Blog Archives

Hydrogen sulfide greatly enhances plant growth: Key ingredient in mass extinctions could boost food, biofuel production

TGF-FruitImageApr. 17, 2013 — Hydrogen sulfide, the pungent stuff often referred to as sewer gas, is a deadly substance implicated in several mass extinctions, including one at the end of the Permian period 251 million years ago that wiped out more than three-quarters of all species on Earth.

But in low doses, hydrogen sulfide could greatly enhance plant growth, leading to a sharp increase in global food supplies and plentiful stock for biofuel production, new University of Washington research shows.

“We found some very interesting things, including that at the very lowest levels plant health improves. But that’s not what we were looking for,” said Frederick Dooley, a UW doctoral student in biology who led the research.

Dooley started off to examine the toxic effects of hydrogen sulfide on plants but mistakenly used only one-tenth the amount of the toxin he had intended. The results were so unbelievable that he repeated the experiment. Still unconvinced, he repeated it again — and again, and again. In fact, the results have been replicated so often that they are now “a near certainty,” he said.

“Everything else that’s ever been done on plants was looking at hydrogen sulfide in high concentrations,” he said.

The research is published online April 17 in PLOS ONE, a Public Library of Science journal.

At high concentrations — levels of 30 to 100 parts per million in water — hydrogen sulfide can be lethal to humans. At one part per million it emits a telltale rotten-egg smell. Dooley used a concentration of 1 part per billion or less to water seeds of peas, beans and wheat on a weekly basis. Treating the seeds less often reduced the effect, and watering more often typically killed them.

With wheat, all the seeds germinated in one to two days instead of four or five, and with peas and beans the typical 40 percent rate of germination rose to 60 to 70 percent.

“They germinate faster and they produce roots and leaves faster. Basically what we’ve done is accelerate the entire plant process,” he said.

Crop yields nearly doubled, said Peter Ward, Dooley’s doctoral adviser, a UW professor of biology and of Earth and space sciences and an authority on Earth’s mass extinctions.

Hydrogen sulfide, probably produced when sulfates in the oceans were decomposed by sulfur bacteria, is believed to have played a significant role in several extinction events, in particular the “Great Dying” at the end of the Permian period. Ward suggests that the rapid plant growth could be the result of genetic signaling passed down in the wake of mass extinctions.

At high concentrations, hydrogen sulfide killed small plants very easily while larger plants had a better chance at survival, he said, so it is likely that plants carry a defense mechanism that spurs their growth when they sense hydrogen sulfide.

“Mass extinctions kill a lot of stuff, but here’s a legacy that promotes life,” Ward said.

Dooley recently has applied hydrogen sulfide treatment to corn, carrots and soybeans with results that appear to be similar to earlier tests. But it is likely to be some time before he, and the general public, are comfortable with the level of testing to make sure there are no unforeseen consequences of treating food crops with hydrogen sulfide.

The most significant near-term promise, he believes, is in growing algae and other stock for biofuels. Plant lipids are the key to biofuel production, and preliminary tests show that the composition of lipids in hydrogen sulfide-treated plants is the same as in untreated plants, he said.

When plants grow to larger-than-normal size, they typically do not produce more cells but rather elongate their existing cells, Dooley said. However, in the treatment with hydrogen sulfide, he found that the cells actually got smaller and there were vastly more of them. That means the plants contain significantly more biomass for fuel production, he said.

“If you look at a slide of the cells under a microscope, anyone can understand it. It is that big of a difference,” he said.

Ward and Suven Nair, a UW biology undergraduate, are coauthors of the PLOS ONE paper. The work was funded by the UW Astrobiology Program.

Share this story on Facebook, Twitter, and Google:

Other social bookmarking and sharing tools:


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by University of Washington. The original article was written by Vince Stricherz.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Journal Reference:

  1. Frederick D. Dooley, Suven P. Nair, Peter D. Ward. Increased Growth and Germination Success in Plants following Hydrogen Sulfide Administration. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (4): e62048 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0062048

Note: If no author is given, the source is cited instead.

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

A vegetarian carnivorous plant

Carnivorous plants catch and digest tiny animals in order and derive benefits for their nutrition. Interestingly the trend towards vegetarianism seems to overcome carnivorous plants as well. The aquatic carnivorous bladderwort, which can be found in many lakes and ponds worldwide, does not only gain profit from eating little animals but also by consuming algae and pollen grains. This results in survival in aquatic habitats where prey animals are rare, and in increased fitness if the animals and algae are caught in a well-balanced diet. An Austrian research group around Marianne Koller-Peroutka and Wolfram Adlassnig published these results in the journal Annals of Botany.

