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Chwastiak L.A.,Yale University | Chwastiak L.A.,Research and Education Center | Rosenheck R.A.,Yale University | Rosenheck R.A.,Research and Education Center | And 2 more authors.
Psychosomatic Medicine | Year: 2010

Objective: To assess the independent association of seven psychiatric illnesses with all-cause mortality in a representative national sample of veterans, after adjustment for demographic factors, psychiatric and medical comorbidity, obesity, tobacco use, and exercise frequency. Methods: Analyses were conducted using data from the 1999 Large Health Survey of Veteran Enrollees (n = 559,985). Cox proportional hazards models were used to examine the relationship of seven psychiatric diagnoses with mortality. Date of all-cause mortality was determined from the Department of Veterans Affairs' Beneficiary Identification and Records Locator System. All-cause mortality rates were calculated as the total number of deaths in each group divided by the person-years of follow-up time in each group. Results: During the 9-year study period, 27% of the subjects (n = 131,396) died. Each of the psychiatric diagnoses was associated with significantly increased HR for all-cause mortality after adjusting for age, race, and gender. Hazard ratios ranged from 1.02 (95% confidence interval, 1.01, 1.04) for posttraumatic stress disorder to 1.97 (95% confidence interval, 1.89, 2.04) for alcohol use disorders. After adjustment for psychiatric and medical comorbidity, obesity, current smoking and exercise frequency, alcohol and drug abuse and dependence, and schizophrenia were statistically significantly associated with an increased risk of mortality. Conclusions: In this study of a large representative national sample of veterans, schizophrenia and alcohol and drug use disorders were independently associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality over a 9-year period. © 2010 by the American Psychosomatic Society.

