A special orchard in Northern California is home to more than 100 different kinds of figs from around the globe. This fig genebank ranks as one of the world’s largest living assortments of edible figs. Most are specialty varieties of Ficus carica. The genebank ensures that the genes of these figs and their exotic, rare, and oddball botanic cousins are safeguarded for our future.
The collection is part of what’s formally known as the ARS National Clonal Germplasm Repository for Fruit and Nut Crops, headquartered at Davis, Calif. In addition to familiar, commercially grown figs that thrive in warm, dry climates, the repository also includes heirloom varieties and unnamed specimens known only by numbers.
Among the most distinctive figs at the genebank: Violette de Bordeaux, which offers purple skin, brilliant-red flesh, and a taste reminiscent of superb raspberry jam; and Panachée, which bears beautiful, yellow-skinned, green-striped fruit with a delicate strawberry flavor.
Fig breeders and researchers—along with nursery managers interested in finding figs suitable for their climates and customers—are the primary users of the collection. Figs are high in fiber and are a good source of several essential minerals including magnesium, calcium, and potassium.
For more information, contact Charles J. Simon, (530) 752-6504, USDA-ARS National Clonal Germplasm Repository for Fruit and Nut Crops, Davis, CA
A tasty new early-summer blueberry called Alapaha should be ready next year for backyard gardeners and commercial growers to plant. Shoppers can expect to see the firm, colorful berries in supermarkets within a few summers.
Alapaha is a rabbiteye-type blueberry, the kind grown on 95 percent of the commercial blueberry acreage in the southeastern United States. But Alapaha has the advantage of blooming late and ripening early, giving it important protection against late frosts that could otherwise damage blossoms—and thus ruin the harvest.
In fact, Alapaha blooms 10 days later than Climax, the region’s leading rabbiteye, yet bears fruit at about the same time—that is, late May to mid-June. Named for the scenic Alapaha River in southern Georgia, Alapaha was developed by plant breeders with the ARS Small Fruit Research Station in Poplarville, Miss., and their colleagues at the University of Georgia.
Blueberries are rich in antioxidants—natural compounds that have been linked to reduced risk of cancer. Blueberries also provide beta-carotene and vitamins C and E.
High-tech tactics borrowed from NASA and the military can help ensure that shoppers get great-tasting apples every time. The technology measures flavor and firmness, two keys to apple quality. With further development, the system should be suitable for packinghouses from coast to coast.
An ARS agricultural engineer in East Lansing, Mich., is now building a prototype of the imaging spectroscopy system and expects that it can be easily merged with machine-vision systems already used in packinghouses today.
In work funded by ARS and apple growers in Washington and Michigan, the scientist developed the mathematical equations essential for the new system. Here’s how it will work, in brief: beams of light will be focused on apples. The light that bounces back will form a spectral image that will be captured by the imaging spectroscopy system, then sent to a computer for analysis. Based on its instantaneous evaluation of these images, the computer will make decisions about the quality of the fruit.
The technology may be employed for evaluating not only apples, but also oranges, pears, or peaches, as well.
For more information, contact Renfu Lu, (517) 432-8062, USDA-ARS Sugarbeet and Bean Research Unit, East Lansing, MI
Twelve-year-old girls drink significantly more milk—and less soda beverages—than 19-year-old females, a new ARS analysis of food survey data has shown. The review of USDA’s Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals for the years 1994 to 1996 showed that, among 732 girls aged 12 to 19, 78 percent of the 12-year-olds drank milk—the highest intake of any survey participants in the 12- to 19-year-old range. These preteens also consumed the least soda, about 9 ounces on any given day.
In contrast, only 36 percent of the 19-year-olds drank milk. But teens of that age drank the largest amount of soda—about 14 ounces a day.
Teens who didn’t drink milk at all fell short of the daily Recommended Dietary Intake of vitamin A and three minerals essential for healthy bones—calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. An article in the September 2002 Journal of the American Dietetic Association (vol. 102, no. 9, pp. 1234-1239) tells more about the study.
New moms who eat more carbohydrates in relation to fats during the months they are breastfeeding may have higher levels of a hormone known as leptin in their blood. That's in contrast to lactating moms who eat more fats than carbs.
Higher leptin levels may be an advantage for women who want to trim pounds that they gained during their pregnancy. Leptin, made by the body's fat cells, is thought to help contribute to satiety—a feeling of fullness. The study is part of an ongoing effort by scientists at the ARS Western Human Nutrition Research Center in Davis, Calif., to uncover more about leptin's relation to appetite and weight management.
The lactation findings come from a statistical review, known as a multivariate analysis, of food records and blood leptin levels of 47 lactating women, aged 20 to 40 years. These women were volunteers in a study that the ARS scientists conducted in collaboration with investigators from the University of California at Davis and University of Maryland at College Park.
The results agree with those from an earlier study in which other researchers evaluated the food choices and leptin levels of 19 normal-weight, non-pregnant females, aged 20 to 43 years. But the lactating moms experiment apparently is the first to look at leptin levels in post-partum women—an at-risk population for weight gain.
Women who, during pregnancy, exceed the rate and total amount of weight gain recommended in guidelines from the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine are at increased risk of retaining the excess weight. Overweight has been linked to greater incidence of diabetes and heart disease.
Colds, flu, arthritis, or even recent surgery can skew results of the standard test used to estimate the body’s store of vitamin A. Scientists with the ARS Western Human Nutrition Research Center, Davis, Calif., reached that conclusion after analyzing data from 11,729 women and 10,617 men who participated in NHANES III, the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
An assay used in NHANES measures serum levels of retinol–the principal form of vitamin A found in the blood. The test is an indicator of vitamin A reserves in the liver, the body’s main storage depot for the vitamin. Another NHANES assay measures levels of what’s known as serum C-reactive protein, or CRP, which is elevated by inflammatory or infectious diseases.
