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Innovations through biotechnology.

"We need to put a premium on creating innovative solutions to address our current and future problems. "--U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on priorities for the 2012 Farm Bill

This month in Agricultural Research, we highlight Agricultural Research Service projects grown from seeds planted on what were once the distant horizons of biotechnology--metagenomics, genomic selection, metabolomics, and more.

Each project represents a fusion of leading-edge science and technological innovation that is helping to shape ARS's response to the growing food, fiber, and fuel needs of a U.S. and world population forecasted to exceed 430 million and 9 billion individuals, respectively, by 2050.

Take, for example, the field of metagenomics, an exciting new discipline that involves sampling the DNA DNA: see nucleic acid.
 or deoxyribonucleic acid

One of two types of nucleic acid (the other is RNA); a complex organic compound found in all living cells and many viruses. It is the chemical substance of genes.
 code, or genome sequences, from a community of microorganisms en masse. That community may have diverse origins--from a drop of ocean water to a pinch of soil or even a swab from the intestinal tract of a diseased farm animal.

ARS scientists Laszlo Zsak and Michael Day, both at the Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory in Athens, Georgia, and Brian Oakley and Bruce Seal, of the Richard B. Russell Research Center there, used the metagenomic approach to analyze RNA and DNA viruses associated with two major enteric diseases in poultry: poult poult

a young turkey.
 enteritis complex and poult enteritis mortality syndrome (see "Metagenomics Offers Insight Into Poultry Diseases," page 18).

They found a new, unexplored universe of viruses, from common RNA viruses (astrovirus, reovirus reovirus

Any of a small group of animal and plant viruses that appear spheroidal and contain a core of RNA. Among the best-known genera are Orthoreovirus, Orbivirus, Rotavirus, and Phytoreovirus. The first three infect animals; the last can destroy rice, corn, and other crops.
, and rotaviruses) to an abundance of unexpected viruses (picobirnaviruses and caliciviruses).

One DNA virus genome sequence in particular has them excited. It is a previously undiscovered bacteriophage, named "phiCA82," that is related to viruses that infect and kill bacteria. Studies are under way to determine if phiCA82 and other new phages encode enzymes that can be used to destroy pathogenic bacteria and may provide an alternative to antibiotics for treating animals.

In plant breeding efforts, ARS scientist Jean-Luc Jannink at the Robert W. Holley Dr Robert W. Holley (January 28, 1922 – February 11, 1993) was an American biochemist, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1968 for describing the structure of alanine transfer RNA, linking DNA and protein synthesis.  Center for Agriculture and Health, in Ithaca, New York
This article is about the City of Ithaca and the region. For the legally distinct town which itself is a part of the Ithaca metropolitan area, see Ithaca (town), New York.

For other places or objects named Ithaca, see Ithaca (disambiguation).
, is leading the charge for enhancing future crop designs with the use of "genomic selection"--the statistical analysis of genomewide marker data to predict the breeding value for selected progeny, including small- and large-effect trait genes (see "A New Approach to Molecular Plant Breeding," page 13).

Jannink and university collaborators showed that recent advances in genomic selection can dramatically increase genetic gains per unit of time and cost for wheat and barley. When combined with year-round nurseries and inexpensive, high-throughput genotyping platforms, genomic selection will enable breeders in the future to develop new varieties more quickly and efficiently.

In human nutrition, ARS scientist James Harnly, at the Beltsville [Maryland] Human Nutrition Research Center, responded to a critical need in the dietary supplements industry for validated analytical methods to identify diverse metabolites in supplements containing botanical materials.

The adaptation of metabolomics--high-resolution analysis of metabolites using mass spectrometry--to analyze dietary supplements has provided important new insight into the chemical composition and quality of these popular products (see "Digital Detectives Decipher Ingredients," page 6).

Finally, in food safety, ARS scientists created a new generation of advanced antimicrobials. At the Animal Biosciences and Biotechnology Laboratory in Beltsville, David Donovan showed that hybrid enzymes, produced by genes that combine activities from two or more phage enzymes, can target and destroy pathogenic bacteria in nature. Two such bacteria are major pathogens of dairy cattle--Staphylococcus spp. and Streptococcus spp., including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus Methicillin-aminoglycoside resistant Staphylococcus aureus, MRSA An organism with multiple antibiotic resistances–eg, aminoglycosides, chloramphenicol, clindamycin, erythromycin, rifampin, tetracycline, , or MRSA MRSA Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. See MARSA. . (This research is expected to be reported to be spoken of; to be mentioned, whether favorably or unfavorably.

See also: Report
 in an upcoming 2012 issue of AgriculturalResearch?}

Like the new generation of hybrid vehicles, hybrid antimicrobials combine the best features of their parent compounds--lytic activity and species specificity--thus reducing the probability that bacteria will develop resistance.

All projects highlighted in this issue of Agricultural Research would not be possible without the contributions from the innovative scientists and staff of ARS who are exploiting new scientific discoveries and technologies to develop solutions for agriculture's great challenges and priorities.

Jack Okamuro

National Program Leader

Crop Production and Protection

Beltsville, Maryland

Kay Simmons

Deputy Administrator

Crop Production and Protection

Beltsville, Maryland
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Title Annotation:FORUM
Author:Okamuro, Jack; Simmons, Kay
Publication:Agricultural Research
Article Type:Cover story
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2012
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