News Article | April 5, 2016
Site: phys.org

Purple Straw is the only heirloom wheat to have been cultivated continually in the South from the Colonial Period into the last quarter of the 20th century. It remained a crop wheat until the 1970s, when it was then abandoned and replaced by more productive modern hybrids. Now, only a few seeds remain of this tasty, nutritious and hardy winter grain. But they're in good hands. Using a system of seed escalation called "crop intensification," Clemson research specialist Brian Ward has begun the process of turning half a pound of Purple Straw seed - which he planted in late 2015 at Clemson's Coastal Research and Education Center in Charleston - into several hundred pounds when it is harvested in early May. Ward will follow this up with a second, larger planting in late 2016 that should produce more than a thousand pounds in 2017. And after a third harvest in 2018, Ward should possess several tons of the rare and valuable seed. "We're always at the mercy of Mother Nature. Bad weather can waylay the best of plans," said Ward, who is growing the wheat in the nutrient-rich organic fields surrounding Coastal REC. "But once we achieve tonnage, then we'll have a secure seed that we can store in the seed bank and also give to growers and seed companies so that they can ramp up their own production. And that's how a crop that was endangered is eventually brought fully back to life." While most other ancestral varieties of wheat were annihilated in the 19th century by a multipronged assault of pestilence and pathogens, Purple Straw continued to thrive. Perhaps, this was due to it being a short-growing winter wheat that matured before it could be seriously threatened. Ironically, Purple Straw's fall into disfavor came not from disease or infestation but rather from the rise of modern hybrid wheats and foreign introductions that were genetically designed for disease resistance, grain size and massive production using petroleum-based fertilizers. Even if fully restored, Purple Straw will not be able to compete with these hybrids when it comes to quantity, but it will stand out admirably in terms of flavor and nutrition. "Purple Straw had certain culinary qualities that impressed people from the first," said South Carolina food historian David Shields, who is the author of "Southern Provisions: The Creation and Revival of a Cuisine." "It has a purplish stem and husk - hence its name. But it's a high-protein, low-gluten wheat that mills white and is soft and easily handled, making it great for whiskey, cake flour and biscuits. And of course, what's more Southern than whiskey, cake and biscuits?" Shields said landrace grains such as Purple Straw were developed over hundreds of human generations and thousands of plant generations, resulting in flavors that formed the "fundamental chords of world cuisines," including porridges, breads and beverages. "If the qualities of Purple Straw could be incorporated genetically into modern hybrids, then crop wheat would become more wholesome and congenial," said Shields, chair of the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation (CGRF), whose mission is to advance the sustainable restoration and preservation of heirloom grains. "And the original pure strain could still be cultivated as a specialty crop. Distillers and bakers from all over the world are already showing plenty of interest in the pure strain. This is a public resource that deserves to be in the hands of anyone who wants the most historically resonant and finest Southern grains." Clemson's Purple Straw project was kick-started by Glenn Roberts, president of Anson Mills, a company based in Columbia that produces landrace grain, legume and oilseed ingredients grown on more than 100 farms across America. As Roberts often does, he turned to Shields for help in researching the history behind the Purple Straw variety. "My colleague David Shields uncovered one very simple fact about Purple Straw wheat that changed the game for the arc of development of cereal husbandry from the Antebellum South to modern times," said Roberts, who is president of the CGRF. "And that is, prior to his discovery, everyone thought that Purple Straw wheat somehow appeared - as if by magic - around 1822. But David found that it was present and robust prior to the American Revolution." As a result of this revelation, the hunt for Purple Straw seed was on - and it led to several locations, including an isolated area east of Cleveland inhabited by an Amish family. But the family had barely enough seed for its own needs and could not afford to give any away. Roberts also visited the Agricultural Research Center at Washington State University in Mount Vernon, where a small plot of Purple Straw was being tended. But that seed was reserved for further research. However, Purple Straw seed was eventually obtained from two places. Merle Shepard, professor emeritus at Clemson and vice president of the CGRF, contacted longtime cohorts Mike Bonman and Harold Bockelman at the USDA's National Small Grains Collection in Aberdeen, Idaho. Though the seed was precious and scarce, Bonman and Bockelman agreed to send most of the NSGC's supply to Clemson. Meanwhile, Shields discovered that an organic operation in Chico, California, called the Sustainable Seed Company - which provides gardeners with almost 2,000 varieties of organic and heirloom germplasm - had already sourced Purple Straw seed and were making it available for growers. "I was able to obtain all that was currently available from Sustainable Seed by assuring them that our No. 1 goal was to achieve biosecurity," Roberts said. "This is crucial to any restoration. There are very few identity-preserved cultivars that have this kind of presence in the South, let alone in America. So this was huge." The Purple Straw bioconservancy effort has already attracted attention from a internationally recognized list of chefs and distillers who are excited about the rediscovery of such an important Southern food. Roberts mentioned several who have already contacted him: "It seems like I'm hearing from everybody," Roberts said. "But regardless of the demand for Purple Straw, the preservation of the seed must come before there can be any kind of sizable distribution. And that's the beauty of being in the orbit at Clemson University. Scientists such as Brian Ward put biosecurity above all else. No matter who wants it, Clemson makes certain that enough is being done upfront to ensure that it is available for future generations. That level of discipline is not really present in most other places in the United States. So we are lucky, lucky, lucky that we have access to the services Clemson provides." Blackwell, president of High Wire Distilling in Charleston, will be one of the first to uncover the ancient wheat's potential. "Starting out, we hope to get at least 20 pounds of Purple Straw, which will allow us to create about 10 gallons of mash. After the mash ferments, we'll distill it twice in our little 10-gallon homemade still," Blackwell said. "This process will yield about a quart of a raw, clear whiskey - enough to give us an idea of the whiskey's character. To create a mash, we'll use about 95 percent Purple Straw wheat. In addition, we'll need to use a small amount of barley for enzymatic properties. But because the barley is only for enzymes, the flavor we'll experience will be 100 percent from the Purple Straw. And in the end, the essence and uniqueness of flavor are what these things are all about." Forrest Parker, South Carolina's Chef Ambassador, says that Purple Straw wheat has floral overtones that will add flavor and nuance to cakes and pastries. "A lot of people come to Charleston for tourism and culinary adventures," said Parker, who is a Lowcountry chef at the Old Village Post House Inn in Mount Pleasant. "But the restoration of these lost grains from the 19th century will increasingly add to the mystique, providing people with opportunities to not only enjoy better flavor, but also to experience foods that have long and fascinating stories to tell." The Purple Straw plants currently thriving in the fields of Clemson's Coastal REC are backed up in one of the REC's greenhouses by 500 more. This provides additional security in case something disastrous were to happen to the wheat growing in the open air. "My role is to ramp up the seed as much as possible," said Ward, who recently revived another heirloom crop - the African runner peanut - in the same fashion as he is attempting to bring back Purple Straw wheat. "Everything is on schedule and growing well. Ultimately, I believe that this will become another success story, which makes all the hard work so rewarding to everyone involved." Explore further: The power of purple

