A Few of the ManyOutstanding ARS
Field of soybeans.
A millennium issue would not be
complete without listing some of the outstanding accomplishments achieved since
the Agricultural Research Service was
officially formed in November 1953. ARS scientists have conducted many
thousands of research projects over the agency's 46-year history. Some have
improved life for everyone.
ARS research has led to better soil management; improved use of fertilizers;
enhanced strains of seed; advanced controls of insects, diseases, and weeds;
and superior methods of harvesting, storing, and transporting farm products to
Some of these creationssuch as frozen foodshave become
multimillion-dollar, or even billion-dollar, industries. Others, like cryogenic
seed preservation research, may have an even greater significance when breeding
crops for the world's future food supply.
Our main criterion for screening accomplishments was their impact on
society, civilization, or the world as a whole. Experience has shown that some
findings can take years, even decades, for their impact to be felt.
When it comes to writing the history of ARS accomplishments, ARS experts
will most likely disagree over the ranking of what is most important. This list
of 15 achievementsin no particular orderhas been selected from back
issues of Agricultural Research; Ernest G. Moore's The
Agricultural Research Service; two volumes by Hubert W. Kelley,
Science On A Human Scale and Always Something New; back
issues of the Quarterly Report of Research Progress; and Science
in Your Shopping Cart.
Beltsville Sperm-Sorting Technology
allows livestock producers to predetermine the sex of their animals by
separating living female-producing X-chromosome sperm from male-producing
Y-chromosome sperm, based on the content of their genetic material, or DNA. To
date, hundreds of healthy and normal animals have been born using sexed semen.
The technology has been licensed by ARS for use in animals and in human
Research on vaccines and other controls for
avian leukosis, a major chicken disease, has helped to define the
characteristics of these and other retroviruses, showing that they continually
evolve to produce greater virulence. Besides being used on more than 80 percent
of broiler chickens in the United States, the technology may give cancer
researchers and human immunologistsincluding AIDS researchersa clue
as to how cancer and the AIDS virus work. Like AIDS, avian leukosis is caused
by a retrovirus.
Soybeans, once a minor forage crop
in the United States, are now the nation's second most valuable crop. ARS
scientists did this by breeding soybeans with resistance to root knot nematodes
and to several foliage-feeding insects. Soybeans are high in protein and other
nutrients. They also have isoflavones, which studies suggest have
cancer-preventing properties. The United States produces 15 billion pounds of
soybean oil annually, with a market value of about $4 billion.
Sterile insect release technology
has transformed insect control strategies from depending almost entirely on
chemicals to curbing pest populations by disrupting their reproduction. The
revolutionary new technique has been used effectively against screwworms,
Mediterranean fruit flies, gypsy moths, boll weevils, and tsetse flies. Against
screwworms alone, the technique has saved an estimated $48 billion in the cost
of producing meat and dairy products. Sterile release has eradicated screwworms
in the United States, Mexico, and in part of Central America.
Universal Soil Loss Equation was a
pioneering use of computers for solving agricultural problems. The USLE models
how soil erodes and is used worldwide for managing land to keep it sustainable.
It is a major weapon in combating the annual loss of 2 billion tons of soil
that wash away from America's cropland. It has also become the prototype for
all expert systems that attempt to model natural processes.
Fire-resistant textiles became possible with
THPC, a compound that prevents cotton fabrics from flaring up when
held in a flame. Instead, they form a tough, black char. THPC has proved a
safe, effective, and nontoxic treatment that withstands laundering and dry
cleaning. First used in military combat clothing, firefighters' uniforms,
hospital linens, and flame-resistant children's nightwear,
flame-retardant-treated fabric is also worn by U.S. astronauts.
Widely used DEETshort for
N,N,diethyl-m-toluamiderepels deer ticks, mosquitoes, chiggers, and
fleas. Today, it is the active ingredient in many commercial insect repellents,
including sprays, lotions, gels, creams, towelettes, and sticks. DEET protected
U.S. soldiers assigned to Operation Desert Storm and to Somalia from
malaria-bearing mosquitoes and other disease-carrying pests.
The molecular structure of one of the
ribonucleic acids (RNAs)the basic building block of
lifewas determined by ARS scientists. That research led to ways of
altering genetic characteristics of living organisms by modifying the
structures of nucleic acid. The identified RNA is a "transfer" RNA
(tRNA) that selects and carries activated amino acids to protein-building sites
within the cell. There the tRNAs align with each other along a template of
other nucleic acids. The sequence of this alignment determines which protein
will be synthesized. Protein synthesis is the process by which living cells
convert food into new cell-building material.
agent that regulates all aspects of plant growth, from germination to flowering
to fruiting, in response to changes in sunlightis also an ARS discovery.
It has led to unprecedented progress in research on understanding how plants
biosynthesize complex carbohydrates. Since photosynthesis is so fundamental to
plant growth and development, it affects every major agricultural problem.
Development of near-infrared reflectance
(NIR) spectroscopy allowed for rapid measurement of the protein, oil,
and moisture in grain. NIR technology enabled the first spectrophotometric
detection of the plant pigment phytochrome. Besides revolutionizing the
grain-marketing industry, NIR technology has had far-reaching applications in
food quality, insect control, nutrition, and measurement of the effect of
certain biochemical changes on flower color.
Improved understanding of the nutritional
needs of the elderly, infants, and other specialized groups is the
work of ARS scientists. For example, they found a link between cataract
development and lower levels of vitamin B6, folate, and taurine in the diets of
the elderly. Cataracts are responsible for 42 percent of blindness worldwide.
ARS research findings on dietary calcium and manganese showed their effects on
women's menstrual cycles. ARS researchers have also shown the relationship
between vitamin C intake and blood pressure in the elderly.
Lactose intolerance was also tackled by ARS
scientists. They developed a treatment to make milk and milk products
available to millions of people worldwide who were unable to drink them without
experiencing severe abdominal discomfort. The development of lactose-modified
milk, called Lactaid, has boosted milk consumption by 2 to 3 percent. The
treated milk can also be used to make various milk-based products, including
cheese, ice cream, and yogurt.
Super Slurper is a starch-based
product ARS scientists discovered that can absorb 2,000 times its own weight in
water. New and practical uses for the thirsty gel are found every year. Among
these diverse applications are disposable diapers, fuel filters, sanitary
napkins, bandages, and baby powder. Super Slurper can coat seeds to accelerate
germination, remove water from fuels, and clean up pesticide and other chemical
Taxol, the anticancer compound, is a
current treatment for ovarian and breast cancer. Its potential use for a
variety of other cancers, including head and neck, leukemia, lung, and
lymphoma, continues via clinical trials. Taxol was first discovered in the bark
and needles of the Pacific yew, an evergreen tree native to old-growth forests
of the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, it takes several thousands of the
slow-growing yew trees to produce just 1 pound of taxol. Looking for
alternative sources and means of production, ARS scientists were the first to
establish plant cell cultures of Taxus. They demonstrated that these
cultures could be used as an alternative source of the drug. The leading North
American company in the development of a plant cell culture process licensed
the original technology from ARS for production of taxol. This ARS-based
research has led to industrial interest in using plant cell culture for the
production of value-added products such as pharmaceuticals, flavors, and
The successful eradication of several animal
diseasesincluding vesicular exanthema, Venezuelan equine
encephalomyelitis, Avian influenza, sheep scabies, exotic Newcastle disease,
and hog choleracan be attributed to ARS research.By
Hank Becker, Agricultural
Research Service Information Staff.
"A Few of the ManyOutstanding ARS Accomplishments"
was published in the December 1999
issue of Agricultural Research magazine.