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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Food & Nutrition Research Briefs, April 2010

Table place setting with apple. Title: Food and Nutrition Research Briefs. Link to FNRB home page

April 2010


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Contents

Foodborne Staph Toxin Pinpointed by New Assay

Potential of Dairy-Based Package Wraps Outlined

New Vaccines for Calves May Help Thwart E. coli O157:H7

Helpful Yeast Battles Food-Contaminating Aflatoxin

Egg Processing Plant Carts Can Harbor Bacteria

Studies Provide Insight into Key Oat Chemical

Kids Lose Pounds, Gain Fitness, in Houston Study

Secrets to Superb Malting Barleys Explored by ARS Researchers

Cooling Inflammation for Healthier Arteries

Inventing New Oat and Barley Breads


Foodborne Staph Toxin Pinpointed by New Assay

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have developed a superior new test for finding staphylococcal enterotoxin A, or "SEA." Produced by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, this toxin is a leading cause of foodborne illness in the United States and worldwide. The new test can detect the toxin at levels that are a remarkable one billion times lower than the current "gold standard" assay for SEA. Experiments with chicken, beef and milk indicate that the assay reliably distinguishes active from inactive toxin and yields reproducible results.

Details

Scientific contact: Reuven Rasooly, (510) 559-6478, ARS Foodborne Contaminants Research Unit, Western Regional Research Center, Albany, Calif.

Photo: ARS chemist Reuven Rasooly studying spleen cells replication on a computer screen. Link to photo information
A new test that ARS researchers have developed to trace a Staphylococcus aureus toxin is one billion times more sensitive than the current "gold standard" assay.

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Photo: Holstein calf. Link to photo information
Immunizing calves with either of two vaccines developed by ARS scientists may reduce the spread of E. coli O157:H7 bacteria.

New Vaccines for Calves May Help Thwart E. coli O157:H7

Immunizing calves with either of two forms of a vaccine newly developed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists might reduce the spread of sometimes deadly Escherichia coli O157:H7 bacteria. The microbe can flourish in the animals' digestive tracts, yet doesn't cause them to show clinical symptoms of illness. In humans, however, E. coli can cause bouts of diarrhea and, sometimes, life-threatening hemolytic uremic syndrome. One form of the vaccine is comprised of cells of a strain of E. coli O157:H7 that is lacking a gene known as hha. A second form of the vaccine contains an E. coli strain lacking both hha and a second gene, sepB. In either vaccine, the E. coli strain produces a large quantity of what are known as immunogenic proteins. These proteins trigger the immune system response that prevents E. coli O157:H7 from successfully colonizing cattle intestines.

Details

Scientific contact: Vijay Sharma, (515) 337-7279, ARS Food Safety and Enteric Pathogens Research Unit, Ames, Iowa.

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Egg Processing Plant Carts Can Harbor Bacteria

Plywood-shelved carts that are used to transport eggs into processing plants can harbor Enterobacteriaceae, according to a microbial survey conducted by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists on three visits to two processing plants in the southeastern United States. Enterobacteriaceae, a bacterial family that includes the human pathogens Salmonella and Shigella, are known to contaminate the shell egg processing environment. The researchers found 100 percent prevalence for Enterobacteriaceae on carts at one plant and 80 percent at the other. Knowing which bacteria are present and their location are vital pieces of information in developing strategies to reduce and remove bacterial contamination. The findings of this survey will be used by microbiologists working with the shell egg industry and regulators to encourage development of better sanitation procedures or the use of shelving materials that are easier to clean.

Details

Scientific contact: Michael Musgrove, (706) 546-3340, ARS Egg Safety and Quality Research Unit, Richard B. Russell Research Center, Athens, Ga.

Photo: Eggs.
Plywood-shelved carts that are customarily used to transport eggs into processing plants can also harbor Enterobacteriaceae bacteria, which includes the human pathogens Salmonella and Shigella, according to an ARS survey. Photo courtesy of Microsoft Clipart

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Photo: A tricep skinfold test is being used to measure the fat level of a middle school student. Link to photo information
Children taking an intensive, instructor-led weight control course had significantly greater weight loss than did children in a self-taught program, according to preliminary results from ARS-funded studies.

Kids Lose Pounds, Gain Fitness, in Houston Study

Innovative, kid-friendly strategies for losing weight and gaining nutrition savvy—plus physical fitness skills—are emerging from scientific studies funded by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS). Fifty-seven Hispanic children who were either overweight or at risk of becoming so were assigned to either a self- and parent-taught program or an intensive, instructor-led regimen. When evaluated at the end of the 6-month study, kids in the instructor-led course had significantly greater weight loss as well as greater "physical quality of life"—as measured by their answers to a standard questionnaire—than did the kids in the self-taught program. What's more, one and two years later, youngsters in the instructor-led team had significantly greater decreases in their body mass index, or BMI, than did the self-taught children. These preliminary results suggest that a school-based weight-management program might be effective in reaching large numbers of kids.

Details

Scientific contact: Craig A. Johnston, (713) 798 2068, ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas.

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Cooling Inflammation for Healthier Arteries

Scientists funded by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have reported new reasons for choosing "heart-healthy" oats at the grocery store: compounds called avenanthramides. Chronic inflammation inside the arterial wall is part of the process that eventually leads to a disorder known as atherosclerosis. Nutritionist Mohsen Meydani and colleagues have reported findings that suggest the avenanthramides of oats decrease the expression of inflammatory molecules. The study showed that forms of avenanthramides possess potential anti-inflammatory properties through inhibiting factors that are linked with activating proinflammatory cytokines.

