New Grain Sorter
is Music to the Ear!
ARS researchers are on a hunt for some hungry bugs. What's unusual
about these bugs is what they like to eat: the same things you
and I do!
Most people think about insects munching on grass, leaves and other
bugs. However, not all bugs are satisfied with that. Pests
like the red flour beetle and lesser grain borer eat grains. That's
right! If given the chance, they'll readily gobble up yummy, good-for-you
grains like wheat, rice, and corn.
Worse still, these bugs often steal our grains before we ever get to
take a bite of them. They sneak into warehouses where the grains
are stored or crushed into meal for making our foods. Each year,
insects ruin about $1 billion worth of U.S. grains!
Every morning you probably have a serving of these grains. Think
about cereal, oatmeal or breakfast bars; what's your favorite?
Whole grains found in these foods make us healthy and strong.
Because these foods are an important part of the human diet and because
some bugs are eating them, scientists with ARS have come up with a way
That Wheat Is Singing!
One thing they've done is develop a special tool that can help grain
inspectors know which boxes of grain have been invaded by insects.
Grain inspectors are specially trained to help make sure the grains
we eat don't contain bugs or dirt.
Right now, these inspectors have to study the small bits of grains--one
at a time--to find out if they're being chewed by insects. Imagine
sifting through thousands of grains of rice, looking for a bug that's
no bigger than the tip of your pencil!
ARS researcher Tom Pearson has come up with an easier way to find out
if bugs are nibbling on the grains. Plus, his tool makes its own
kind of music!
Pearson discovered that wheat kernels that have been nibbled on by
insects make a different sound than unchewed kernels when colliding
with a metal plate. (You can try a similar sound experiment at
home. Click this link.)
These grains are so small that they don't make a very loud "ping" when
they hit the metal plate. But a special microphone picks up the
soft sounds and sends them to Pearson's computer. The computer
reads this "music." It tells the sorting tool whether or not the
grains are "good" (with no insects) or "bad" (crawling with them).
Then the special sorting tool puts all the insect-chewed kernels in
one bunch, away from the other ones.
Thanks to Pearson, inspectors will have a much easier time making sure
our grains are safe enough to eat. Get lost, bugs!
--By Erin Peabody, formerly Agricultural
Research Service, Information Staff