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Read: a more detailed story about the work in Agricultural Research.

Photo: ARS plant pathologist Charles Krause uses a cold field emission scanning electron microscope to study pesticide distribution on plant leaves. Link to photo information

A Space-Age Peek into Floral and Nursery Plants

By Don Comis
December 22, 2000

Agricultural Research Service scientists in Wooster, Ohio, are using space-age technology to bring us better poinsettias and evergreens.

Actually, the ARS scientists who share the new Molecular and Cellular Imaging Center in Wooster with Ohio State University scientists are using this technology to protect all floral and nursery crops against pests--holiday or otherwise. They work closely with the industry in their constant battle against the numerous pests that stand between us and our flowers and plants.

The floral and nursery industry commits $2 to $3 million a year--through grants to university and government researchers--to support this kind of research nationwide. The Society of American Florists and the American Nursery and Landscape Association have also joined forces with ARS to create the Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative.

Through this Initiative, the federal government acknowledges the industry’s standing as a major agricultural enterprise; corn and soybeans are the only two individual crops that surpass floriculture and nursery crops in value. For fiscal year 2001, Congress has appropriated $4.7 million for this research.

The Wooster scientists receive Initiative funds to improve spraying in greenhouses and nursery fields, using both biological and chemical pesticides. The Imaging Center has four advanced microscopes and related equipment with digital imaging, which allows the scientists to view pesticides flowing through the waxy peaks and valleys of the leaf surface, just as water flows on planet Earth. The imaging technology is similar to that used to photograph Mars.

The center has three of the latest electron microscopes, offering an actual view of plant-parasite- pesticide interactions, up to several million times life-size.

One of these is connected to an x-ray analyzer that determines the chemical and physical structures of the plants, pests, biocontrol organisms and pesticides. This enables scientists to not only view fungicide coverage, but also identify the chemicals in the pesticide residue.

A more detailed story about the work appears in the December issue of Agricultural Research, ARS’ monthly publication.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s principal scientific research agency.

Scientific contact: Charles R. Krause, ARS Application Technology Research Unit, Wooster, Ohio.