Top breakthroughs based on USDA research

  • Updated: May 10, 2014 - 2:00 PM

Five top developments that came about through USDA research

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Tires sit in a pile at the Emterra Tire Recycling facility in Brampton, Ontario, Canada; ground-up rubber tires can be used to fertilize zinc-deficient soils. Zinc can also help reduce potentially toxic cadmium levels in grain. Illustrates USDA (category a), by Josh Hicks, (c) 2014, The Washington Post. Moved Tuesday, April 29, 2014. (MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg News photo by Brent Lewin.)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has produced countless innovations: frozen orange juice concentrate, permanent-press clothing, mass-produced penicillin and almost all breeds of blueberries and cranberries in production today. Each year, the agency issues its dryly named “Report on Technology Transfers,” which outlines scientific breakthroughs that came about through USDA research, largely conducted with help from outside organizations such as universities and small businesses. In 2013, the USDA filed for 147 patents and received another 51. Here are five of the more interesting breakthroughs.

Weight-loss flour

A new type of flour made of chardonnay grape seeds could prevent weight gain and high cholesterol, according to the USDA. Testing showed changes in fat metabolism for hamsters that ate the product along with a high-fat diet. The Mayo Clinic is currently conducting human trials on it. However, can the department develop flour for people who prefer reds? No such luck. Red-wine grapes don’t have the same effect, according to the report.

Fertilizer made from tires

Tires contain zinc, which means the ground-up rubber from used tires can be used to fertilize zinc-deficient soils. Zinc is an essential nutrient required by many crops. Research has also shown that zinc helps reduce cadmium levels in grain. Cadmium is a toxic metal that shows up naturally in soil and ends up in foods such as cereal and vegetables. Add a little tire rubber to your dirt, and you may get crops that are healthier for consumption.

Oat concentrate for ice cream

Oats may not just be for breakfast anymore. Oat carbohydrates can be turned into a creamy substance — something that most of us know about from eating oatmeal. But studies have shown that oat concentrate’s creamy texture could make it well suited to be developed into new — and perhaps healthier — varieties of yogurt, instant puddings, custard, batter, smoothies and, yes, even ice cream, according to USDA scientists.

Vapor packets to fight fruit decay

The packets release antimicrobial vapor to keep fruit from spoiling. The product also treats citrus canker, a disease that causes lesions and prevents affected fruit from being marketed internationally. The USDA is testing the vapor packets in pilot studies with commercial packing houses. The product could save the international fresh-produce industry more than $1 billion annually, the report said. Maybe now the department can develop vapor packets that fight tooth decay. Might be great for our chompers, but you have to wonder about breath.

Gold particles detect West Nile

The USDA discovered that a hand-held device can detect West Nile virus — a mosquito-borne infection that can be life-threatening — with help from gold nanoparticles. The USDA said gold nanoparticles have the ability to scatter and absorb light, making them ideal for detecting virus-infected cells with a spectrometer. The 2014 farm bill, which Congress passed in February, provides $200 million to establish a USDA Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. The USDA said that funding will help the agency build on its progress with scientific breakthroughs.

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