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Agriculture and Food Research Initiative

Nanostructured Biosensors Detect Pesticide, Help Preserve Environment

When does too much of a good thing become a bad thing? That’s the question Dr. Jonathan Claussen, assistant professor at Iowa State University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, and his team of researchers aim to help farmers answer when it comes to pesticide use. Underuse can harm farmers’ crops, while overuse can result in runoff into the soil or waterways.

Claussen and his team created a flexible, low cost and disposable biosensor that can detect pesticides in soil. This biosensor is made of graphene, a strong and stable nanoparticle, and provides instantaneous feedback, as opposed to the time and money it would otherwise take to send a sample to a lab and await results.

USDA Farmers Market Shoppers Participate in Behavioral Economics Study about Food Choices

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

What were visitors to USDA’s Farmers Market on Friday, Sept. 30, doing with the iPads they were holding?  They certainly weren’t playing Pokemon Go!  Instead, they were participating in a behavioral economics study about food choices.

The USDA Farmers Market, managed by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and located just steps from the National Mall in downtown Washington, D.C., is a “living laboratory” for farmers markets around the country.  It’s also a great place to learn about the factors that influence customers’ buying decisions.

Taming Big-Data for Practical Scientific Research with Microchip Biology

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

At Fort Valley State University (FVSU) the next generation of leaders in agricultural and life sciences are coming face-to-face with technology that will help them solve the toughest challenges of the future.

“Bioinformatics is ‘biology in silico,’ or ‘digital biology,’ and it is transforming biological research into an informational science,” said Dr. Ramana Gosukonda, associate professor of agricultural sciences at FVSU’s College of Agriculture.

NoroCORE: A Comprehensive Approach to a Near 'Perfect' Human Pathogen

Today’s guest blog features the USDA-NIFA Food Virology Collaborative (NoroCORE- Norovirus Collaborative for Outreach, Research, and Education), a food safety initiative with the ultimate goal to reduce the burden of foodborne disease associated with viruses, particularly noroviruses. Norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne illness in the United States accounting for around 5 million of the 21 million annual cases associated with contaminated foods. Cost of illness is estimated to be billions of dollars per year.

By Dr. Elizabeth Bradshaw, NoroCORE extension associate, and Dr. Lee-Ann Jaykus, NoroCORE scientific director

Even if you have not experienced a norovirus infection personally (consider yourself fortunate!), you probably know someone who has or have heard of an outbreak of the “stomach flu.”  Most people know norovirus by its symptoms: a couple of memorable days of vomiting and diarrhea, sometimes with a fever and a headache.

Investment in Novel Technologies Advances Food Safety, Quality

July is the height of summer grilling season and throughout the month USDA is highlighting changes made to the U.S. food safety system over the course of this Administration. For an interactive look at USDA’s work to ensure your food is safe, visit the USDA Results project on Medium.com and read Chapter Seven: Safer Food and Greater Consumer Confidence.

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) supports innovative research to address pressing issues. We are looking at the many ways USDA supports safe food this month, including this report from Sylvia Kantor at Washington State University’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences:

Consumer demand for safe, high-quality, additive-free packaged foods is growing. Thanks to two recent investments in innovative food processing technology based on microwave energy, Washington State University (WSU) is advancing toward meeting this demand.

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded WSU $4 million to establish a Center of Excellence that will accelerate the technology transfer to mainstream commercial markets. This is the first Center of Excellence on Food Safety Processing Technologies funded by NIFA’s flagship program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.

Reversing Pollinator Decline is Key to Feeding the Future

Without pollinators, we don’t eat—it’s simple as that—and, at the moment, large numbers of pollinators are dying.  With the world’s population projected to exceed 9 billion in just the next 30 years or so, that is not a good position for us to be in.

More than 90 species of U.S. specialty crops require pollination, and various animals, including bees, butterflies, moths, bats, and birds are a critical part of the pollinator-plant ecosystem.  Despite the myriad species of pollinators available, American farmers rely on one species of honey bee, Apis mellifera, for most of the pollinator services to pollinate their crops. Wild and managed bees together add $15 billion in crop value each year.

Wheat Blast, Bangladesh, and Biosecurity: NIFA-Funded Research Works for Global Food Security

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

An epidemic of wheat blast is underway in Bangladesh, published reports say, and losses may be substantial in the six southeastern districts where it has been reported. Wheat blast is a crop disease caused by the Triticum pathotype of the fungus Magnaporthe oryzae (MoT). In nations where broad wheat blast epidemics have occurred, 30 percent losses have been noted, but localized areas have experienced 50-100 percent losses, according to Dr. Barbara Valent, fungal molecular geneticist at Kansas State University (KSU).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), through its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), has provided nearly $5.4 million since 2009 to support research on wheat and rice blast. KSU leads a multi-institutional research project that brings together expertise from University of Arkansas, University of Kentucky, the Ohio State University, Purdue University, and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

NIFA Helps Chart National Course for Healthy Nutrition

Since the economic downturn of 2008, sufficient access to healthy foods has been a serious problem for many Americans. As a result, more than 17 million households confront hunger throughout the year while more than 12 million children are obese.

To address these problems, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has worked with five other USDA agencies to develop science-based food and nutrition strategies. These agencies joined the Interagency Committee on Human Nutrition Research – a collaboration among the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Health and Human Services and several other government agencies – to develop the National Nutrition Research Roadmap (NNRR). This roadmap characterizes and coordinates federally funded nutrition research to identify future research needs and opportunities.

Bridging Nutrition and Tradition: Abriendo Caminos

When preparing your meal, what’s the first thought that comes to mind? Do you have the right ingredients to create a meal that is both fulfilling and packed with enough nutrients to meet the daily requirements? But, what if the only foods that were available were unhealthy?

According to USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), 30 percent of Hispanic households with children are food insecure, meaning they have limited or uncertain access to healthy food. Many of the options that are available to these families do not meet the standard requirements for a sufficient healthy, balanced diet.

Agricultural Research Needs to Be a Priority

Seeing President Obama’s fiscal year 2017 budget proposal and the strong commitment it makes to agricultural research reminds me of Dr. Consuelo De Moraes.

As a university researcher and panel manager of the National Research Initiative (NRI) competitive grants program, I called Dr. De Moraes in 2002 to inform her that USDA was going to fund her research proposal on determining how plants defend themselves against insects, so farmers could exploit the same as a means to control pests. She screamed with happiness. Later I learned that people heard the scream throughout the building at Pennsylvania State University. After that, Dr. De Moraes went on to great acclaim as one of the leading insect researchers.