Chicken-Feathered Industrial Products
With over 9 billion chickens raised for food annually in the United
States alone, the industry generates enormous quantities of feathers.
Researchers have been searching for new uses for this vast resource,
solving a serious waste-disposal problem while putting money into processors'
hands. They have already found a way to turn chicken feathers into strong,
less dense plastic composites for products as varied as car dashboards
and boat exteriors. Feathers make good paper, too, even for filters
or decorative wallpaper. They work best combined with wood pulp to increase
the number of times the fiber can be recycled.
The superfine size and shape of feathers make them particularly well
suited to filtration needs. Most filters are now made from wood pulp
fiber, which can screen out particles as small as 10-20 microns. Those
made from feather fiber can screen out 5-micron particles, thus catching
and trapping even more spores, dust, and dander. The fine filtration
that feather filters could provide would be a boon in the homes and
offices of those with allergies or asthma.
Already patented, the technology has been licensed to three companies,
with two pilot plants already turning feathers into fiber.
Walter F. Schmidt,
Quality Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland; phone (301) 504-6765.
Test for Potentially Toxic Algae
Aquaculture producers may breathe a little easier thanks to a new method
for detecting genetic material that algae need to produce fish-killing
toxins called microcystins. The freshwater blue-green alga known as
Microcystis aeruginosa normally produces oxygen needed for fish
respiration and removes potentially toxic chemicals from the water.
But some strains can produce toxins that sicken or kill fish.
Researchers sampled water from nearly 500 catfish farms in Alabama,
Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi over 11 days in 2000. The data
showed that while 31 percent of the ponds contained algae with the genetic
potential to produce toxins, less than 1 percent had concentrations
above the international safe drinking water standard. Now the scientists
have developed a polymerase chain reaction test for detecting the gene
sequence the alga needs to produce the toxins. It should be an easy,
inexpensive way for aquaculturists to minimize the potential for fish
kills. It could also be useful for detecting the presence of algal toxins
in municipal drinking water.
Paul V. Zimba, USDA-ARS
Genetics Research Unit, Stoneville, Mississippi; phone (662) 686-3588.
Perilipin May Predict Heart Attack or Stroke
A protein that helps body cells store fat may one day help doctors
assess whether patients whose blood vessels contain fatty deposits called
plaque are at risk for a heart attack or stroke. Research has shown
that perilipin is more actively synthesized in ruptured, rather than
stable, plaque. When plaque ruptures, it triggers formation of an internal
plug that can stop blood flow in the arteryor reduce it to a trickle.
Ruptured plaque in the heart can cause a heart attack. If it occurs
in the head or neck, it can cause a stroke.
Researchers cloned genes from ruptured and nonruptured plaque and looked
for differences in expression among the genes. They found good evidence
that the perilipin gene turned on and expressed the protein in the ruptured
plaques, but that it was hard to detect in stable plaques. Further research
may lead to a test for the presence and amount of perilipin, to detect
plaque that is in danger of rupturing. A perilipin antibody attached
to the protein could be tagged with a radioactive tracer and viewed
with imaging technology. This would help in monitoring the effectiveness
of nutritional interventionsfor example, of folate or antioxidantson
risk for heart attack or stroke. If scientists can better understand
how plaques become unstable, they may find preventive measures.
Andrew S. Greenberg,
USDA-ARS Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition
Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts;
phone (617) 556-3144.
Getting More Out of CornMore Economically
After 100 years of doing it the same way, corn refiners will soon have
another option that can potentially lower costs and shorten the time
needed to produce starch, oil, and other co-products. In laboratory
and pilot-scale trials, this new method yields as much or more starch
as the conventional process.
Relying on protease enzymes to break down starch and protein and using
less sulfur dioxide, the method requires just a 6-hour pretreatment
of corn kernels before milling. This replaces the 24 to 36 hours of
conventional steeping in water and sulfur dioxide that customarily start
the breakdown process. Researchers have applied for a patent on the
David B. Johnston,
USDA-ARS Crop Conversion Science
and Engineering Research Unit, Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania; phone (215)