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News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: phys.org

Starch, which is 100-percent biodegradable, is used in some plastics and films because it is inexpensive and biodegrades rapidly. But existing starch-containing materials do not have the strength, flexibility, and ease of processing required for many other uses. Polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH), a petroleum-based synthetic polymer, is widely used for film applications, but it has limited biodegradability. Scientists at the ARS National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research (NCAUR) in Peoria, Illinois, recently developed starch complexes that can be blended with PVOH to improve the properties of films and make them more biodegradable. The team included chemist George Fanta, plant physiologist Frederick Felker, chemist Gordon Selling, and research associate William Hay. Says Fanta, "At our lab, we look for new value-added products from starch that benefit U.S agriculture and consumers. Products we develop can help replace totally synthetic products like plastic polyethylene bags and polystyrene foam packing materials." The scientists prepared the complexes from high-amylose corn starch and fatty amine salts, which can be derived from soybean oil. These complexes have unique and valuable properties not found in either ingredient separately. One recent aspect of this research was published in the Journal of Applied Polymer Science in 2016. "Our complexes can be blended with PVOH in large amounts to make films with good physical properties and increased elasticity," Fanta says. "They are also more resistant to water penetration than films prepared from pure PVOH." Some food packaging is also made from PVOH alone, Selling says. "We can incorporate up to 60 percent of these starch complexes in the packaging, and performance should remain unchanged." The complexes in solution can be applied to paper to increase its water resistance. "A drop of water on untreated paper absorbs quickly," Selling says. "However, water on paper coated with these complexes beads up, remains on the surface for minutes, and often evaporates before soaking into the paper, depending on the formulation." ARS has filed a patent application covering the new paper-related technology, which is ideal for small papermaking companies and can be readily commercialized. "These complexes are 100-percent biobased and nontoxic, and the process is inexpensive," Fanta says. Explore further: Inexpensive, abundant starch fibers could lead to ouchless bandages

News Article | December 1, 2015
Site: phys.org

In Quezaltepeque, a village 30 kilometers north of San Salvador, Ceren and 13 other co-farmers feel fortunate to be the first testing the bean. They proudly showed off an abundant harvest of around 0.7 of a hectare (1.7 acres) of the bean grown on the farm where they work, to the awed gaze of visitors. "We were very careful with this initial experiment with these beans, which were hit with a 15-day drought and two storms," the 45-year-old manager of the farm, Baltazar Garcia, told AFP. "Other people called us crazy. But today a lot of them are admiring the harvest." The type of light red bean they are using, which is also resistant to an infection known as bean golden yellow mosaic virus, was painstakingly developed with the help of El Salvador's National Center for Agricultural and Forestry Technology (CENTA). Dubbed CENTA-EAC, the bean is not a biotech crop designed by genetic engineers slicing up chromosomes. Rather it is the product of hybridization: the combining of naturally formed plants to form a cross-breed. "You could say it's the simple cross-fertilization of red bean and black bean plants in a process that in this case took five years of selecting and discarding plants until the desired variety was created," a CENTA researcher, Aldemaro Clara, explained. The Salvadoran experiment came as a prolonged drought settled on Central America this year, causing heavy crop losses across a broad swathe of land stretching from Costa Rica to Guatemala. Because of the lack of water, 2.3 million small Central American farmers will need food aid, the UN's World Food Program has warned. The CENTA-EAC bean is part of a decade-old effort by laboratories in the region to come up with hybrids able to survive and even prosper during the recurring droughts. With the help of farmers, it was noted that it was possible to come up with crops adapted to extreme weather conditions. "Our mission to produce seeds resistant to climate change, which in this region means against high temperatures, long droughts and extremely heavy rainy seasons," Rolando Ventura, another CENTA researcher, said. The whole region is working along the same lines. In Guatemala, scientists are working on the ICTA-Chorti, which will not only resist droughts but also be rich in iron. In Nicaragua, another institute has made a variety of red bean, the INTA-Tomabu, also able to survive when water is scarce. Candida Lazon, who is trying out that bean on her farm, said: "Here, it almost never rains. We have managed to grow the INTA-Tomabu bean by watering it just once every 12 days. I'm thrilled about this seed because it adapts to the very dry local climate." It's not beans that are being made to "adapt" to climate change. In Panama, one of the first countries in the region to work with types of corn resistant to changing weather, has come up with a new seed. "In the case of corn, these seeds are compatible with higher temperatures, 35 to 36 degrees (95 to 97 degrees Fahrenheit), and drought-tolerant," said Jose Alberto Yau, deputy director for seeds at the country's IDIAP Agriculture and Fishing Research Institute. In El Salvador, farmers already have the option of using a type of corn called CENTA-Pasaquina, but it has fallen from favor because of its perceived low yield. Nicaragua meanwhile has a type of virus-resistant tomato seed christened INTA-Jinotega that copes with temperatures over 25 degrees centigrade. In Costa Rica, it's cocoa—a crop essential to the economy—that is being looked at in the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center with hopes of coming up with a more resistant variety. Explore further: Texas A&M breeder develops new sorghum variety for Central America