The bladderworts (Utricularia) are one of the largest genera in carnivorous plants with over 200 species. Aquatic bladderworts catch their prey with highly sophisticated suction traps consisting of little bladders that produce a hydrostatic under pressure. A valve-like trap door opens upon stimulation and the surrounding water including tiny organism flushes in rapidly within three milliseconds. Once inside the trap, the prey dies of suffocation and is degraded by digestive enzymes. Due to the minerals provided by prey organisms, bladderworts are able to live and propagate even in habitats that are extremely poor in nutrients.

Animals are not the only prey

First observations on algae within the traps of bladderworts go back to 1900 but only now their role within the prey spectrum was analysed by a research team of the University of Vienna. Screening of the prey objects in more than 2,000 traps showed that only 10 % were animals whereas 50 % of the prey objects were algae. Especially in nutrient poor habitats like in peat bogs, algae were even more dominant in the prey. More than one third of the prey consisted of pollen grains from trees growing on the shore areas of the home waters. However Utricularia does not seem to select its menu; in fact, it sucks in everything small enough to enter the trap door.

A well balanced diet keeps the plant healthy!

Previously, algae and pollen had been considered as useless bycatch which was accidentally sucked in together with animal prey. However, data on trapped algae and the growth of the plant as well as the formation of hibernation buds leads to a completely new insight: Utricularia plants that had trapped successfully numerous algae and pollen grains were larger and formed more biomass. More animal prey, on the other hand, leads to a higher nitrogen-content of the plant and to increased formation of hibernation buds, which is of vital importance to survive the winter period. Plants with a well balanced diet of algae and pollen, as well as animal prey were in the best shape. Thus it can be concluded that Utricularia gains specific nutrients like nitrogen mainly from animal prey whereas other nutrients like micronutrients and trace elements were derived mainly from algae and pollen.

Traps suck in without triggering

Until recently, it was assumed that suction traps have to be triggered by movements of animal prey but new studies showed that aquatic bladders do require stimulation and “fire” even if they are not stimulated for a longer time. In the natural habitat, more than 50% of all bladders contained only immotile prey like algae, pollen bacteria and fungi but no animal prey that was capable to trigger and open the trap. Thus, prey capture without external stimulation is crucial for these plants.

Aquatic bladderworts are able to gain benefit by catching all kind of prey organisms. Only for this reason, Utricularia is able to survive and even propagate in habitats that are only sparsely populated by animals. Algae and pollen as well as animal prey differ in mineral nutrients as well as other compounds. A well balanced diet therefore provides a wider range of nutrients that can be utilised by this unique carnivorous plant.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Oxford University Press. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Dental plaque reveals key plant in prehistoric Easter Island diet

A University of Otago, New Zealand, PhD student analysing dental calculus (hardened plaque) from ancient teeth is helping resolve the question of what plant foods Easter Islanders relied on before European contact.

Known to its Polynesian inhabitants as Rapa Nui, Easter Island is thought to have been colonized around the 13th Century and is famed for its mysterious large stone statues or moai.

Otago Anatomy PhD student Monica Tromp and Idaho State University’s Dr John Dudgeon have just published new research clearing up their previous puzzling finding that suggested palm may have been a staple plant food for Rapa Nui’s population over several centuries.

However, no other line of archaeological or ethnohistoric evidence supports palm having a dietary role on Easter Island; in fact evidence points to the palm becoming extinct soon after colonization.

Nevertheless, the researchers had found that the vast majority of phytoliths (plant microfossils) embedded within the calculus were from palm trees.

The teeth were from burials excavated in the early 1980s from multiple coastal archaeological sites around the island.

To clear up the mystery, the pair undertook further analysis, newly published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. This included identifying starch grains in the dental calculus removed from 30 teeth.

After removing and decalcifying the plaque from each tooth, Ms Tromp and Dr Dudgeon identified starch grains that were consistent with modern sweet potato. None of the recovered grains showed any similarities to banana, taro or yam, other starchy plants that are hypothesised to be part of the diet.

The researchers went on to test modern sweet potato skins grown in sediment similar to that of Rapa Nui’s and found that as tubers grow, their skins seem to incorporate palm phytoliths from the soil.

“So this actually bolsters the case for sweet potato as a staple and important plant food source for the Islanders from the time the island was first colonised,”Ms Tromp says.

She and Dr Dudgeon are the first biological anthropologists to study dental calculus in the Pacific.

“It is an excellent target for looking at the plant component of ancient diets as microfossils become embedded in dental calculus throughout a person’s life. You can get a good idea of some of the plant foods people were eating, which is not an easy task.

