude extracts of castor bean that are used for producing ricin. This test may be useful for quick screening for presence of ricin contamination. This work, part of a continuing effort to ensure the U.S. food supply stays safe and secure, is described in three peer-reviewed publications in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. It has also appeared in the Journal of Food Protection and has recently been featured in a podcast by the American Chemical Society.

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Keywords: * FOOD SAFETY * castor bean * pathogens * toxin * food safety *

Contact: Xiaohua He, David Brandon, John Mark Carter, Luisa Wai Wai Cheng, Thomas McKeon

Organizational Unit: FCR Foodborne Contaminants

Record ID # 124      Thu, 26 Mar 2009 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
New Method for TSE Sample Preparation
Picture of a dairy cow.Photo by Keith Weller, ARS Photo Foodborne Contaminants Research Unit (FCR) scientists have developed a new enzyme-free technique for developing a blood test for transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). Most commercial tests for TSEs rely on a sample of animal brain and digestion with a powerful enzyme. This test would allow monitoring of live animals. This new testing application will allow for more efficient and thorough testing, ensuring continual safety of the U.S. beef supply.

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Keywords: * FOOD SAFETY * beef * cattle * pathogens * bacteria * animal pathology * food safety *

Contact: John Mark Carter

Organizational Unit: FCR Foodborne Contaminants

Record ID # 125      Thu, 26 Mar 2009 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
Plant Tissue Damage Leads to Increased Risk for E. coli Contamination in Lettuce
Photo of lettuce stem described in detail in cell below.Photograph of a cut stem of a mature romaine lettuce plant at harvest. Latex (white material) and nutrients released from the wounded tissue supported a 300-fold increase in the population of E. coli O157:H7 inoculated on the cut surface and incubated overnight at 28 degrees Celsius. Dr. Maria Brandl, research microbiologist in the Produce Safety and Microbiology Research Unit, published a study recently in the Journal of Applied and Environmental Microbiology on the role of plant tissue damage in the contamination of romaine lettuce with E. coli O157:H7. Four hours after inoculation, the population sizes of E. coli O157:H7 increased up to 11-fold on leaves that were bruised or shredded. Also, the population size of E. coli O157:H7 was 27 times greater on young leaves affected by infection with a common plant pathogen bacteria causing soft rot, compared to the population size on healthy middle-aged leaves.
The results of this study provide important information about factors that promote multiplication of E. coli O157:H7 on leafy vegetables. The results are important for risk analysis of microbial contamination of lettuce and for developing sampling strategies used by the industry and public health agencies to evaluate the microbial safety of lettuce.

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Keywords: * FOOD SAFETY * leafy vegetables * lettuce * pathogens * bacteria * microbiology *

Contact: Maria Brandl

Organizational Unit: PSM Produce Safety and Microbiology

Record ID # 126      Thu, 26 Mar 2009 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
Protective Peptide Hydrogel
Foodborne Contaminants Research Unit (FCR) Research Biologist Dr. Robert Hnasko has recently investigated a biocompatible hydrogel peptide that generates a very unusual response in a hamster transmissible spongiform encephalopath (TSE) model. TSEs include several serious diseases, including bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) in humans. TSEs remain poorly understood. When hydrogel is co-administered with a disease challenge, most subjects show a remarkable delay in the onset of disease symptoms and a significant increase in survival time. Continuing quests to understand TSEs and possible treatments encourage further development towards food safety and health. This work is the subject of a U.S. patent application, and was recently accepted for publication in the journal of PLoS.


