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Scientists Honored for Bringing Technology Out of the Lab and Into the Marketplace

By Richard J. Brenner, (301) 504-6905
February 13, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 13—Spreading the word about ways to combat noxious weeds and developing more durable bermudagrass for athletic fields and golf courses have garnered high honors for scientists with the Agricultural Research Service, the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The winners of ARS’ Technology Transfer Awards for Outstanding Effort include plant geneticist Wayne Hanna of the ARS Crop Genetics and Breeding Research Unit at Tifton, Ga., and the Sidney, Mont.-based, TEAM Leafy Spurge, which includes ecologist Gerald Anderson, ecologist Chad Prosser, technical information specialist Bethany Redlin, information aide Jill Miller and entomologist Robert Richard.

The scientists were recognized during the annual recognition program ceremony Wednesday at ARS’ Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, Md., for their success in moving research from the laboratory to the marketplace.

Leafy spurge is an exotic invasive species that infests at least 5 million acres in the United States and Canada and costs about $144 million annually in production losses and control expenses. The Ecological Areawide Management (TEAM) of Leafy Spurge program was formed in 1997 to develop integrated pest management strategies to combat this prolific weed and disseminate information about those strategies. Based at the ARS Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory in Sidney, Mont., TEAM Leafy Spurge has developed effective and affordable management strategies to control the species during the past six years.

“The program has been extraordinarily successful in accomplishing its mission,” said Edward B. Knipling, acting ARS Administrator. Team members have distributed more than 48 million flea beetles for biological control of the weed and have produced more than 20 informational products, including brochures, CD-ROMs and a documentary. These products have reached a huge audience and educated ranchers and land managers throughout North America about how to deal with spurge infestations. Researchers believe that if the integrated management plans are carried out over larger areas, leafy spurge could be reduced to an incidental weed.

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While leafy spurge is an unwanted weed, another type of groundcover–grass–is increasingly sought after for lawns, athletic fields, parks and golf courses. Plant geneticist Wayne Hanna, who retired in December 2002, spent many years working to meet this growing need. Two of the bermudagrasses he developed, TifSport and TifEagle, are so popular that demand for them currently exceeds availability.

“Dr. Hanna developed these varieties after years of experiments and crosses,” said Knipling. “His work resulted in turf cultivars that are more pest resistant, cold resistant, tolerant of high traffic, tolerant of close mowing on golf greens and uniformly attractive to the user than the grasses available previously.”

Hanna has worked closely with the University of Georgia to market the grasses, and they are now being grown on golf courses throughout the southern United States, as well as in football stadiums for the Tennessee Titans and Washington Redskins, among others.

Thomas Beckman
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Three other researchers and two other research teams were honored for their technology transfer accomplishments at yesterday’s ceremony. They are:

  • Thomas Beckman, research horticulturist, ARS Fruit and Nut Research Unit, Byron, Ga. Beckman developed Guardian rootstock as a new and effective tool for reducing losses to peach tree short life, the leading cause of premature peach tree death in the southeastern United States. Since Guardian’s release in 1993, nearly 8 million seeds have been supplied to commercial nurseries serving the southeastern peach industry.

Ivory Crisp (foreground) and Alturas potatoes
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  • Tri-State Potato Variety Development Program, ARS Small Grains and Potato Germplasm Unit, Aberdeen, Idaho, and ARS Vegetable and Forage Crops Production Research Unit, Prosser, Wash. Partnering with university breeders and potato commissions, this team created the world’s largest and most productive potato-breeding program. Since its establishment in 1985, the program has developed 17 new varieties of potatoes that are now being grown in the Pacific Northwest and other states.

James Davidson
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  • James I. Davidson, Jr., mechanical engineer, ARS National Peanut Research Laboratory, Dawson, Ga. Davidson incorporated a tremendous quantity of research data and grower experience into an expert system that helps producers make daily decisions about growing, harvesting and marketing peanuts. The system helps growers minimize the risk of preharvest aflatoxin contamination and reduce water and pesticide usage, and it has helped the industry increase on-farm revenue by about $2 million.

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  • Pina M. Fratamico, microbiologist, ARS Microbial Food Safety Research Unit, Wyndmoor, Pa. Fratamico developed fluorescent strains of the food-borne pathogenic bacterium Escherichia coli O157:H7. The fluorescent strains are used as controls in tests to detect the bacterium and monitor its survival in food, and they help prevent false-positive results and expensive recalls of large quantities of food.

Aquatic snails
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  • Andrew J. Mitchell and Billy R. Griffin, ARS Harry K. Dupree Stuttgart National Aquaculture Research Center, Stuttgart, Ark. Mitchell and Griffin developed a pond shoreline treatment to control aquatic snails that spread diseases to farm-raised catfish. Their treatment was adopted by the fish industry in 2000, after approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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