Dastagiri M.B.,National Center for Agricultural | Ganesh Kumar B.,National Center for Agricultural | Hanumanthaiah C.V.,Acharya N.G. Ranga Agricultural University | Paramsivam P.,Tamil Nadu Agricultural University | And 5 more authors.
Outlook on Agriculture | Year: 2012

India's horticulture sector is growing and playing a vital role in the continent's agricultural economy. India is the second largest producer of fruit and vegetables globally, but horticultural development is currently constrained by poor marketing. The gap between prices received by farmers and those paid by consumers is large, reflecting inefficient marketing arrangements. This study estimates the market costs, market margins, price spread, the producer's share of the consumer's rupee and the market efficiency of horticultural commodities under different supply chains, and suggests measures to improve marketing efficiency. The study was conducted in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Manipur and Mizoram, covering 29 crop types. The results show that, in the case of most commodities, marketing costs, marketing margins, transport costs and labour charges adversely affect marketing efficiency, and open market price, volume of produce handled and net price received increase market efficiency or have a positive effect. The highest marketing efficiency was found in the producer-to-consumer channel. Government policies should promote direct marketing models for more efficient horticultural marketing.

News Article | December 16, 2015
Site: phys.org

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers found a sap oozing from the stem of frost grape, a native U.S. grapevine, which has piqued their interest. This sap has an uncanny similarity to gum Arabic, a common thickening agent and emulsifier used in cake frosting, candies, paints, cosmetics and other products. Gum Arabic is harvested commercially from wild acacia trees throughout the Sahara region of Africa, with more than 80 percent of commercial production centered in Sudan, according to Neil Price, a chemist with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research (NCAUR) in Peoria, Illinois. Gum Arabic, which is typically sold in powdered form, can be hard to come by, adds Price. Domestic equivalents of gum Arabic have proven elusive—until possibly now. In the August 2015 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Price, together with plant physiologist Steven Vaughn and other NCAUR scientists, announced their discovery of the frost grape sap and its chemical and functional similarity to gum Arabic. Frost grape, Vitis riparia, occurs throughout North America and typically grows as a woodland vine reaching up to 50 feet in length and measuring four to five inches in diameter. Shortly after cutting four-foot sections of the vine on his property in September 2014, Vaughn first observed the jelly-like sap. Another colleague's use of nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy methods revealed the sap to be a "polysaccharide," a type of long-chain carbohydrate whose ratio of two primary sugars resembles that of gum Arabic. In experiments, use of a water solution and grapefruit oil—a common beverage flavoring-and a one-percent or less concentration of the polysaccharide produced emulsions that remained stable past the study's 72-hour test period. The polysaccharide can also be made into a white powder, viscous liquid, or clear gel. Additionally, it lacks a protein allergen found in gum Arabic, reports Price.

Qaryouti M.,National Center for Agricultural | Nijdawi O.,National Center for Agricultural | Al-Abed A.,National Center for Agricultural | Naser Z.,National Center for Agricultural | And 15 more authors.
Acta Horticulturae | Year: 2012

Knowing the type of decay-causing agents of tomato helps in identifying and adapting appropriate pre-and post-harvest treatment, leading to maintaining good quality, minimizing post-harvest losses and improving the competitiveness of products. Within the framework of the Middle East-Regional Agricultural Cooperation Program involving Denmark, Egypt, Jordan, Palestinian Authority and Israel, four research teams have investigated the susceptibility of different tomato cultivars to natural and artificial infections under two storage conditions, 12°C (cold storage) and 20°C (room temperature). The samples were picked at different ripening stages (mature-green, breaker, pink, and fully ripe) and inspected at different time intervals. Results showed: i) susceptibility of tomato to pathogen infection and rate of disease severity was directly related to fruit ripening stage; ii) infection and disease severity rate caused by Botrytis cinerea were more than those caused by Alternaria alternata; iii) artificially inoculated tomato with Rhizopus stolonifer showed total loss at all maturity stages; iv) although Cladosporium spp. and Penicillium spp. were identified on harvested fruits, those fungi did not cause any rot development during storage, as they are known to be saprophytic-non pathogenic fungi. However, Botrytis and Alternaria were found to be the main decay causing agents in harvested tomatoe; v) Rhizopus stolinifer and Aspergillus niger were found to cause decay of ripe red tomato, especially when fruit were stored at room temperature; vi) in all countries, regardless of the cultivars and the growing conditions, the main decay causing agents were Botrytis cinerea and Alternaria alternata, which infected the fruits by quiescent infections. The larger implications of the findings were that to reduce or eliminate development of both decay causing organisms during storage and marketing and chemical/pesticide use in the fields, an early detection of latent infection needs to be achieved during the growing season.