This research also shows that the plant foods you find evidence for in dental calculus can come from the environment that foods are grown in and not necessarily from the food itself — this finding has the potential to impact dental calculus studies worldwide. “

Determining plants’ role in ancient Oceanic diets is extremely difficult due to the scarcity of plant remains, but this research of microscopic plant remains is providing one more piece of the dietary puzzle.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Otago. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Insights into plant growth could curb need for fertilizers

New insights into how plants regulate their absorption of an essential nutrient could help avoid pollution caused by excess use of fertilizer.

The findings could lead to the development of crop varieties that need less of the primary nutrient — nitrogen — than conventional crops. It could also inform how much nitrogen should be added to plant feed.

This would allow optimum plant growth without producing excess nitrogen in run-off from fields, which is a major source of water pollution.

Agricultural fertilizers typically contain high levels of nitrogen that boost plant growth and yield even on poor soils. This helps plants avoid the typical characteristics of nitrogen deficiency — stunted growth and pale or yellow leaves.

The study, by researchers at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Campinas in Brazil, examined how nitrogen is absorbed and converted into cellular building blocks in plants.

They found that when nitrogen is absorbed, plant cells produce nitric oxide, which acts as a signalling molecule. This nitric oxide fine-tunes how much nitrogen is used for growth, by signalling to the plant’s cells when to limit its uptake.

The scientists say that because nitric oxide plays important roles in shaping the development of plants, and how plants respond to environmental stress, these insights highlight key considerations of how nitrogen-based fertilisers should be used in agriculture.

Their study, published in Nature Communications, was funded by the Royal Society and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

Dr Steven Spoel of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences, who led the study, said: “Understanding nitrogen absorption better will ultimately allow us to breed crop varieties that need less fertiliser, and therefore are better for the environment.”

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Edinburgh. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

‘Big data’ takes root in world of plant research

Botanists at Trinity College Dublin have launched a database with information that documents significant ‘life events’ for nearly 600 plant species across the globe. They clubbed together with like-minded individuals working across five different continents to compile the huge database of plant life histories, for which data have been gathered over a near 50-year span.

At a time in which climate change and increasing human populations are rapidly re-shaping plant distributions, the researchers hope their COMPADRE Plant Matrix database will foster collaborations between scientists and allow them to better answer questions such as how we can conserve the species that are critical for ecosystem services, and which may provide food for billions.

The researchers have just published an article in the international, peer-reviewed publication Journal of Ecology that describes the database. By making the precious data it contains free to download, they hope to inspire and accelerate important global research on plant biology.

“We hope that other scientists will use these data to answer questions such as why, unlike humans, some plants don’t deteriorate as they age, why some environments are better for agriculture than others, and how fast plant populations will move in response to climate change,” said Professor of Zoology in Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences, Yvonne Buckley.

She added: “Making the database freely available is our 21st Century revamp of the similarly inspired investments in living plant collections that were made to botanic gardens through the centuries; these were also set up to bring economic, medicinal and agricultural advantages of plants to people all over the world. Our database is moving this gift into the digital age of ‘Big Data’.”

We are used to shops, websites and companies keeping track of our purchases, what we eat, who we date, and even when and how we exercise. Keeping track of the most intimate details of life, death and reproduction should not be unique to human populations, though.

We rely on plants for some of our most basic needs like food, shelter and clothing. It is therefore vital that we know the ‘hows’, ‘whys’ and ‘wherefores’ governing the success of a diverse range of plant species so that we can protect them and put them to use for the good of the world.

The COMPADRE database contains far more information than one person could ever hope to pull together over a lifetime. The data have been collected over the past 48 years by many scientists on five continents, with sites ranging from the searing heat of deserts to the freezing cold of arctic and alpine plant communities. As a result, there are almost infinite questions for researchers to explore.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Trinity College Dublin. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Oregon Plant Inspections Reveal Salmonella, Other Concerns

Environmental samples taken in July by U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspectors at two different locations within the nSpired Natural Foods Inc. nut butter manufacturing facility in Ashland, OR, tested positive for Salmonella, according to agency inspection reports.

The samples were taken at a bakery “during the manufacturing of dried pasteurized almonds lot 5461,” the report stated. They were gathered on July 16, 2014, from the floor beneath a cooling tower, east side, northern floor surface, and the floor beneath a cooling tower, west side, southern floor surface, according to the FDA report.

There were several other safety problems noted at the plant during visits by five FDA inspectors on 17 different days between July 15 and Aug. 29, 2014.

These included inadequate cleaning and sanitizing (food residue observed on the discharge hopper after it had supposedly been cleaned), inadequate employee hand-washing between operations, food-contact surfaces not designed for how they’re being used (cracked buckets in direct contact with roast nuts), poorly bonded or welded seams on equipment (rough welds on shovels used for transferring roasted almonds from the discharge hopper to the cooling tower), potentially inadequate sanitizing procedures for equipment and utensils, cracks and gouges in the facility’s floors which make them difficult to keep clean, and lack of backflow protection from piping systems that discharge waste water.