News Article | November 14, 2016
Site: www.eurekalert.org

URBANA, Ill. - If the Mississippi River continues to go unchecked, the farmland on Dogtooth Bend peninsula may be only accessible by boat. According to a University of Illinois study, each successive flood carves a deeper channel across the narrow neck of the peninsula. This floodwater shortcut threatens to permanently reroute the Mississippi River, leaving Dogtooth Bend an island rather than a peninsula. U of I researcher Ken Olson and his colleague from Iowa State University, Lois Wright Morton, have studied the seasonal Mississippi River flooding for over a decade. They've paid particularly close attention to the damages caused by major flooding events in 1993, 2011, and most recently in January 2016. "Approximately 15,000 acres of farmland in the Dogtooth Bend area would no longer be accessible by road if the Mississippi River is allowed to realign naturally. In some cases the land use would likely shift from agriculture to other uses," Olson explains. Olson says climate scientists predict a continued pattern of extreme rainfall events in the upper Mississippi River region. This suggests that unexpected above-average rainfall events in the Ohio and Mississippi River basins will continue to increase the frequency of extreme flooding events. "The 2016 Len Small levee breach was much more severe than 2011 because of its location," says Olson. "The fast-moving river cut a 1-mile long breach in late December through early January, scouring out a crater lake and deep gullies info adjacent farmland. The southeast flow of the Mississippi River created a new channel connecting the old channel with the main stem of the river." Olson says Dogtooth Bend farmers and landowners, members and staff of the Len Small Levee and Drainage District, community and state-level leaders, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have some difficult decisions ahead in repairing the current landscape and preparing for future flood events--decisions that affect future land uses, resource allocations, and the livelihoods of the people of southern Illinois. The study suggests three remedies for the situation. One is to continue to repair the Len small levee when needed. Olson says this is only a short-term fix. A second idea is to proactively construct a diversion channel with embankments on both sides where the old meander channel is currently located. "During high water periods, the channel would temporarily redirect excess Mississippi River floodwaters and allow the water to exit back into the river at mile marker 15," Olson says. This would also require one or more bridges be built over the diversion channel to allow access to farmland, homes, and recreational hunting areas. "A third alternative is to assist the Mississippi River realignment tendency and construct a sixth-tenths of a mile wide new river channel through the 3.5 miles shortcut between mile marker 34 and 15 where the Mississippi River is already cutting with each major flooding event," Olson says. "The USACE could accelerate this process even more by making this channel between mile markers 34 and 15 the main stem river navigation channel." This last alternative fix would require thorough hydrologic, environmental, social, and economic assessments. And, as Olson reminds, "over time, the mighty Mississippi River will eventually win, as it always has in the past." The study, "Mississippi River threatens to make Dogtooth Bend peninsula in Illinois an island," is written by Kenneth R. Olson and Lois Wright Morton. It appears in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. Olson is a researcher in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois. A pdf of the full paper is available online. Funding was provided by the North-Central Regional Project No. NCERA-3 Soil Survey, the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences, Iowa State University, and the National Great River Research and Education Center.