News Article | March 17, 2016
Site: phys.org

Amaranth seeds (left), amaranth flour (right), above the final product, amaranth cookies. Credit: Diejun Chen More people are becoming aware of the health benefits of ancient grains and seeds, such as amaranth and chia seeds, but incorporating them into one's diet is not always easy. That could change in the near future as Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists explore the physical properties of these foods, blending mixtures to make treats like sugar cookies that are tasty and good for your health. At the ARS National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research (NCAUR) in Peoria, Illinois, scientist George E. Inglett and his assistant Diejun Chen have developed amaranth-oat and chia-oat composites that may be used to create foods with health benefits that include lowering the occurrence of heart problems, diabetes, and obesity. Amaranth flour contains lysine, an essential amino acid, and oats contain beta-glucan, known for lowering blood cholesterol. The researchers blended the two ingredients to make nutritious, gluten-free sugar cookies. The team compared the amaranth-oat composite cookies and doughs with those made with amaranth or wheat flour alone. Amaranth and its composites had improved water-holding capacities compared to wheat flour. Differences were found in the hardness and shape of doughs and cookies. There were no significant differences in color and flavor among all cookies. "Our amaranth-oat cookies were acceptable in all aspects. They had improved nutritional value and physical properties along with gluten-free uniqueness," says Inglett, who works in NCAUR's Functional Foods Research Unit. The same can be said for cookies made from the chia-oat composites. Scientists dry-blended Nutrim (a commercial product developed by Inglett that is made from barley or oats), oat bran concentrate, and whole wheat flour with finely ground chia to come up with the powdery mixture. "Whole chia seeds are not easily absorbed in our systems because of their hard outer coats, but they are pretty good when ground in with other components," Inglett says. "Chia seeds have some very interesting compositions—high oil and rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, particularly omega 3, that help lower blood cholesterol and prevent coronary heart disease." In addition to Nutrim, Inglett also developed Oatrim, used as a fat replacement in baked foods; Z-Trim, a zero-calorie insoluble fiber gel that is prepared from high-fiber agricultural products like corn and oat hulls; and Calorie ControlTrim, which contains 20 to 50 percent beta-glucan. In recent studies, Inglett found that the amaranth-oat and chia-oat composites have excellent physical properties, which contribute to improved cookie texture, and their nutritional qualities may be valuable in healthful foods. "Oats are good for you, but we don't get enough. I try to make oats more palatable and available not only for breakfast, but also for lunch and dinner," Inglett says. "That's what my research has been all about over the years—making nutritious food to promote better health." Explore further: Inventing New Oat and Barley Breads

News Article | August 22, 2016
Site: phys.org

At the Agricultural Research Service's (ARS) National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research (NCAUR) in Peoria, Illinois, scientists are investigating safe ways to remove heavy metals from various substances. Recently, they developed and patented a new method that uses vegetable oils to remove metals from liquids, solids, and gases. Rex Murray, research leader at NCAUR's Bio-Oils Research Unit, and his colleagues have created a chemical process to modify vegetable oils into "functionalized" vegetable oils that effectively separate heavy metal ions from water. The team included chemist Kenneth Doll, physical scientist Grigor Bantchev, chemical engineer Robert Dunn, and physical science technician Kim Ascherl. Vegetable oils have excellent environmental attributes, Murray says. They are biodegradable, nontoxic, and derived from renewable resources. NCAUR scientists have a history of developing different nonfood uses for vegetable oils, including as inks, diesel fuel, and lubricants. In earlier research, Bantchev produced sulfide-modified vegetable oil lubricants from canola and corn oil, which led to heavy-metal extraction research. "We found that our bio-oils—functionalized vegetable oils—that were used as lubricants are also good for absorbing heavy metals. The process is simple," Murray says. "When you mix the functionalized oil with water contaminated with toxic heavy metals, certain atoms in the oil bind to the heavy metals, pulling them out of the water." The clean water can then be easily separated from the heavy-metal-containing oil, and the oil can then be safely removed from the environment. "We analyzed the amount of metal removed by different functionalized oils," Murray says. "Corn oil worked better than canola oil. We believe a different fatty-acid content in corn oil leads to its better metal-binding capabilities." This research shows that modified vegetable oils hold promise as a safe method to help clean up heavy-metal waste in the future, Murray adds. Other studies are under way to determine the effectiveness and ability of vegetable oils to extract other metals from solutions. Explore further: Defying conventional wisdom, water can float on oil

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