December 15, 2003
Automated Poultry Inspection Goes On-line
The Automated Poultry Inspection System developed by Agricultural Research Service scientists is ready for its first long-term testing in commercial processing plants, having successfully passed a four-day test in a commercial broiler-processing plant. The recent test was done at speeds of 140 to 180 birds per minute -- double previously tested speeds -- on the fastest line, just after the carcasses are defeathered. The system involves the passage of chicken carcasses, on a hook and dangling from a moving chain, though a light beam. When the light beam is interrupted it triggers a scan with a light probe from about an inch away. The reflected light is analyzed by a computer using ARS-developed ?Automated Poultry Inspector? software to identify variations in external skin color and texture and tissue composition, which are clues to problems. The system had an accuracy rate of 92 to 95 percent, which was verified by a U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinary medical officer. The test was done in cooperation with Stork-Gamco, Inc., one of the world?s largest chicken-processing plant equipment manufacturers.
Boosting Vitamin E in Corn and Other Crops
An Agricultural Research Service scientist and cooperators are developing new varieties of corn and other food crops that have higher levels of vitamin E. The molecular biologists who conducted the research used genes found in rice, barley and wheat, each of which contains high levels of vitamin E. (Vitamin E is a generic name for naturally occurring compounds called tocotrienols and tocopherols.) The researchers looked at the pathway that leads to tocotrienols, something that had not been studied much. The scientists were able to isolate a gene for the enzyme homogentisic acid geranylgeranyl transfearase. The enzyme is responsible for producing a tocotrienol form of vitamin E in cereal grains. When the gene was added to corn plants, the kernels? vitamin E content increased sixfold. Now that their three years of research have led to a safe, healthful variety of corn, the researchers are working on similar studies with soybeans. Twenty-five percent of Americans do not get enough vitamin E. It is particularly important for pregnant women, and some researchers have shown that it can decrease the risk of heart disease.
Battling Flies with Insect Saliva
Imagine this scene: The larva of a Hessian fly bites into the tender leaf of a wheat plant. In its saliva are substances poisonous to the plant, causing stunted growth and even death. But this time, endowed with unique resistance genes that act like an alarm system, the wheat is able to detect the intruder and deploy a fighting response. Scientists with the Agricultural Research Service and Kansas State University aim to give wheat this defensive edge by understanding its enemy?s offensive arsenal. The entomologists have identified several genes from the Hessian fly?s salivary glands that may be responsible for triggering release of the plant-altering compounds.
These compounds appear to help create a favorable environment for the developing Hessian fly larva. The next step is to determine if the recently found fly genes and gene products are associated with the virulence, or counter-resistance, of the different fly biotypes. The Hessian fly has been known to cause up to $100 million worth of damage and crop losses in a single year.
(Editor?s Note: The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture?s chief scientific research agency.)