Liu K.,University of Florida | Sollenberger L.E.,University of Florida | Newman Y.C.,University of Florida | Vendramini J.M.B.,Research and Education Center | And 2 more authors.
Crop Science | Year: 2011

'Tifton 85' bermudagrass (Cynodon spp.) is an important forage in the southern United States, but its responses to the interaction of grazing frequency and intensity have not been studied. Sward persistence, herbage accumulation, and nutritive value were measured during 3 yr. Treatments were all combinations of three postgraze stubble heights (SH; 8, 16, and 24 cm) and three regrowth intervals (RI; 14, 21, and 28 d). Short SH (8 cm) with long RI (28 d) or tall SH (24 cm) with short RI (14 d) produced greatest herbage accumulation (11-15 Mg ha-1 yr-1). Lowest or nearly lowest herbage accumulation occurred with 14-d RI and 8-cm SH or 28-d RI with 24-cm SH (7.4-12 Mg ha-1 yr-1). Intermediate levels of RI (21 d) or SH (16 cm) produced consistent herbage accumulation regardless of level of the other factor. Nutritive value was primarily affected by RI, and P (3.1 to 2.8 g kg-1), crude protein (CP; 150 to 108 g kg-1), and in vitro digestible organic matter (IVDOM; 602 to 582 g kg-1) concentrations decreased as RI increased. Organic matter and nutrient mass of storage organs increased with increasing SH, but the 24-cm SH treatment exhibited greater reduction in percentage cover (~43% units) than the other SH treatments (~22% units) after 3 yr of grazing. These data indicate that intermediate levels of SH (16 cm) and RI (21 d) provided relatively high Tifton 85 herbage accumulation and nutritive value while minimizing negative impacts on persistence-related responses. © Crop Science Society of America.

Adams C.E.,University of Houston | Gabriele J.M.,Gv Sonny Montgomery Va Medical Center | Baillie L.E.,University of Mississippi Medical Center | Dubbert P.M.,Research and Education Center
Journal of Behavioral Health Services and Research | Year: 2012

Although evaluations of tobacco and substance use disorders (SUDs) are required before bariatric surgery, the impact of these factors on postsurgical outcomes is unclear. This study describes (1) the prevalence of tobacco and SUDs in 61 veterans undergoing bariatric surgery, (2) associations between presurgical tobacco use and postsurgical weight loss, and (3) relationships between presurgical SUDs and postsurgical weight loss. Height, weight, tobacco, and SUDs were assessed from medical charts at presurgery and 6, 12, and 24 months postsurgery. Thirty-three patients (55%) were former or recent tobacco users; eight (13%) had history of SUDs. All patients who quit smoking within 6 months before surgery resumed after surgery, which was associated with increased weight loss at 6 and 12 months. Presurgical SUDs were related to marginally worse weight loss at 12 and 24 months. Bariatric surgery candidates with history of smoking and/or SUDs might benefit from additional services to improve postsurgical outcomes. © 2012 National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare (outside the U.S.).

Nybo L.,Copenhagen University | Girard O.,Research and Education Center | Girard O.,Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Hospital | Mohr M.,Copenhagen University | And 4 more authors.
Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise | Year: 2013

Purpose: This study aimed to determine whether competitive intermittent exercise in the heat affects recovery, aggravates markers of muscle fiber damage, and delays the recovery of performance and muscle glycogen stores. Methods: Plasma creatine kinase, serum myoglobin, muscle glycogen, and performance parameters (sprint, endurance, and neuromuscular testing) were evaluated in 17 semiprofessional soccer players before, immediately after, and during 48 h of recovery from a match played in 43 C (HOT) and compared with a control match (21 C with similar turf and setup). Results: Muscle temperature was ∼1 C higher (P < 0.001) after the game in HOT compared with control and reached individual values between 39.9 C and 41.1 C. Serum myoglobin levels increased by more than threefold after the matches (P < 0.01), but values were not different in HOT compared with control, and they were similar to baseline values after 24 h of recovery. Creatine kinase was significantly elevated both immediately and 24 h after the matches, but the response after HOT was reduced compared with control. Muscle glycogen responses were similar across trials and remained depressed for more than 48 h after both matches. Sprint performance and voluntary muscle activation were impaired to a similar extent after the matches (sprint by ∼2% and voluntary activation by ∼1.5%; P < 0.05). Both of these performance parameters as well as intermittent endurance capacity (estimated by a Yo-Yo IR1 test) were fully recovered 48 h after both matches. CONCLUSION: Environmental heat stress does not aggravate the recovery response from competitive intermittent exercise associated with elevated muscle temperatures and markers of muscle damage, delayed resynthesis of muscle glycogen, and impaired postmatch performance. Copyright © 2013 by the American College of Sports Medicine.

