||Gene May Stall Fall Armyworms
A gene that directs plants to produce a protein that seems to help keep fall
armyworm larvae from developing into crop-eating caterpillars has been found
and isolated. Now, the world's largest vegetable seed company, Seminis, has
signed an agreement to investigate the potential use of the gene to control a
variety of caterpillars in broccoli, cauliflower, and other vegetables. This
could help commercial growers lower the cost of pesticide inputs. Researchers
isolated the protein, a cysteine proteinase, from cultured tissue of resistant
corn plants and obtained a patent last November for the gene sequence that
encodes it. The scientists evaluated corn hybrids with both natural and
bioengineered resistance to fall armyworms in collaboration with DeKalb
Genetics Corp. of DeKalb, Illinois. In lab and field tests, they evaluated
hybrids developed by DeKalb using germplasm created and released by
ARS as a source of natural resistance.
W. Paul Williams, USDA-ARS
Research Laboratory, Mississippi State, Mississippi; phone (601) 325-2735.
Developing Foods That Promote HealthA Report
A new report could help scientists in the health, nutrition, and plant sciences
sharpen their focus on developing health-enhancing foods. Several of the more
than 100,000 secondary compounds made by plants may play a role in reducing
chronic or degenerative diseases in people. Lycopene in tomatoes, sulforphane
in broccoli, and genistein in soybeans are a few of the so-called
phytonutrients that have captured headlines. But before plant scientists beef
up phytonutrients in fruits and vegetables, they need to know which compounds
are most beneficial and whether they work alone or synergisticallyas
evidence suggests they often do. To give plant scientists definitive answers,
nutrition and health scientists need better tools to measure phytonutrients'
efficacy in reducing disease risk. These needsalong with the state of
phytonutrient scienceare discussed in a new 56-page report titled
"Forum and Workshop on Food, Phytonutrients, and Health." It is the
proceedings of a 1998 workshop sponsored by ARS for plant and nutrition
scientists, food technologists, and immunologists, to stimulate collaboration
among the disciplines. The report can be ordered from Allen Press for $35
(includes shipping and handling): phone (800) 627-0629, fax (785) 843-1274,
Kathleen C. Ellwood, ARS
National Program Staff, Beltsville,
Maryland; phone (301) 504-4675.
Blueberry Elixir Reverses Age-Related Symptoms
A diet rich in blueberry extract has reversed some loss of balance and
coordination and improved short-term memory in aging rats. This is the first
study to show fruits and vegetables actually reversing dysfunctions in behavior
and in nerve cells. Earlier, the researchers reported that high-antioxidant
fruits and vegetables prevented some loss of function in aging rats.
Blueberries, strawberries, and spinach test high in their ability to subdue
oxygen free radicals that can damage cell membranes, DNA, and other delicate
internal machinery. Many of the dysfunctions and diseases associated with aging
are blamed on oxygen free radicals. Daily for 8 weeks, researchers fed extracts
of blueberry, strawberry, or spinach to 19-month-old ratsthe
age-equivalent of 65- to 70-year-old humans. All three improved short-term
memory, but only the blueberry extract improved balance and coordination. Since
motor behavior is one of the first things to go with aging, the improvements in
coordination and balance are really significant; little else reversed these
deficits in motor function. If this finding holds for humans, it should further
encourage consumption of fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants.
James A. Joseph and
Barbara Shukitt-Hale, USDA-ARS
Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging
at Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts; phone (617) 556-3178 [Joseph],
(617) 556-3118 [Shukitt-Hale].
Homes Opened for Arctic- and Arid-Land Plants
Two new sites for conserving and managing plants important to U.S. agriculture
are now open in Palmer, Alaska, and Parlier, California. The new sites join 26
others in ARS' National Plant Germplasm System that store more than 434,000
specimens of seeds and other genetic materials of crops and their wild
relatives. Researchers use these germplasm materials to identify useful traits
for breeding into commercial varieties. For long-term germplasm storage, it's
crucial to grow the plants periodically to regenerate the seed or other
reproductive tissue. Naturally, the plants grow best and produce the most seed
in their native areas. The National Arctic Germplasm Site at Palmer offers a
growing site for northern grasses and cropssome grains, legumes, and
vegetablesthat grow in high elevations or above 60 degrees north
latitude. At the Arid-Land Plant Germplasm Regeneration and Genetic Resource
Unit in Parlier, plants enjoy hot, dry summers and about 14 inches of rain per
year. This site serves as an alternate location for other genebanks to grow out
crops that benefit from a long, frost-free season or that prefer a dry area.
David M. Ianson, Curator,
USDA-ARS National Arctic Germplasm Site, Palmer, Alaska; phone (907) 745-4469.
Maria M. Jenderek, Curator, USDA-ARS
Arid-Land Plant Germplasm Regeneration and Genetic Resource Unit, Parlier,
California; phone (559) 646-0307.
"Science Update" was published in the
issue of Agricultural Research magazine.