“This document lists observations made by the FDA representative(s) during the inspection of your facility. They are inspectional observations, and do not represent a final Agency determination regarding your compliance,” the inspection reports notes, adding that any questions or concerns from the company should be discussed with FDA officials at the agency’s office in Bothell, WA.

Several brands of organic and conventional peanut and almond butters manufactured by nSpired, a division of Hain Celestial Group Inc. of Lake Success, NY, were voluntarily recalled during a Salmonella Braenderup outbreak linked to the products which sickened four people in four states (Connecticut, Iowa, Tennessee and Texas). One person was hospitalized, but no deaths were reported.

The recalled products included Arrowhead Mills peanut butter, MaraNatha almond and peanut butters, Whole Foods almond butter, and Trader Joe’s, Safeway and Kroger brands of almond butter.

An Aug. 21 update on the outbreak from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that since nut butters typically have a long shelf life, the recalled brands could still be in people’s homes. CDC recommends that people not consume the recalled nut butters but discard any remaining product.

Food Safety News

Plant insights could help develop crops for changing climates

Crops that thrive in changing climates could be developed more easily, thanks to fresh insights into plant growth.

A new computer model that shows how plants grow under varying conditions could help scientists develop varieties likely to grow well in future.

Scientists built the model to investigate how variations in light, day length, temperature and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere influence the biological pathways that control growth and flowering in plants.

They found differences in the way some plant varieties distribute nutrients under varying conditions, leading some to develop leaves and fruit that are smaller but more abundant than others. Their findings could help scientists develop crops that have high yield in particular environmental conditions.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh validated their results in lab tests by measuring the leaves of tiny cress plants. They say their findings give valuable insights into how plants adapt to ensure survival in less favourable conditions.

Their study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was funded by the Darwin Trust, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the European Commission. It was carried out in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology in Germany, Aberystwyth University, Cirad-Amis in France and commercial partner Simulistics of Edinburgh.

Professor Andrew Millar of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences, who led the study, said: “The more we understand the underlying reasons governing plant growth in different varieties, the better equipped we will be to breed crop varieties with stable, high yields in the future.”

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Edinburgh. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

New 3-D imaging techniques may improve understanding of biofuel plant material: Never-before-seen details

Comparison of 3D TEM imaging techniques reveals never-seen-before details of plant cell walls, according to a study published September 10, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Purbasha Sarkar from University of California, Berkeley and colleagues.

Cost-effective production of plant material for biofuel requires efficient breakdown of plant cell wall tissue to retrieve the complex sugars in the cell wall required for fermentation and production of biofuels. In-depth knowledge of plant cell wall composition is therefore essential for improving the fuel production process. The precise spatial three-dimensional organization of certain plant structures, including cellulose, hemicellulose, pectin, and lignin, within plant cell walls remains unclear, due to the limited to 2D, topographic or low-resolution imaging currently used by researchers, as well as other factors.

In an attempt to compare the quality of 3D TEM imaging techniques of the cell wall structure in plant stem tissue, the authors of this study compared three different sample preparation methods for imaging: conventional microwave-assisted chemical fixation and embedding followed by imaging at room temperature; high-pressure freezing, freeze substitution (HPF-FS) followed by room temperature embedding and imaging; and cryo-immobilization of fresh tissue by self-pressurized rapid freezing, cryo-sectioning, and cryo-tomography- a type of electron microscopy run at very low temperatures that yields near-native 3D reconstructions.

Qualitative and quantitative analyses showed that plant ultrastructure and wall organization of cryo-immobilized samples were preserved remarkably better than conventionally prepared samples. However, due to the highly challenging techniques associated with cryo-tomography, large-scale quantitative analyses are better performed on HPF-FS samples.

Manfred Auer added: “We have developed and compared novel sample preparation and molecular 3D imaging approaches for plant cell walls, yielding insight into faithfully preserved 3D wall architecture, which will lead to rational re-engineering of second-generation lignocellulosic biofuel crops.”

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by PLOS. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

PCA’s Former Plant Manager Cross-Examined by Defense Attorneys

Samuel Lightsey, the former Peanut Corporation of American (PCA) plant manager with the government plea deal, spent more than six days on the witness stand answering every question put to him by prosecutors. On Tuesday, defense attorneys for the three former PCA executives on trial for a total of 71 federal felonies got their chance to cross-examine him.

Thomas J. Bondurant Jr., from Stewart Parnell’s defense team, got the first crack at the government’s star witness.