Reeves R.R.,Gv Sonny Montgomery Va Medical Center | Reeves R.R.,University of Mississippi | Adams C.E.,Gv Sonny Montgomery Va Medical Center | Adams C.E.,University of Mississippi | And 5 more authors.
Journal of Religion and Health | Year: 2012

There are several lines of evidence that suggest religiosity and spirituality are protective factors for both physical and mental health, but the association with obesity is less clear. This study examined the associations between dimensions of religiosity and spirituality (religious attendance, daily spirituality, and private prayer), health behaviors and weight among African Americans in central Mississippi. Jackson Heart Study participants with complete data on religious attendance, private prayer, daily spirituality, caloric intake, physical activity, depression, and social support (n = 2,378) were included. Height, weight, and waist circumference were measured. We observed no significant association between religiosity, spirituality, and weight. The relationship between religiosity/spirituality and obesity was not moderated by demographic variables, psychosocial variables, or health behaviors. However, greater religiosity and spirituality were related to lower energy intake, less alcohol use, and less likelihood of lifetime smoking. Although religious participation and spirituality were not cross-sectionally related to weight among African Americans, religiosity and spirituality might promote certain health behaviors. The association between religion and spirituality and weight gain deserves further investigation in studies with a longitudinal study design. © 2011 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.

Rabita G.,National Institute of Sport | Slawinski J.,National Institute of Sport | Girard O.,Research and Education Center | Bignet F.,French Federation of Triathlon | Hausswirth C.,National Institute of Sport
Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise | Year: 2011

PURPOSE: The aims of this study were i) to evaluate changes in leg-spring behavior during an exhaustive run in elite triathletes and ii) to determine whether these modifications were related to an increase in the energy cost of running (Cr). METHODS: Nine elite triathletes ran to exhaustion on an indoor track at a constant velocity corresponding to 95% of the velocity associated with the maximal oxygen uptake (mean ± SD = 5.1 ± 0.3 m·s, time to exhaustion = 10.7 ± 2.6 min). Vertical and horizontal ground reaction forces were measured every lap (200 m) by a 5-m-long force platform system. Cr was measured from pulmonary gas exchange using a breath-by-breath portable gas analyzer. RESULTS: Leg stiffness (-13.1%, P < 0.05) and peak vertical (-9.2%, P < 0.05) and propulsive (-7.5%, P < 0.001) forces decreased significantly with fatigue, whereas vertical stiffness did not change significantly. Leg and vertical stiffness changes were positively related with modifications of aerial time (R = 0.66, P < 0.01 and R = 0.72, P < 0.01, respectively) and negatively with contact time (R = 0.71, P < 0.01 and R = 0.74, P < 0.01, respectively). Alterations of vertical forces were related with the decrease of the angle of velocity vector at toe off (R = 0.73, P < 0.01). When considering mean values of oxygen uptake, no change was observed from 33% to 100% of the time to exhaustion. However, between one-third and two-thirds of the fatiguing run, negative correlations were observed between oxygen consumption and leg stiffness (R = 0.83, P < 0.001) or vertical stiffness (R = 0.50, P < 0.03). CONCLUSIONS: During a constant run to exhaustion, the fatigue induces a stiffness adaptation that modifies the stride mechanical parameters and especially decreases the maximal vertical force. This response to fatigue involves greater energy consumption. © 2011 The American College of Sports Medicine.

