|Historical Success Stories|
ARS has a successful history of partnering with commercial firms to transfer the fruits of its labor to American farmers and consumers. We are a leader in the Federal government in transferring new technologies developed from our scientific research to the marketplace. Recent success stories can be found in the Annual Technology Transfer Reports.
Frozen Food Quality
Clarence Birdseye started the frozen food industry in 1925, when he quick-froze fish on a refrigerated moving belt. The frozen foods industry grew slowly but steadily until after World War II, when the renewed availability of home freezers boosted production to more than one billion pounds. But there were consumer complaints over loss in flavor and changes in color and texture. The industry had production problems, too, and turned to the USDA for help. The USDA's Western Regional Research Laboratory in Albany, California, began the project by building a freezer plant to conduct experiments with every step in food freezing. These included selection of the right crop variety, handling produce between field and plant, blanching and freezing, packaging and storing, and transport of the products to market. They also invented processing equipment to improve frozen products. What scientists learned--and passed along to processors--helped beyond measure to ensure the survival and growth of America's frozen food industry. Time-Temperature-Tolerance (TTT) was the name given to 8-year research project carried out in the 1950's. For today's consumer, TTT resulted in an almost unbelievable variety of quality frozen foods.
Some 50 years ago, orange juice concentrates were relatively flavorless--so insipid, in fact, that consumers opted instead for full-strength canned orange juice, which had a taste all its own. Meanwhile, Florida oranges were a surplus crop, with tons and tons going to waste every year. The Florida Citrus Commission and USDA researchers at Winter Haven, Florida, partnered together to improve frozen concentrated orange juice. They found that adding the fresh juice resulted in a vastly improved concentrate that could be easily frozen. USDA, as had been agreed in advance, took out a patent on the process and then licensed it nonexclusively to interested companies (USPN 2,453,109). So it was that the frozen concentrated orange juice industry was born--an industry today worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year in sales.
First Blueberry Hybrid
First Small Turkey
A milestone in turkey breeding was achieved in 1941 with the release of a new breed, the Beltsville Small White. It was the culmination of seven years of research at the USDA farm at Beltsville, Maryland--a project that made use of six breeds of turkey, including the native American wild turkey. Express aim of the project was to breed a small, meaty, full-breasted bird to meet the needs of the modern American family, which also was getting smaller. Before the Beltsville White, the average weight of an adult tom turkey was 33 pounds, with toms in some breeds reaching 40 pounds. Average weight of young hens was 14 pounds, with hens of one breed topping 25 pounds at nine months. A roast turkey of such formidable size meant endless rounds of leftovers, and some breeds were too big to fit in an apartment-size oven. A Beltsville White tom averaged only 15 pounds and young hens, 9 pounds. By the early 1960's, the Beltsville turkey accounted for more than 20 percent of domestic turkey production in the U.S., and the breed had spread worldwide. It helped make the turkey a year-round staple. The Beltsville turkey not only expanded the turkey market, it became the genetic foundation of practically every turkey sold today.
Instant Mashed Potatoes
At a 1954 press conference, ARS scientists at the USDA's Eastern Regional Research Laboratory in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, announced the development of the instant mashed potato flake. The press was shown how the potatoes were precooked, cooled, cooked again under carefully controlled conditions, mashed, and spread onto a heated drum. Starch granules were undamaged in the process, an important key to product quality. The dried potatoes came off the drum in a thin sheet and were broken into flakes.
Subsequent market tests of the flake form of instant mashed potatoes indicated that consumers would buy and use the new product, and the first commercial production began in just three years. And three years after that, in 1960, six processors converted more than four million bushels of fall potatoes into flakes. Explosion-puffed potatoes followed in 1960’s. In the USDA-patented process (USPN 3,408,209) a partially dried piece of fruit or vegetable is subjected briefly to high temperature and pressure, then released into the atmosphere, where it expands instantly, or explodes. The result is a lightweight, porous piece of fruit or vegetable that can undergo further drying more quickly than an unexploded one. Researchers found that apples, celery, carrots, and potatoes so processed reconstitute in water quickly, fully, and evenly. Partly as a result of all these convenience foods, only one potato in three today is peeled at home.
