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ARS Research Accomplishments: The Past Is Prelude to the Future

By Hank Becker
December 1, 1999

Since 1953, when the Agricultural Research Service was established as USDA's chief scientific arm, ARS scientists have conducted thousands of research projects. Many of the projects have improved life for Americans and others around the world.

This century's final issue of ARS' Agricultural Research magazine lists the top 15 ARS research accomplishments, as chosen by the magazine staff and the ARS National Program Staff.

Some of the discoveries and technologies, such as frozen food techniques, have helped build multi-million and even multi-billion dollar industries. Others, like cryogenic seed preservation, may have huge significance for breeding crops for the world's food supply. Other entries on the top 15 list:

  • Discovery of phytochrome--the pigmented protein that regulates plant growth in response to light--has led to major progress in understanding how plants biosynthesize complex carbohydrates.
  • Sterile insect release technology means mass-releasing lab-sterilized male insects to mate--fruitlessly--with fertile females. This makes pest populations crash. It has transformed control strategies for some insect pests, such as screwworms and Mediterranean fruit flies, from sole reliance on chemicals.
  • Sperm-sexing technology allows sex of farm animals to be predetermined by separating female-producing X-chromosome sperm from male-producing Y-chromosome sperm.
  • Research leading to eradication of several animal diseases including vesicular exanthema, Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis, Avian influenza, sheep scabies, exotic Newcastle disease and hog cholera.
  • Discovery of DEET, a chemical that repels deer ticks, mosquitoes, chiggers and fleas. DEET is the active ingredient in more than 35 commercial repellents.

ARS research has also led to better soil management, improved use of fertilizers, enhanced strains of seed, advanced controls of crop diseases and weeds and superior methods of harvesting and storing farm products and transporting them to market. Agency research has also increased understanding of nutritional needs of the elderly, infants and other special groups.

The magazine's top 15 list can be found on the web at: