Protective, Edible, Milk-Based Film
A patent has been issued for a method to modify milk proteins
to make water-resistant films that may one day coat or package foods.
It uses highly pressurized carbon dioxide to remove the protein known
as casein from milk. The main protein in milk, casein solidifies when
milk acidifies. It is already used as a food supplement and as an ingredient
in adhesives, finishing materials for paper and textiles, paints, and
other nonfood products. But because moisture can dissolve casein, it's
been difficult to use in films, fibers, or molded materials and get
acceptable mechanical properties.
The new extraction method capitalizes on casein's natural
structure to form water-resistant films and coatings that can act as
barriers between products and outside substances. The films can be formed
either as stand-alone sheets or as thinner coatings that adhere directly
to the product. Both can lock in moisture and remain intact when exposed
Such edible coatings might be used on dairy food products
such as cheese or be incorporated into packaging material. Flavorings,
vitamins, or minerals could be added to the coating to enhance them.
Researchers are still evaluating these and other potential uses, but
the patent is available for licensing.
Peggy M. Tomasula,
USDA-ARS Dairy Processing and
Products Research Unit, Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania; phone (215) 233-6703.
Bacteria Help Orchardists Replant Apples
Growers who are forced by changes in consumer tastes and buying habits
to plant new apple varieties in old orchards are vulnerable to fungi
that cause replant disease. The primary culprits are Cylindrocarpon,
Pythium, Phytophthora, and Rhizoctonia fungi, which
can cause losses up to $40,000 per acre over an orchard's average production
life. Chemical fumigantsincluding methyl bromidehave been
the main defense against these disease-causing fungi. Now, with the
approaching 2005 ban on methyl bromide use, development of efficient,
cost-effective, nonchemical alternatives is of increasing importance.
Enter the bacterium Pseudomonas putida. It's an appealing alternative
because it often occurs naturally around apple tree roots, secreting
antibiotics that check troublesome fungi. A good thing about exploiting
this native bacterium is that it's already established in orchards,
so it just needs supplementation to increase its numbers. But since
apple orchards may harbor many different replant disease fungi, researchers
are testing other biological approaches, including various cultural
practices and planting of hardier rootstock.
USDA-ARS Tree Fruit Research
Laboratory, Wenatchee, Washington; phone (509) 664-2280.
Enviro-Friendly Treatment for Termites
A new termiticide containing low concentrations of naphthalenic compoundssimilar
to those used in mothballsmay soon be available to homeowners
battling this wood-eating foe. Field tests in Mississippi and Louisiana
have shown that it helps control both native subterranean and exotic
Formosan subterranean termites. Control and repair costs for damage
done by Formosan termites alone are up to around $1 billion a year,
added to the $1 billion that native species cost.
Working with a counterpart in the USDA Forest Service, researchers
are also checking to see whether these naphthalenic compounds can protect
wood from fungal decay. It's important to find replacements for wood
preservatives that now contain heavy metals such as arsenic, chromium,
and copper. Certain of the test compounds have both prevented wood decay
and killed native termite colonies. They're incorporated into a cellulose-based
matrixa toxic bait that termites will eat and spread throughout
the colony. The compounds are cheap and effective at very low concentrations
and contain no heavy metals. Since a patent has been filed, the technology
is now available for licensing.
M. Guadalupe Rojas
and Juan A. Morales-Ramos
are in the USDA-ARS Subterranean
Termite Research Unit, New Orleans, Louisiana; phone (504) 286-4382
[Rojas], (504) 286-4256 [Morales-Ramos].
From Sheep Genes to Human Genes
A mutated sheep gene co-discovered with scientists at Duke University
may provide clues to the roles of certain genes in human health. Named
"callipyge," the gene was found in a flock of Oklahoma
sheep in the early 1980s. Its expression gave the animals large muscling
in their loins and legs. The feature was the result of expression of
a normal copy of a specific gene from the mother and a mutated copy
of the same gene from the fatheran inheritance pattern known as
paternal polar overdominance. This was its first known occurrence in
a mammalian species.
This research shows the value of obtaining genomic sequences of more
agricultural species to align with the human genome in the search for
novel genes. Alignment of genomic sequences from several species could
help identify important genetic regions not previously recognized in
the human genome. This is especially true for regions containing mutations
in livestock that have a major impact on the animal, such as the callipyge
Bradley A. Freking,
USDA-ARS Genetics and Breeding Research
Laboratory, Clay Center Nebraska; phone (402) 762-4278.
"Science Update" was published in the June
2003 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.