Black Mold Building Sickness
When testing buildings for air quality, inspectors have
focused on Stachybotrys chartarum, or black mold, a toxin-producing
fungus. Now, research has shown that it may be important to test for
additional fungi from the genus Myrothecium, a close relative
Though Myrothecium species are known to cause diseases
in plants, Stachybotrys has been linked to serious diseases in
livestock and humans, and both are known to produce the same kinds of
All these fungi are common in nature, where they pose
no threat to human health. But these toxins can accumulate and become
a hazard indoors, especially if a building is relatively airtight and
contains moist, woody materials.
Lisa A. Castlebury,
Botany and Mycology Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland; phone (301)
Gut-dwelling bacteria that help cows and other herbivores break down
tough dietary fiber might one day find use in products like plywood
and particleboard. Researchers have found a way to combine strains of
fiber-digesting Ruminococcus and Clostridium bacteria
with scrap plant materialwood chips, crop residue, even recycled
newspapersto make a fermentation product with powerful adhesive
It's the glycocalyx, or slime layer, that allows certain cellulose-digesting
bacteria to cling tightly to a surface. Work with U.S. Forest Service
researchers has shown that bacteria-based residues might replace up
to 45 percent of traditional adhesives used in many wood products. A
patent has been filed, and the technology is now available for licensing.
Paul J. Weimer, USDA-ARS
Dairy Forage Research Center,
Madison, Wisconsin; phone (608) 264-5408.
Researchers are seeking more accurate methods for predicting the optimal
amount of fertilizer for grain crops. With the old "yield-goal"
method, farmers calculated the amount of nitrogen fertilizer needed
by estimating the potential yield. But farmers who used this method
were often applying too much fertilizer because it could not account
for unpredictable factors such as weather and variations in soil fertility
in different fields.
Scientists are testing new methodsincluding canopy-reflectance
sensing to monitor crop vigorto fine-tune fertilizer applications
and save the farmer money. The net result will be not only higher profit
for the farmer, but also less nitrogen released into the environment.
Newell R. Kitchen
and Kenneth A. Sudduth, USDA-ARS
Cropping Systems and Water
Quality Research Unit, Columbia, Missouri; (573) 882-1135 [Kitchen],
(573) 882-4090 [Sudduth].
A Plant-Protective Pepper
Charleston Belle, a new bell pepper, is notable for its resistance
to heat and to three major root-rot nematodes. Another benefit is that
when Charleston Belle is planted first in double-cropping systems, the
pepper conveys its nematode resistance to nematode-susceptible crops
that follow it. For example, tests showed that cucumber and squash yields
were larger and their fruits heavier when they were planted after Charleston
So when methyl bromide, a major pesticide used against these tiny worms,
is banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, growers may find
Charleston Belle's nematode-resistant qualities even more useful in
their ongoing battle against these destructive pests.
Judy A. Thies,
Laboratory, Charleston, South Carolina; phone (843) 402-5300.
Predicting Powdery Mildew on Hop Crops
In the Pacific Northwest, powdery mildew is a serious problem for hop
growers. To reduce crop losses, growers use fungicides, which can be
costly to both the grower and the environment.
Scientists have determined that brief exposure to high air temperature
reduces the likelihood of hop becoming infected with powdery mildew.
Combining that knowledge with weather-forecasting data, researchers
have developed an Internet-based model to predict when fungicides could
be applied most effectively. The accuracy of the model should allow
growers to reduce the number of pesticide applications.
Walter F. Mahaffee,
Crops Research Unit, Corvallis, Oregon; phone (541) 738-4036.
Sorghum Instead of Wheat?
For people who suffer from gluten intolerance, there's heartening news.
Researchers are investigating food-grade sorghum as a substitute for
wheat in pasta, bakery products, and breakfast foods, such as waffles.
Besides being free of glutena specific type of protein present
in wheat, rye, and barleysome kinds of sorghum contain significant
levels of cancer-fighting compounds. White, food-grade sorghums can
be milled directly into whole-grain flour to produce foods high in dietary
Unfortunately, sorghum's lack of gluten affects the texture and flavor
of products made with it. To solve this problem, researchers are investigating
improved cultivars of food-grade sorghum. They're also testing recipes
for producing high-quality breads and other baked goods from this nutritious
Scott Bean, USDA-ARS
Grain Marketing and Production Research
Center, Manhattan, Kansas; phone (785) 776-2725.
"Science Update" was published in the February
2005 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.