Science Puts a Lot in Your Holiday
Durham December 29, 2006
Especially at holiday time, U.S. consumers benefit from the work of
Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
scientists in Beltsville, Md. For example, the current form of the turkey in
the oven and the poinsettia in the hall are owed to scientists at the ARS Henry
A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC).
The holiday turkey that graces millions of tables between Thanksgiving
and New Year's Day owes its lineage to BARC poultry scientists. In the 1930s,
in response to a call for smaller, meatier birds, they developed a new
turkeycalled the Beltsville Small Whitewhich averaged 8-10 pounds,
yielded a high percentage of breast meat, and had whiter feather quills.
White feathers meant that any quills not totally removed during
processing did not detract from the turkeys' appearance. Today, that BARC
turkey line is part of the pedigree of nearly every turkey sold in the United
Commercial turkey production throughout the United States and the
world has benefitted tremendously from the research performed through the years
at BARC. Over the last three decades, BARC scientists have made discoveries
that have led to the development of turkey tom "stud" farms. Management is
geared only for the tom, thereby optimizing its reproductive potential. BARC
scientists also contributed significantly to the development of semen storage
and semen evaluation procedures used throughout the world.
Aerial view of
research fields and facilities at Beltsville.
Chocolate is a mainstay of almost any holiday. But the cacao plant,
from which chocolate is derived, is the target of several fungal diseases,
resulting in severe yield losses to the cacao bean crop. BARC scientists
developed a method to mass-produce a beneficial fungus, Trichoderma
spp., to combat this chocolate threat.
Poinsettias are America's No. 1 holiday plant, with more than 80
million sold during the six-week season. In its native Mexico, the poinsettia
grows up to eight feet tall. BARC scientists found that a phytoplasmaa
bacteria-like organismacts as a dwarfing agent, allowing the common
holiday plant to stay at a comparatively dainty 18 inches. This phytoplasma
triggers a hormonal imbalance that instructs the plant to grow outward, rather
than up like a tree. This "free-branching" phenomenon also produces more of the
brilliant-red, leaf-like bracts favored by many consumers.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.