News Article | March 15, 2016
Site: phys.org

Ongoing studies based at Clemson University's Coastal Research and Education Center are investigating how a more diverse agroecosystem—swarming with native bees, wasps and other beneficial insects - might complement honeybees and enhance watermelon production. "We've been surveying wildflowers for about three years and have a pretty good handle on most of the major native pollinators: bumblebees, carpenter bees, leaf-cutter bees, ground-nesting bees; there are a lot of different bees," said Merle Shepard, professor emeritus of entomology at Coastal REC and also chair of the agricultural committee for the Agricultural Society of South Carolina. "Habitat destruction, pesticides and diseases are contributing to a rapid decline in our bee populations, so we need to better understand the systems that help pollinators thrive. Because if we don't the situation will continue to worsen." According to Shepard, native bees pollinate about 75 percent of all plants in the United States and are responsible for billions of dollars in agricultural production. Without proper pollination, plants often produce small or misshapen fruits, as well as poor yields. "When our forefathers were cultivating crops there was no need for additional pollinating species because native bees were present in sufficient numbers to carry out the task," Shepard said. "The farms were relatively small, with lots of undisturbed habitat and a wide diversity of flowering plants and nesting sites. Unfortunately, there has been a serious decline in both cultivated honeybees and native bee populations. Today, the farm landscape is very different with large expanses of crop monocultures." To make matters worse, Shepard said, most growers now "clean" the borders of their fields to slow the encroachment of weeds. But this causes a serious loss of plant biodiversity that once supported native pollinators. Urban sprawl is another major culprit, destroying plants and nesting sites. "Agriculture's gotten bigger and bigger and we have these huge farms," Shepard said. "I understand the economics of all this. But without biodiversity, a single disease or certain kind of insect can wipe out an entire crop. There's a fundamental ecological principle that says 'diversity leads to stability.' And so, when you have one crop planted in a huge area, you're setting yourself up for trouble." Thanks to funding from the Agricultural Society of South Carolina and the National Watermelon Promotion Board, Shepard has helped sponsor a Clemson graduate student to spend the next several years researching how to enhance watermelon agroecosystems to attract native pollinators. "The objective of our study is to find a simple, cost-effective way for watermelon farmers to attract native pollinators to their fields. Then we will test whether attracting these native pollinators leads to watermelon yields comparable to fields where honeybees are the major visitor," said Mimi Jenkins, whose experiments will be conducted at Coastal REC and also at about a dozen other fields in various areas of the state. "We will explore the hypothesis that the diversity and abundance of native pollinators is greater in a watermelon field that includes wildflowers than one that does not thanks to additional food resources and nesting areas. We will also be looking to see if native bee populations can provide pollination services for farmers that are comparable to what honeybee colonies provide, potentially eliminating or reducing the need for domesticated honeybees on watermelon farms. Previous research in other parts of the country shows that this is likely if the right conditions are established." Jenkins, who will begin most of her days on the job before the sun rises, will use a combination of nets and traps to capture native bees and insects and take them back to Shepard's lab for identification. She will also be measuring how much pollen certain varieties of native bees are able to deposit in a single visit to determine which species are more efficient at pollinating watermelons. "I'll be observing and recording the frequency of insect visits and I'll be netting insects and collecting them in vials," Jenkins said. "I'll sneak up on a bee as it's foraging on flowers and put the net over the top of it. Bees always fly upward, so if I hold the back of the net up straight, the bee will fly up into it and then I can close the bottom of the net off. I will also use 'bee bowls'—colorful bowls containing soapy water—to collect insects. Then I'll bring the insects back to the lab where they can be identified using a microscope." Brian Ward, a research specialist at Coastal REC, will soon be planting three varieties of watermelons—Quetzali Seeded, Crimson Sweet Seeded and Melody Seedless—that will be grafted onto Carnivore, Super Shintosa and Bull Dog root stocks. The one-acre test site at the REC will also contain more than a dozen varieties of wildflowers, including zinnias, asters, cosmos, bachelor's buttons and black-eyed Susans. The wildflowers, which typically bloom throughout the spring and summer, will be planted first, followed a month or so later by the watermelons. In South Carolina, watermelons are typically planted in April and May and harvested by mid-July. "I'll be the boots on the ground," said Ward, who oversees 15 acres of organic research as part of the 325 acres at Coastal REC that contain a variety of vegetables and grains, most of which have centuries-old landrace, heirloom or heritage ties. "The habitat we'll create by planting wildflowers will also harbor other insects like large wasps that will be predators against caterpillars and microscopic wasps that feed on aphids and other tiny pests." Ward hopes the outcome of this research will eventually benefit large commercial growers. "The ideal situation for most watermelon growers will be to plant about six rows of watermelon and then have a blank row, and then six more rows and then a blank row," Ward said. "The blank row is there for the harvesting machine and spray tractor to drive down. But it would also be where they would plant their wildflowers. So if you looked at an aerial view of their field, there would be seas of green interlaced with stripes of brilliant color." Most watermelon farmers ensure pollination by maintaining beehives on their properties , which can be expensive and labor-intensive. Though honeybees remain one of the world's most important pollinators, they tend to stay in their hives when it's cold or rainy, while many native bees will continue to work, regardless of the weather. Since the mid-20th century, multiple problems have caused the honeybee population to dwindle, highlighted by a drastic decline around 2006. Relying on only a handful of managed species to provide the pollination services required for a third of the world's food supply can be risky and unsustainable. "I think this is a great project that we're pleased to help support," said Mark Arney, executive director of the National Watermelon Promotion Board. "With the collaboration of Clemson University's Coastal Research and Education Center and the U.S. Vegetable Laboratory, as well as the excellent work being done at the Edisto Research and Education Center and other facilities around the state, it's not an exaggeration to say that South Carolina has become an epicenter of watermelon research." Explore further: As honeybee colonies collapse, can native bees handle pollination?