Bondurant quickly moved to cast doubt on several of the prosecution’s narratives about the case. He called into question whether former PCA owner Stewart Parnell was really running the Blakely, GA, plant from rural Lynchburg, VA, since Lightsey testified that he had authority to run the plant and could make unapproved expenditures up to $ 5,000.

As to whether all peanut pastes being shipped by the tanker truckload to Kellogg’s were proper, Bondurant zeroed in on Mexico’s role in the peanut industry. Lightsey acknowledged that Cubero, its Mexican source for peanut paste, gets its peanuts from fields in the U.S. The suggestion was that PCA was satisfying Kellogg’s specifications for American peanuts only, although they may have traveled over the border and back before finally getting to the Battle Creek, MI, company.

Bondurant also attempted to cast doubt on the notion that PCA management could keep what, at the time, was a $ 12.5-billion food company such as Kellogg’s in the dark about both peanut sourcing and microbiological testing results. He noted that the three audits PCA passed earlier in 2008, before the outbreak that led to the peanut company’s demise, were all done to Kellogg’s specifications.

The American Institute of Baking and auditors Cook & Thurber conducted those three independent audits.

Bondurant also asked Lightsey about the Julian dating system used on the certificates PCA provided to Kellogg’s to document that shipments were proper. Lightsey acknowledged that anyone with knowledge of the Julian system used to date and track shipments would be able to tell if a certificate had been falsified.

With the Julian system commonly used in the food business, Bondurant suggested that somebody at Kellogg’s must have known what was going on.

Bondurant also used the company emails that have been so ponderously introduced at the trial to try and show a more favorable side of his client. For example, he said the government had skipped over one Stewart Parnell response that read, “Let me know so I can tell Nadi the truth.”

Bondurant also drew out Lightsey’s testimony on PCA testing and retesting practices in an attempt to demonstrate that the company followed established protocols.

Lightsey was originally charged with Stewart Parnell, his peanut broker brother Michael Parnell, and PCA’s former quality control manger Mary Wilkerson. The original February 2013 indictment against the four listed a total of 76 federal felony counts.

Bondurant pressed Lightsey on the details of his May 2014 plea bargain with the government in which the former plant manager pleaded guilty to seven fraud- and conspiracy-related counts. In response to his questioning, the jury learned that Lightsey’s potential jail time was cut from more than 30 years to no more than six.

Since the plea deal also includes language that could result in no jail time at all for Lightsey, Bondurant told the jury that the witness has every reason to make statements to help the government incarcerate the other three defendants.

Michael Parnell’s defense attorney, Ed Tolley, was second at bat during Lightsey’s cross-examination. He went back to the Kellogg’s shipments, which his client brokered. Those shipments began in mid-2007 and continued until January 2009.

Tolley depicted his client as detached from PCA and not attending corporate meetings. The deal he brokered with Kellogg’s required sourcing peanut from U.S. fields, without any misbranding or adulteration and with a “pure food” guarantee. Kellogg’s controlled the shipping schedules.

Finally, Tom Ledford, defense attorney for Wilkerson, used a video of the plant, taken by FDA investigators during the Salmonella outbreak that sickened more than 700 and killed nine, to show the jury that it was in a clean condition.

In response to Ledford’s questioning, Lightsey said Wilkerson was key to PCA’s product recall, which followed once the company was targeted as the source of the outbreak. Even though he removed her as manager of quality control on Dec. 1, 2008, Lightsey acknowledged that Wilkerson continued to work on the company recall following the outbreak.

Lightsey said he and Wilkerson were PCA’s last two employees, working up until the company bankruptcy was filed.

Food Safety News

Potato industry shocked by McCain plant closure

Potato industry shocked by McCain plant closure

The Island potato industry is reeling today from the announcement that McCain Foods will close its Borden-Carleton French fry facility as of October 31, 2014.  Many Island farm families have worked hard to deliver high quality potatoes to McCain Foods over the years, and growing for McCain was a major component of their farming operations.
 
McCain has been an important player in the Prince Edward Island potato industry for several decades, as it contracted with Island growers for delivery to processing plants in New Brunswick long before it invested directly by building a plant in Borden-Carleton in 1990.   As well, McCain has purchased Island tablestock and seed potatoes for markets in Canada and around the world.    There is no indication that those purchases will be affected by today’s announcement.
 
“We were shocked and disappointed by the news from McCain earlier today,” said PEI Potato Board Chairman Gary Linkletter.  “As is the situation in several parts of North America, contract volumes at McCain’s PEI plant were reduced over the past few years. We understand that global French fry demand has increased significantly during 2014, and we had hoped that McCain would use the excess processing capacity in Borden to supply some of that expanded demand.    Instead, we’re now dealing with the loss of the plant.”
 