ARS scientists at the USDA's Western Regional Research Laboratory in Albany, California, found an unidentified bacterium in starter doughs from local San Francisoco bakeries. It worked cooperatively with a yeast to produce the bread's unusual crust, texture and slightly sour taste. Subsequently, researchers on the other side of the continent, at the USDA's Eastern Regional Research Laboratory in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, worked with industry to develop a simple new procedure for making the bread. It used sour whey and vinegar instead of bacteria as sources of acetic and lactic acid. When the acids are added to a French bread formula in the quantities and proportions found in the traditional product, the result is a bread with the resilient body, robust flavor, coarse structure, and crisp chewy crust of the native San Francisco product. As a result, supermarkets everywhere today feature, not only sourdough breads, but also rolls and English muffins.
Millions of people worldwide suffer from lactose intolerance caused by a deficiency of the enzyme lactase in their digestive tracts. As a result, they are unable to digest large amounts of lactose (milk sugar) present in cows' milk without suffering from abdominal discomfort. In the 1980's, ARS researchers used lactase from nonhuman sources to break down about 70 percent of milk sugar into simple sugars--glucose and galactose. Trials showed most lactose-intolerant people could drink this modified milk and digest it without problems. Scientists also used the treated milk to make other milk products, including ice cream and yogurt. A private firm, Lactaid, Inc., became the first company to commercialize the research.
In June 1941, two British scientists, Howard Florey and Norman Heatley, came to the United States to work with scientist at USDA's Northern Regional Research Laboratory in Peoria, Illinois, to develop a procedure to mass-produce the drug penicillin. One of the Peoria scientists, Andrew J. Moyer, grew the Penicillium notatum mold in a nutritious medium that included corn steep water, an inexpensive byproduct of the wet corn milling process. He kept adding nutrients to his medium until he had increased Penicillium yields by more than 10 times. Moyer's results encouraged four U.S. drug companies to try large-scale penicillin production. On the lookout for a more productive strain of Penicillium, a staff member found it on a moldy cantaloupe in a Peoria market. This new Penicillium (Penicillium chrysogenum) produced several hundred times more penicillin than Penicillium notatum. Moyer was able to grow Penicillium chrysogenum in quantity by deep vat fermentation in corn steep water and milk sugar. Results were so promising that the U.S. drug industry adopted the medium and the newly found mold and began to increase penicillin production. By the end of 1942, 17 companies were working to increase output still more. Thanks to the combined efforts of the public and private scientists, enough penicillin was available on June 6, 1944, to treat Allied troops wounded on D-day.
Reducing Nitrosamines in Food
It's no exaggeration that ARS scientists at the USDA's Eastern Regional Research Laboratory in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, helped save the bacon industry. In the mid-1960's, it had been reported that sodium nitrite, an inorganic compound used to cure bacon and frankfurters, could, under certain conditions, form cancer-causing chemicals called nitrosamines. After analysis with sensitive instruments, extremely small amounts of one nitrosamine were discovered in hot dogs. Another was found in minute amounts in bacon after frying it at high temperatures. It was the heat that did it; the chemical wasn't present in raw bacon at all. Consumer organizations promptly called for a ban on nitrites in foods and a similar ban on sales of bacon.
In an effort to save the nation's bacon, Eastern lab researchers first searched for substitutes for nitrites, testing some 500 compounds as curing agents. Unfortunately, none retarded the growth of microbes as well as sodium nitrite. But researchers also found that the addition of vitamins C and E reduced the levels of nitrosamines in fried bacon and in nitrite-cured products. The findings led to changes in Federal regulations and in industry processing to minimize consumer exposure to nitrosamines. The proposed ban on bacon was averted.