News Article | March 15, 2016
Site: phys.org

Led by vegetable expert Richard Hassell, a team of scientists at Clemson University's Coastal Research and Education Center has recently unveiled a robotic system that grafts disease-resistant roots to robust plant tops as quickly as you can say chop-chop. "Grafting has been done all over the world for about 60 years, but when done by hand, it's very slow and labor-intensive," said Hassell, whose team includes Brian Ward, Mark Schaffer, Manning Rushton and Ginny DuBose. "The robot does it much faster than a human can do it. This reduces labor costs while at the same time enhancing healthy and robust growth because the same clean cut is made every time." This complex mechanical breakthrough, which is already being emulated worldwide, is a new addition to Hassell's impressive resume of grafting accomplishments. In 2014, his team patented a chemical method to eliminate regrowth, grafting's most costly side effect. "The reason we graft crops such as watermelons, cantaloupes, tomatoes and peppers is because they have poor root systems that are very susceptible to soil-born disease. And so anything in the soil that stresses their roots collapses the plants," said Hassell, Clemson Cooperative Extension's South Carolina state vegetable specialist. "But if we graft hardier resistant rootstocks from plants such as gourds and squash onto the shoots of the desired crop, then the fruit-producing part of the plant is able to thrive." However, regrowth often occurs in grafting because the rootstock is genetically driven to produce its own shoots and leaves. When this happens, the grafted upper portion of the desired plant dies. To overcome this quandary, Hassell's team turned to a chemical that for years has been used to control sucker growth in tobacco plants. "We worked out the dilution and application methods and now we are able to destroy the growing point of the rootstock, which eliminates regrowth," Hassell said. "We treat the root stock chemically as soon as it comes up and its first leaf appears. We call it blinding. The plant is actually blinded and has no growing point anymore." Enter the robot. In just a few seconds, it grasps and slices the upper shoot of a watermelon and the rootstock of a gourd and then clamps the two together. The grafted plant is now ready-made for its next stages of life. "After the graft is completed, the plant is put into a high-humidity healing chamber that encourages the graft to heal and the rootstock to store carbohydrates while also sending out new roots," Hassell said. "After about a week, we take the plant out of the healing chamber and put it into the greenhouse for another week, where it grows even larger and stronger. Finally, it's ready to go to the field." Growers in South Carolina, the United States and around the world are adopting Hassell's techniques, the latter of which is ironic considering that research on grafting is relatively new in the U.S. "Grafting was laughed at when I first came here," said Patrick Wechter, a research plant pathologist for the U.S. Vegetable Laboratory, which shares facilities and works in conjunction with Coastal REC in Charleston. "People said no one will ever do it in the U.S. because it's too expensive. But Richard has persisted and become of one of the leading experts in the world on grafting." Explore further: Grafted watermelon plants take in more pesticides

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