Details

Scientific contact: Mohsen Meydani, (617) 556-3126, Vascular Biology Laboratory, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Boston, Mass.

Photo: Cereals and breads made from oats and barley. Link to photo information
ARS-funded research has found additional indications that eating oats may have more potential health benefits towards preventing coronary heart disease beyond lowering blood cholesterol.

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Photo: Two scientists examining film for food packaging.
ARS research leader Peggy Tomasula (left) and chemist Phoebe Qi are developing food-packaging products from dairy ingredients. Photo courtesy of Paul Pierlott, ARS

Potential of Dairy-Based Package Wraps Outlined

Food-packaging products made from dairy ingredients could provide a viable alternative to petroleum-based packaging products, according to a chapter written by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist Peggy Tomasula for a new book, "Dairy-Derived Ingredients: Food and Nutraceutical Uses." Tomasula's chapter in the new book is titled "Using Dairy Ingredients to Produce Edible Films and Biodegradable Packaging Materials." The chapter focuses on films made from dairy proteins, with an emphasis on those based on casein and whey, the major proteins found in milk. It also covers research efforts to improve the proteins' mechanical and barrier properties so that these natural materials eventually could be used in a variety of future applications. ARS scientists are in the process of developing strong, biodegradable dairy-based films that are better oxygen barriers than petrochemical-based films.

Details

Scientific contact: Peggy M. Tomasula, (215) 233-6703, ARS Dairy Processing and Products Research Unit, Eastern Regional Research Center, Wyndmoor, Penn.

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Helpful Yeast Battles Food-Contaminating Aflatoxin

Pistachios, almonds and other popular tree nuts might someday be routinely sprayed with a yeast called Pichia anomala. Laboratory and field studies by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant physiologist Sui-Sheng (Sylvia) Hua have shown that the yeast competes successfully for nutrients—and space to grow—that might otherwise be used by an unwanted mold, Aspergillus flavus, which produces aflatoxins. Hua has received a patent for use of the yeast as an eco-friendly way to protect tree nuts, as well as corn, from becoming contaminated with aflatoxins. In tests conducted in a California pistachio orchard, Hua and colleagues found that spraying the trees with the yeast inhibited incidence of A. flavus in pistachios by up to 97 percent, compared to unsprayed trees.

Details

Scientific contact: Sui-Sheng (Sylvia) Hua, (510) 559-5905, ARS Plant Mycotoxin Research Unit, Western Regional Research Center, Albany, Calif.

Photo: Almond trees.
Spraying a yeast called Pichia anomala onto almonds, pistachios, or other nut trees is an environmentally friendly approach recently developed by ARS scientists for controlling aflatoxin-producing molds. Photo courtesy of the Almond Board of California.

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Photo: ARS chemist Mitchell Wise works with oat extracts in a glass vessel. Link to photo information
ARS chemist Mitchell Wise is studying environmental factors that influence how oats produce avenanthramide, a potent antioxidant that is part of what gives oats a reputation for health benefits.

Studies Provide Insight into Key Oat Chemical

Studies conducted by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists are helping to increase understanding about the environmental factors that regulate avenanthramide (Avn) production in oat grain. Avns, metabolites with potent antioxidant properties, are one reason oats have been widely touted for their many health benefits. The specific purpose of Avns inside the oat plant is still largely unknown, but previous studies have found an increased production of Avns in oat leaves when the plant is attacked by a fungus, particularly crown rust. This finding leads researchers to believe that Avns help oat plants fight off these fungi. They also found that Avn production is likely influenced by additional environmental factors, because not all cultivars with strong crown rust resistance produced high Avn concentrations.

Details

Scientific contact: Mitchell Wise, (608) 262-9242, ARS Cereal Crops Research Unit, Madison, Wis.

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Secrets to Superb Malting Barleys Explored by ARS Researchers

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) researchers are discovering more about what goes on inside barley grains as they germinate, or sprout, in the malt house. Sprouting is one of many steps that go into making malt. Findings from the scientists' basic and applied research will help plant breeders develop even better malting barleys for tomorrow. Of particular interest are the specialized enzymes that the grain creates while it is sprouting. These enzymes, for example, convert the grain's stored proteins into their component amino acids, and convert the stored carbohydrates into what are known as "simple sugars."

Details

Scientific contact: Mark Schmitt, (608) 262-4480, ARS Cereal Crops Research Unit, Madison, Wis.

Photo: Chemist Mark Schmitt examines a test tube sample of malting barley.
ARS chemist Mark Schmitt is discovering what happens—biochemically—inside malting barley grains as they sprout, so that plant breeders will have a better basis for developing superior varieties. Photo courtesy of Mark Schmitt, ARS

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Photo: Breads, cereals and cookies made from barley and oats. Link to photo information
All-oat or all-barley breads that ARS scientists are developing may offer a different array of vitamins, antioxidants, fiber, protein, and other healthful components than that in whole-wheat breads.

Inventing New Oat and Barley Breads

Delicious new all-oat or all-barley breads might result from laboratory experiments now being conducted by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists. In preliminary experiments, the researchers made experimental all-oat or all-barley breads, as well as whole-wheat breads, using a commercially available, plant-derived carbohydrate known as HPMC (short for hydroxypropyl methylcellulose). They are interested in HPMC as a substitute for gluten, a compound present in wheat but lacking in other grains such as oats and barley. They determined that barley, oat, and whole-wheat breads made with HPMC had cholesterol-lowering effects.

Details

Scientific contact: Wallace Yokoyama, (510) 559-5695, ARS Processed Foods Research Unit, Western Regional Research Center, Albany, Calif.

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Last Modified: 12/18/2013