Insect Repellents & Insect-borne Human Diseases
During World War II, the USDA and military formed a team to develop methods for stopping transmission of insect-borne diseases. It was there that DDT—which had been discovered in Switzerland years before but never used—was demonstrated to kill lice that transmit epidemic typhus and fleas that transmit plague. Using this knowledge, USDA and military entomologists came up with a system for mass delousing that led to saving thousands of U.S. troops from deadly typhus—and ultimately about 25 million people worldwide. In addition, the World Health Organization estimated that widespread use of DDT prevented more than 25 million deaths from malaria following World War II.
The USDA military collaboration also resulted in the use of n-n-diethylnetatoluamide (DEET) as an insect repellent. USDA scientists in Orlando, Florida, and Beltsville, Maryland tried keeping pests away with literally thousands of substances, reporting their findings to chemists. Chemists observed that one particular group of chemicals had repellent action. In time, they came up with 33 new chemicals and sent them to the military for testing. One of the chemicals, DEET, proved superior to all others. Beginning in 1946, the military began using DEET as topical insect repellent. USDA registered DEET for public use and in 1957 it was marketed as 6-12 for civilian use. It is impossible to calculate how much illness, death, and misery has been prevented during the last 50 years by simple application of a bit of DEET. Today, DEET remains the most widely used active ingredient for mosquito and insect repellents.
ARS researchers developed reduced-fat mozzarella cheese--now used in the USDA National School Lunch Program. To date, more than $44 million worth has been purchased for the program. This all-natural cheese contains only 10 percent fat--full-fat mozzarella contains 23 percent fat. ARS's low-fat mozzarella has melting and texture properties similar to commercial full-fat Mozzarella. The cheese is manufactured using ordinary cheesemaking procedures, but at reduced temperatures. This novel treatment produces mozzarella that melts and strings freely when heated in a pizza oven. Reduced-fat mozzarella cheese allows school children to enjoy pizza--their favorite lunch--while reducing their dietary fat intake and lowering their risk of diet-related diseases as adults.
Soap for Hard Water
When water is cold or where it is hard--loaded with calcium or magnesium salts--soap washes poorly. In hard water, it forms a curd-like substance called lime soap, the culprit behind the bathtub ring.
ARS scientists at the USDA's Eastern Regional Research Laboratory in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, modified soap by blending it with other substances derived from tallow called "lime soap dispensing agents." The resulting detergents clean well in hard, soft, cold, and hot water. They biodegrade completely, contain no phosphates, and are nontoxic to humans and animals. They also make use of a surplus product: tallow. The research has been applied in several U.S. toilet soaps, including Zest and Lever 2000, and is being used for laundry soaps in several foreign countries.
In 1973, scientists at the USDA’s National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Illinois (formerly the USDA's Northern Regional Research Laboratory), created saponified starch-graft polyacrylonitrile copolymers in which synthetic polymers are attached to starch. The unique property of the patented copolymers (USPN 3,935,099; 3,981,100; 3,985,616; 3,997,484; and 4,116,899) is that they can absorb 2,000 times their own weight in water. Because the scientific name was too cumbersome to catch on with anyone outside the scientific community, the ARS Information Office coined a more appropriate name- ‘Super Slurper’. The name change, coupled with publicity, stimulated thousands of inquiries. Super Slurper has been improved several times to create new and practical uses. Over the years, Super Slurper has found commercial life in products as varied as seed coatings, wound dressings, automobile fuel filters, and plastic mesh barriers used at construction sites.
Dwarf Easter Lilies
Because of disease problems with imported bulbs, USDA scientists working in 1903 on the National Mall in Washington, DC, began growing large numbers of Easter lilies (L. longiflorum) from seed and distributing disease-free stock to the industry. Differences in height among Easter lilies seedlings were noted and a breeding program was begun in 1918 to develop dwarf types. Each year "pounds" of selected dwarf seed were sent to Oregon growers for evaluation. In 1929, the first dwarf cultivar for potted-plant production was released. Prior to this release, lilies were tall plants and grown as a cut-flower crop. Besides developing the cultivars, beginning in 1935 systems for commercial propagation, production and disease control of Easter lily were developed. As a result of this research, the time of blooming could be controlled to make plants available in flower any day of the year. This ability to precisely control flowering was responsible for establishing the economically important Easter lily industry.