Representatives from the PEI Potato Board met with senior McCain officials on several occasions over the past few years to seek ways of stabilizing and increasing the volume of potatoes processed in Borden-Carleton.  The Board had also discussed the situation with senior government officials.
 
“Our growers are competitive and were consistently able to meet the quality specifications that McCain sought.   However, McCain is a global company and running the plant at less than half its capacity means additional costs on the finished product.  That in itself impacts pricing and markets for the product.   We would have liked to see the volume return to original levels to address this,” said Linkletter.
 
In 2014, McCain contracted with 23 Island family farms for delivery of over $ 7 million worth of potatoes to the Borden-Carleton plant. McCain representatives have confirmed that they will honour the contracts they’ve signed with growers for 2014, but plans for beyond 2014 are not known at this point.
 
Linkletter concluded, “Given today’s announcement, we’re concerned for the growers who contracted with McCain in 2014, the McCain and employees and their families, and the support industries involved with the McCain plant.  We have had some discussions with provincial and federal government representatives today, and we’ll sit down with them shortly to discuss options for finding other markets, including reverting to delivering potatoes to McCain facilities in New Brunswick for processing in 2015 and beyond.  We’d also like to identify a means of keeping the plant operating in some manner.”

For more information:
Greg Donald
Prince Edward Island Potato Board
Tel: 902-892-6551
Email: [email protected]

Publication date: 8/8/2014


FreshPlaza.com

Ex-PCA Plant Manager Testifies Against His Former Associates

The former Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) plant manager at Blakely, GA, told a federal criminal jury on Friday that PCA owner and chief executive Stewart Parnell ordered him to ship peanut products that tested positive for Salmonella. Samuel Lightsey also said that peanut broker Michael Parnell, Stewart Parnell’s brother, told him not to worry about false certificates of analysis (COAs) that were being prepared by PCA for Kellogg’s, a major customer.

Lightsey, who managed the plant until a Salmonella outbreak five years ago forced PCA into bankruptcy, also told the 12-member jury that Mary Wilkerson, the plant quality control manger, was not qualified for the job because she lacked the proper training.

His stark depictions of the Parnell brothers and Wilkerson came as no surprise. Lightsey was originally charged, along with the three other defendants, in a 76-count felony indictment for conspiracy and fraud, obstruction of justice, and shipment through interstate commerce of misbranded and adulterated food.

Before Lightsey began to testify on Friday, U.S. District Court Judge W. Louis Sands advised the jury that the witness had reason to make statements favorable to the government because of a plea agreement.

This past May, Lightsey pleaded guilty to seven felony counts charged in the February 2013 indictment. Under the agreement, numerous other charges were set aside, and the former plant manager will likely see a sentence reduction to no more than six years in prison, down from the 76-year maximum term he might have faced, plus $ 1.5 million in fines.

Lightsey told the jury that he decided to “do what is right and take responsibility ” for what he did. As the plant manager, he reported directly to owner and chief executive Stewart Parnell in Lynchburg, VA. However, he said Stewart Parnell was present at the Blakely, GA, plant about once a month and was involved on a day-to-day basis by phone and email.

According to Lightsey, Michael Parnell told him, “I can handle Kellogg’s. We’ve been shipping to them with false COAs since before you got here. I’ll handle Kellogg’s. Don’t worry about it.”

Peanut paste produced for Kellogg’s was not stored by PCA, but went immediately into tanker trucks and was shipped out immediately when full. Lightsey said that his mistake was allowing those shipments to continue with the phony COAs. He testified that he did not quit because he needed a job and thought that he could fix things if he remained in charge.

Lightsey said he never could have remained at PCA if he thought the practices could hurt someone. He said the fact that people did get hurt is why he pleaded guilty.

The outbreak of deadly Salmonella typhimurium traced back to the Blakely PCA plant five years ago eventually sickened more than 700 people, resulting in nine deaths. The outbreak investigation, ultimately headed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, lasted more than four years before the 76-count indictment was finally unsealed.

Lightsey noted that, before coming to PCA, he’d worked in the industry for 20 years without seeing a positive Salmonella test for peanut products.

It was U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigator Janet Gray who was first on the scene and spent the longest time on the witness stand this week at the PCA trial.

Gray went to the PCA peanut processing plant in Blakely early in 2009 when King Nut peanut butter in Minnesota was found to be contaminated with deadly Salmonella typhimurium and the product was traced back to the Blakely PCA plant.

When she arrived, Gray said she got a walk-through at the Blakely facility with Lightsey, who told her PCA had only one “presumptive positive” for Salmonella. He said it was then sent to Deibel Laboratories and came back negative.