Serum retinol was low in survey participants with CRP levels greater than 10 milligrams per liter, the researchers found. The data showed that 14 percent of women in their 60s had elevated CRP, as compared with 8 percent of women in their 20s. Women between 20 and 69 were twice as likely to have elevated CRP as were men.
The findings, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2000 (vol. 72, pp. 1170-1178), should be useful not only for improving the interpretation of NHANES data—a foundation for America’s daily Recommended Dietary Intakes of essential nutrients—but also for more accurately assessing the results of intervention programs used to boost vitamin A levels of people in developing countries.
Tomorrow’s apples—and oranges or other fruits, too—might be better protected from rot-causing microbes, thanks to findings from ARS researchers and their industry co-investigators. Scientists at the ARS Appalachian Fruit Research Station, Kearneysville, W.Va., have now won a patent for their novel combination of a hardworking yeast called Candida saitoana and an enzyme known as lysozyme.
The dynamic duo fights existing colonies of rot organisms on the skin or peel of apples, oranges, and other fresh produce and also helps protect against new attacks, the researchers have found. C. saitoana is harmless to humans and occurs naturally on many kinds of produce. The lysozyme enzyme that the scientists paired with this yeast is from chicken eggs.
Scientists with Micro Flo Company, Memphis Tenn., intend to employ the yeast and enzyme in a powerful new biofungicide that they plan to market under the name “Biocure.”
A study with laboratory rats provides new evidence that iron, zinc, and calcium may prevent unwanted buildup of another mineral—cadmium. ARS scientists at the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center, Grand Forks, N.D., reported their work in the July 2002 issue of Environmental Science and Technology (vol. 36, no. 12., pp. 2684-2692).
For the experiment, scientists put rats on a rice-based regimen and marginal amounts of iron, zinc, or calcium—along with cadmium at levels that occur naturally in foods. They found that these rats showed an unhealthy increase in cadmium.
The findings are primarily of concern to nutritionists and other healthcare professionals in countries where two conditions occur: first, where the most commonly consumed foods don’t provide enough iron, zinc, or calcium to offset cadmium buildup; and second, where mining can result in cadmium-contaminated soils. The study is also of use to U.S. researchers interested in learning more about the roles of each of these minerals in our bodies.
Adults and children allergic to any of the dozens of foods made with soy may be helped by a new, hypoallergenic soybean now under development by ARS scientists and their university and industry colleagues. Using a biotech tactic called gene silencing, researchers knocked out the gene thought to be responsible for a protein called Gly m Bd 30K/P34. The researchers apparently are the first to succeed in using biotechnology to remove a major human allergen from a leading food crop.
Earlier ARS research identified the Gly m Bd 30K/P34 gene as the most likely culprit in the soy allergy that affects 1 to 2 percent of all adult Americans and 6 to 8 percent of infants. Symptoms can range from diarrhea or itching to—rarely—severe anaphylactic shock.
Medical researchers are conducting further tests to ensure that the soybean is completely free of the allergy-causing protein. Corporate colleagues are monitoring the plant in research fields to determine if it yields a top-quality crop that growers could produce profitably.
America's soybean crop—worth $12 billion in the year 2000—is used for making soy milk, soy flour, breakfast cereals, salad dressings, infant formula, and many other food or industrial products.
America’s most authoritative source of information about the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients in some 6,000 familiar foods is now better than ever. ARS’ Nutrient Data Laboratory has updated the database, which describes up to 117 nutrient categories for each food item. New data for ground beef, breakfast cereals, and sweets are among the updates to the compendium.
Called SR15—short for the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 15—the database is today’s version of the nutrient composition publications that began decades ago as Handbook 8. ARS’ National Agricultural Library in Beltsville, Md., hosts the site on the World Wide Web that contains the update. It’s located at:
A delicious new pear called Blake’s Pride is now being offered as budwood to nurseries. It’s the newest pear from fruit breeders at ARS’ Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville, W.Va.
The fruit has a sweet, rich taste and pleasing aroma. Though the skin is mostly golden and light-yellow, some of it is attractively patterned with a thin, light-tan russeting like the natural netting on the familiar Bosc pear.
Importantly, Blake’s Pride is resistant to fire blight, a major disease of pear, apple, and quince trees. Caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora, fire blight gets its name from the blackened, scorched appearance of afflicted flowers, fruit, shoots, and leaves.
The new pear is suitable for planting in the United States anywhere that European pears are currently grown.
Nurseries can request Blake’s Pride budwood from the lab, meaning that young trees might be available to orchardists and backyard gardeners in 2004. If the new pear catches on with commercial growers, consumers might expect to see Blake's Pride pears in orchard markets and the produce section of grocery stores.
A new rice developed by ARS scientists in Arkansas and Idaho boasts a nutritional plus. It contains a significantly lower amount of a compound called phytic acid. An indigestible form of phosphorus, phytic acid binds to such minerals as iron, calcium, magnesium, and zinc. The result: These minerals become less available for our bodies to take up and use.
In cooperation with the University of Arkansas, ARS researchers have now made the breeding line, called KBNT lpa1-1, available to breeders and researchers. The rice is known as a breeding line because it’s intended for plant breeders to develop further.
A first of its kind, the rice was developed using an approach that an ARS scientist in Idaho invented and patented. The innovative technology has already been used successfully to breed low-phytic-acid corn, soybeans, and barley.
KBNT lpa1-1 might be especially beneficial to people in countries where rice is a staple and mineral deficiencies are a concern.
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