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Keywords: * FOOD SAFETY *

Contact: Robert Hnasko

Organizational Unit: FCR Foodborne Contaminants

Record ID # 123      Thu, 26 Mar 2009 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
HEALTHY FOODS      
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Edible Films Go Commercial
Picture of scientist at bench as described below.Tara McHugh, research leader of the ARS Processed Foods Research Unit in Albany, California, examines colorful fruit- and vegetable-based edible films. Photo by Peggy Greb Dr. Tara McHugh, Research Leader for the Processed Foods Research Unit (PFR) for ARS in Albany, CA, attended the ribbon cutting ceremony for Origami Foods LLC new plant opening in Stockton, CA, on October 23, 2008 along with seven other ARS employees. The ceremony celebrated the successful CRADA partnership between Dr. McHugh’s team and Matthew DeBord, CEO of Origami Foods which resulted in transfer of the technology from the laboratory into commercial production. Origami Foods carrot ginger wraps can be found in Trader Joe’s stores across the country and will soon be sold in other grocery and restaurant chains.

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Keywords: * HEALTHY FOODS * fruits * vegetables * food engineering *

Contact: Tara McHugh

Organizational Unit: PFR Processed Foods Research

Record ID # 112      Thu, 26 Mar 2009 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
Obesity Prevention Study
Picture of scientist.Wallace Yokoyama, Research Chemist, Processed Foods Research Unit, WRRC Dr. Wallace Yokoyama, Research Chemist in the Processed Foods Research Unit (PFR) is currently conducting a study entitled "Processing and Biotechnological Improvement of Foods to Prevent Obesity-Related and Other Degenerative Diseases". This study is aimed to validate the clinical studies already completed through the collaboration between Dow Chemical Company and ARS regarding Satisfit, an emulsifier derived from plant-based cellulose which potentially can reduce weight gain.


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Keywords: * HEALTHY FOODS * fats * food science *

Contact: Wallace Yokoyama

Organizational Unit: PFR Processed Foods Research

Record ID # 114      Thu, 26 Mar 2009 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
Vitamin D-Enhanced Mushrooms
Picture of button mushrooms with knife on a cutting board.Photo by Stephen Ausmus (ARS) In December 2008, Dr. Tara McHugh, Research Leader of Processed Foods Research Unit (PFR) was interviewed by Dina Fine Maron from Science News, regarding her team's research on vitamin D-enhanced mushrooms.
The story chronicles how the ARS teamed with Monterey Mushrooms Inc. of Watsonville, CA., to boost the vitamin D content of white, brown, and portabella mushrooms. Thanks to UV-B light that mimics the sun’s UV-B rays, the company’s new Sun Bella line of fresh mushrooms offers at least 100% of the recommended intake of vitamin D in each 3-oz serving. An estimated 40% of Americans don’t get enough vitamin D. The nutrient is essential for strong bones, properly functioning liver and kidneys, and a robust immune system. Some research suggests that vitamin D may reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and Alzheimer’s disease.

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Keywords: * HEALTHY FOODS * vegetables * mushroom *

Contact: Tara McHugh

Organizational Unit: PFR Processed Foods Research

Record ID # 113      Thu, 26 Mar 2009 10:0:0 PDT        TOP
SPECIALTY CROPS      
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Effective Codling Moth Attractant
Picture of two scientist with instrument described in cell below.In the laboratory, entomologists Alan Knight (left) and Doug Light set up a flight tunnel experiment to test which pear odors attract female codling moths. Photo by Scott Bauer, ARS Photo In November 2008, California Farmer featured the research of ARS entomologists Dr. Douglas Light and Dr. Alan Knight, who are working with a new and potent lure for the codling moth. This lure, simply termed the "pear ester", was discovered by WRRC’s Light and Trece, Inc.'s Clive Henrick. The codling moth is a major insect pest of pome fruits and walnuts. Drs. Light and Knight worked together conducting field tests in apple, pear and walnut orchards studying the effectiveness of pear ester. Currently used methods of monitoring and trapping the codling moth use the pheromone of the female moth. This pheromone only attracts male moths. The pear ester has the added benefit of attracting both sexes of the moth. This ability vastly improves it as a method of not only monitoring the moth population, but also in its use in combination with a pesticide to kill egg-laying female moths.

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Keywords: * SPECIALTY CROPS * fruits * insect control *

Contact: Douglas Light, Alan Knight

Organizational Unit: PMR Plant Mycotoxin Research

Record ID # 117      Thu, 26 Mar 2009 10:0:0 PDT        TOP


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