After the walk-through, Gray continued to head up FDA’s investigation into the nationwide outbreak. It was an investigation that came to focus on PCA peanut butter and peanut paste and products using those products as ingredients.

Gray said PCA was initially not willing to share the number of Salmonella tests the company had failed, but more test information came out as the investigation continued.

She told the 12-member jury that, had PCA been quicker to disclose test information, FDA’s investigation would have resulted in more effective product recalls.

Wilkerson could have been more transparent, according to Gray. The former quality control manager is charged with two felony counts of obstruction of justice.

Food Safety News

Ex-PCA Plant Manager Testifies Against His Former Associates

The former Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) plant manager at Blakely, GA, told a federal criminal jury on Friday that PCA owner and chief executive Stewart Parnell ordered him to ship peanut products that tested positive for Salmonella. Samuel Lightsey also said that peanut broker Michael Parnell, Stewart Parnell’s brother, told him not to worry about false certificates of analysis (COAs) that were being prepared by PCA for Kellogg’s, a major customer.

Lightsey, who managed the plant until a Salmonella outbreak five years ago forced PCA into bankruptcy, also told the 12-member jury that Mary Wilkerson, the plant quality control manger, was not qualified for the job because she lacked the proper training.

His stark depictions of the Parnell brothers and Wilkerson came as no surprise. Lightsey was originally charged, along with the three other defendants, in a 76-count felony indictment for conspiracy and fraud, obstruction of justice, and shipment through interstate commerce of misbranded and adulterated food.

Before Lightsey began to testify on Friday, U.S. District Court Judge W. Louis Sands advised the jury that the witness had reason to make statements favorable to the government because of a plea agreement.

This past May, Lightsey pleaded guilty to seven felony counts charged in the February 2013 indictment. Under the agreement, numerous other charges were set aside, and the former plant manager will likely see a sentence reduction to no more than six years in prison, down from the 76-year maximum term he might have faced, plus $ 1.5 million in fines.

Lightsey told the jury that he decided to “do what is right and take responsibility ” for what he did. As the plant manager, he reported directly to owner and chief executive Stewart Parnell in Lynchburg, VA. However, he said Stewart Parnell was present at the Blakely, GA, plant about once a month and was involved on a day-to-day basis by phone and email.

According to Lightsey, Michael Parnell told him, “I can handle Kellogg’s. We’ve been shipping to them with false COAs since before you got here. I’ll handle Kellogg’s. Don’t worry about it.”

Peanut paste produced for Kellogg’s was not stored by PCA, but went immediately into tanker trucks and was shipped out immediately when full. Lightsey said that his mistake was allowing those shipments to continue with the phony COAs. He testified that he did not quit because he needed a job and thought that he could fix things if he remained in charge.

Lightsey said he never could have remained at PCA if he thought the practices could hurt someone. He said the fact that people did get hurt is why he pleaded guilty.

The outbreak of deadly Salmonella typhimurium traced back to the Blakely PCA plant five years ago eventually sickened more than 700 people, resulting in nine deaths. The outbreak investigation, ultimately headed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, lasted more than four years before the 76-count indictment was finally unsealed.

Lightsey noted that, before coming to PCA, he’d worked in the industry for 20 years without seeing a positive Salmonella test for peanut products.

It was U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigator Janet Gray who was first on the scene and spent the longest time on the witness stand this week at the PCA trial.

Gray went to the PCA peanut processing plant in Blakely early in 2009 when King Nut peanut butter in Minnesota was found to be contaminated with deadly Salmonella typhimurium and the product was traced back to the Blakely PCA plant.

When she arrived, Gray said she got a walk-through at the Blakely facility with Lightsey, who told her PCA had only one “presumptive positive” for Salmonella. He said it was then sent to Deibel Laboratories and came back negative.

After the walk-through, Gray continued to head up FDA’s investigation into the nationwide outbreak. It was an investigation that came to focus on PCA peanut butter and peanut paste and products using those products as ingredients.

Gray said PCA was initially not willing to share the number of Salmonella tests the company had failed, but more test information came out as the investigation continued.

She told the 12-member jury that, had PCA been quicker to disclose test information, FDA’s investigation would have resulted in more effective product recalls.

Wilkerson could have been more transparent, according to Gray. The former quality control manager is charged with two felony counts of obstruction of justice.

Food Safety News

More people means more plant growth, NASA data show

Ecologist Thomas Mueller uses satellite data to study how the patterns of plant growth relate to the movement of caribou and gazelle. The research sparked an idea: Would the footprint of human activity show up in the data?

Mueller, of the University of Maryland in College Park (now at the Biodiversity and Climate Research Center in Frankfurt) teamed up with university and NASA colleagues to find out. Their new analysis shows that on a global scale, the presence of people corresponds to more plant productivity, or growth.

