Early Feeding May Help a
Preemie Go Home Sooner
Premature infants who receive small amounts of breast milk or formula within
days of birth, in addition to intravenous (IV) feedings, may get a boost in
intestinal development. Thats the preliminary finding of an ARS study.
The scientists say the developmental boost may enable a preemie to more quickly
tolerate regular oral feedings--a prerequisite to hospital release. The 70
preemies in the ARS study all weighed under 2-1/2 pounds at birth. Beginning at
4 days, half the infants received either breast milk or formula--less than
one-quarter cup per day--for 2 weeks. Over the following few weeks, these
babies had more active lactase enzymes than the other infants, who had only IV
feedings. The lactase enzyme digests lactose, milks principal sugar. For
years, doctors have given very-low-birth-weight infants only IV feedings for
the first 2 weeks, because these babies did not make the enzyme. Doctors have
believed that undigested sugar from breast milk or formula would increase the
risk of a medical complication that can destroy the intestinal lining.
Shulman, USDA-ARS Childrens Nutrition Research Center, Houston,
Texas, phone (713) 798-7145.
When Crops Need a Drink, Soil Can Turn On the Faucet
A cooperative research and development agreement could lead to more
efficient irrigation systems for commercial fruits and vegetables, landscaping,
nurseries, and home gardens. ARS scientists will merge their patented
tensiometer valve with a pulse irrigation system patented by Intertec, Inc., of
Lynchburg, Virginia. As the soil dries, increasing suction makes the
tensiometer valve open, so water is delivered as needed. Then, when the soil
receives enough water, suction decreases and the valve closes. The system
requires no electricity or wiring. The tensiometer valve can reduce water use
and leaching of fertilizer nutrients below the root zone, while maintaining
high crop productivity.
Peterson, USDA-ARS Appalachian Fruit Research Station, Kearneysville, West
Virginia, phone (304) 725-3451.
Biotech Wheat for Lighter Loaves
Better breads and other baked goods for tomorrow may result from ARS
scientists success at genetically engineering wheat. The advance could
also raise wheats value to growers--by increasing the likelihood the
grain has protein qualities wanted by bakers and millers. The ARS scientists
are the first to boost the amount of breadmaking proteins--known as
high-molecular weight glutenins--in wheat kernels by using molecular biology.
They raised the proteins amounts up to 50 percent in kernels of
bioengineered wheat they grew in the greenhouse. So far, eight successive
generations of plants have retained the trait. Sometime in 1997, the scientists
anticipate having enough flour from the experimental plants to bake test
loaves. They expect flour with high levels of the proteins to produce baked
loaves that are light and fine textured. For the experiments, they used a
genetic on-off switched called a promoter. This promoter might also be useful
in raising or lowering other key proteins. If so, wheat might be engineered to
produce an array of new baking flours or wheat by-products for industrial use.
Blechl, USDA-ARS Western Regional Research Center, Albany, California,
phone (510) 559-5716.
With Soybean Oil, Bacteria May Wax Eloquent
With a little bacterial alchemy, liquid waxes could be made from the oil of
surplus soybeans, replacing sperm whale oil used for a variety of commercial
products. These include luxury soaps, leather preservatives, insecticide
carriers, lamp oil, and even artificial flavorings. From soybean oil, ARS
researchers extracted oleic acid, a fatty acid. Then they fed the oleic acid to
bacteria in the Acinetobacter family. The microbes turned some of the acid into
alcohol, then linked the alcohol and remaining oleic acid to form the liquid
waxes. Economists estimate a potential 185-million-bushel soybean surplus in
Nakamura, USDA-ARS National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research,
Peoria, Illinois, phone (309) 692-7946.
Tanners Might Replace an Old Salt With a Potassium One
Could potassium chloride replace common salt now used in the meat packing
and tanning industries to preserve animal hides? To investigate the potential
of a new ARS-developed process using potassium chloride, the agency has joined
with Kalium Canada, Ltd., of Regina, Saskatchewan. Switching to potassium
chloride would enable the packing and tanning industries to eliminate an
environmental problem: the disposal of used salt brine. Unlike sodium,
potassium is a plant nutrient. So waste from the new process could be recycled
for use as crop fertilizer. ARS scientists have shown that the process does not
affect leather quality and are working with the industries to demonstrate how
it works. Kalium Canada is a subsidiary of Vigro, a U.S. firm.
Marmer, USDA-ARS Eastern Regional Research Center, Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania,
phone (215) 233-6585 .