Hormones Are Degraded by Soils
Francis X. M. Casey, Jiri Simunek, Jaehoon Lee, Gerald L.
Larsen, and Heldur Hakk http://jeq.scijournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/34/4/1372,
Journal of Environmental Quality
Animal manure normally has estrogen hormones. When manure is
applied to soil, these hormones could move with soil water and
enter surface water or groundwater. The prolonged presence of
estrogen hormones in the surface water environments can result
in male aquatic organisms, expressing female traits. Researchers
examined the binding strength, mobility and degradation of 17
beta-estradiol and estrone in soil. Within 30 minutes, almost
80 percent of the hormone bound with the soil. Within several
hours, about half of the hormone degraded.
How Wheat Kernels "Sing" Is a Sign of Their Quality
Erin Peabody , ARS News Service, (301) 504-1624, firstname.lastname@example.org
How do you find the "bad" seeds in the bunch? According
to Thomas Pearson, a scientist with the Agricultural Research
Service (ARS), you listen very closely. Pearson--who’s an
agricultural engineer at the agency’s Grain Marketing and
Production Research Center in Manhattan, Kan.--has developed an
acoustics-based sorter that can distinguish between "clean"
wheat kernels and those that have been nibbled on and spoiled
The idea behind the novel technology is simple. A wheat kernel
that’s whole and intact will make a slightly different,
high-pitched "ping" when striking a steel plate than
the sound made by a kernel that’s been tunneled through
by an insect. Because individual kernels are so small, lightweight
and hard, any acoustic energy they emit is inaudible to human
ears. So, Pearson made sure to outfit his sorting system with
a special microphone that can pick up ultra-sonic sounds at exceptionally
After assessing the kernels’ acoustic qualities, the sorter
will shunt the insect-damaged wheat kernels from a random sample
into one bin, and send "acceptable" kernels into another.
It can even pinpoint kernels with tiny insect larvae hiding inside
them, a feat that, for grain inspectors, is like trying to find
a needle in a haystack. Every year, more than $1.5 billion worth
of U.S. wheat and other grains must be discarded or downgraded
because of post-harvest damage by insect pests. Despite preventive
measures, the pests--ranging from moth larvae to small flour beetles--still
manage to find their way into grain storage facilities.
Now, most grain inspectors must laboriously sift through samples
of grain by hand, relying on the naked eye to spot wheat kernels
that have been spoiled by insects. It can take more than 20 minutes
to examine a 100-gram sample, or one weighing about one-quarter
of a pound. Pearson’s sorter can analyze the same sample
in about 75 seconds, or at a rate of 40 kernels per second. And
it successfully detects damaged kernels 87 percent of the time.
The technology--which would undoubtedly lead to more accurate
estimates of insect damage in wheat loads--is now ready for a
private-sector partner to help bring it to market.
Genetic Markers Point Toward Low-Linolenic-Acid Soybeans
Laura McGinnis, ARS News Service, (301) 504-1654, email@example.com
Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in the Plant Genetics
Research Unit at Columbia, Mo., are improving soybean oil’s
longevity--and marketability--by lowering its linolenic acid content.
Most soybeans contain high levels of linolenic acid, which has
double chemical bonds that break down in the presence of air,
heat and light, according to molecular biologist Kristin Bilyeu
at Columbia. This is a troublesome trait for producers and consumers
who want durable, shelf-stable food.
Soy oil is often partially hydrogenated to reduce linolenic acid.
Hydrogenation increases products’ shelf life and stability,
but produces trans fats (also called trans fatty acids), which
several studies have linked to high cholesterol and heart disease.
With growing public awareness and new laws requiring food labels
to list trans fats, the food oil industry would welcome an alternative
to hydrogenated oils. Could low-linolenic soybeans provide the
With colleagues from ARS and Iowa State University (ISU), Bilyeu
has developed molecular markers that identify specific mutations
in three genes which can be used in plant breeding programs to
lower soy oil’s linolenic acid content. Oil from the low-linolenic
soybeans does not require hydrogenation. Walter Fehr of ISU and
James Wilcox, formerly with ARS, identified the low-linolenic
soybean lines in mutant plants that Bilyeu used to identify the
mutant genes and develop the molecular markers. Usually, soybean
breeders depend on random segregation of the three genes for low-linolenic
acid. Using these new markers will improve the identification
of soybean genotypes for low linolenic acid content. Eventually,
Bilyeu hopes the breeding process will result in stable, nutritious
beans for the food oil industry.
The QualiSoy Initiative, under the auspices of the United Soybean
Board, is helping to bring seed companies, processors, and food
manufacturers together to expand the market for low-linolenic
soybean oil. This oil would create a competitive advantage for
growers and allow food manufacturers and vendors to market long-lasting
products without compromising their nutritional value.
Relaxed Management of Cattle Has Benefits
Sharon Durham, ARS News Service, (301) 504-1611, firstname.lastname@example.org
Style matters, even when managing livestock, according to Agricultural
Research Service (ARS) scientists who have found that proper management
of cattle helps to develop a calm herd--and leads to other benefits
as well. Recently retired animal scientist John Stuedemann and
other researchers before him at ARS' J. Phil Campbell, Sr., Natural
Resource Conservation Center in Watkinsville, Ga., have conducted
forage research with their resident herd of Angus cattle that
was first established in the 1950s.
The cattle are given “disposition scores” from finishing
companies, in this case Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity in Lewis,
Iowa. Calves receive scores from 1 to 5 during each trip through
the cattle chute. A score of 1 means the calf is especially docile,
while a score of 5 indicates it’s extremely rambunctious.
Most of the Watkinsville cattle scores range from 1.0 to 1.9,
and most are below 1.5.
Stuedemann’s philosophy is that because the researchers
handle them so much, it’s important for the animals to be
as calm as possible. Any excitable or unstable cattle are removed
to lessen the risk of injury to staffers, especially student workers.
Management methods have also been modified to keep the herd relaxed.
Aids that were sometimes used to restrain or hurry cattle along
were removed from the Watkinsville location a long time ago, according
to Stuedemann. Cattle are more likely to go through the chutes
calmly when pain is removed from the experience. This conditioning
allows researchers to move the animals through the chutes for
monthly weigh-ins without incident.
While calm cattle make life easier for those handling them, Tri-County
also finds the health and average daily weight gain of the cattle
to be excellent. In the five years of custom feeding with Tri-County,
approximately 800 head of steers and heifers posted average daily
weight gains ranging from 3.1 to 4.6 pounds. Only 30 of the animals
graded “Select,” while the rest graded “Choice”
or better. A total of 381 head earned the “Certified Angus