Specifically, populated areas that have undergone intensive land use showed increasing plant greenness and productivity during the study period from 1981 to 2010. The research was published June 18 in Remote Sensing.

“Earth’s land surface has been changed across very broad scales,” Mueller said. “Human intervention has increased plant growth over large areas where intensification of agriculture has occurred.”

The finding doesn’t imply that relatively small areas with massive populations like New York City, with a high population density, are necessarily flourishing in increasingly abundant greenery. Rather, the study uses an existing classifications of the planet’s land surface based on how it’s impacted by people, including the dense settlements, villages and croplands that compose 28 percent of Earth’s ice-free land surface. The rest of the land surface is categorized as forested, rangelands or wildlands.

The researchers used data from NOAA’s Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometers (AVHRR), onboard a series of polar-orbiting satellites, and NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments, on the Terra and Aqua satellites, which produce a vegetation index that allows scientists to track changes in plant growth over large areas.

“We are fortunate to have 30 years of global vegetation greenness data from satellites to perform studies such as these,” said Compton Tucker a co-author on the study at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The researchers found that the magnitude of changes in plant growth over the 29-year study period was different depending on the size of nearby population. Near areas defined as dense settlements — with about 500 people per square kilometer — the vegetation index increased by 4.3 percent. That’s less than near villages, where the vegetation index increased by almost 6 percent. “More intensive agriculture occurs in these rural areas,” Tucker added.

In short, areas with a human footprint have seen plant productivity increase. In contrast, areas with a minimal human footprint — rangelands and wildlands — saw close to no change.

Next, the team used a statistical analysis to estimate the relative importance of the various causes of changes in productivity. They showed that human-caused factors such as land use, nitrogen fertilization and irrigation accounted for much of the growth changes since 1981 in the areas studied.

The study follows on the heels of related research that showed the impact of climate on land plants at higher northern latitudes, where winter temperatures restrict the growing season, which researchers called the “warmer Earth, greener north” phenomenon. Agricultural areas were excluded from the higher northern latitude studies. “We now know that in addition to warmer climate at higher northern latitudes, human land use at lower latitudes also has a detectable, global footprint on Earth’s vegetation growth,” Tucker said.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Plant welfare is improved by fungi in soil

A University of York biologist is part of an international team of scientists that has discovered how plants use fungi to help them to gather vital nutrients from the soil.

The team of Dr Michael Schultze, of the Department of Biology at York, working with colleagues in China, France and USA as well as the John Innes Centre at Norwich, studied the symbiosis between fungus and the roots of Medicago truncatula.

The research may point the way to the development of higher yield crops using plants’ own organic tools rather than fertilizers.

The researchers found that a protein, known as a proton pump, at the interface of fungus and root cells energises cell membranes creating a pathway into the plant cell for nutrients such as phosphorus.

Most plant species are able to exploit an intimate relationship with beneficial fungi in the soil to form mycorrhizas (fungal roots). Since fine fungal filaments called hyphae can grow beyond the root system, they help the plant to acquire mineral nutrients, such as phosphorus, more efficiently.

Using rice and Medicago trunculata, the research, which is published in the journal The Plant Cell, shows that the proton pump is essential for plants using fungus in improving nutrient uptake.

Dr Schultze said: “We envisage that the mycorrhiza-specific proton pump could be an interesting target for plant breeders in an effort to increase crop yield with minimal input of fertilizers.”

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of York. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Plant welfare is improved by fungi in soil

A University of York biologist is part of an international team of scientists that has discovered how plants use fungi to help them to gather vital nutrients from the soil.

The team of Dr Michael Schultze, of the Department of Biology at York, working with colleagues in China, France and USA as well as the John Innes Centre at Norwich, studied the symbiosis between fungus and the roots of Medicago truncatula.

The research may point the way to the development of higher yield crops using plants’ own organic tools rather than fertilizers.

The researchers found that a protein, known as a proton pump, at the interface of fungus and root cells energises cell membranes creating a pathway into the plant cell for nutrients such as phosphorus.

Most plant species are able to exploit an intimate relationship with beneficial fungi in the soil to form mycorrhizas (fungal roots). Since fine fungal filaments called hyphae can grow beyond the root system, they help the plant to acquire mineral nutrients, such as phosphorus, more efficiently.

Using rice and Medicago trunculata, the research, which is published in the journal The Plant Cell, shows that the proton pump is essential for plants using fungus in improving nutrient uptake.

Dr Schultze said: “We envisage that the mycorrhiza-specific proton pump could be an interesting target for plant breeders in an effort to increase crop yield with minimal input of fertilizers.”

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of York. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily