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ST. LOUIS (DTN) -- This bi-monthly column condenses the latest news in the field of crop technology, research and products.
NEMATODE TESTING FASTRACKED
University of Illinois agricultural engineer Kaustubh Bhalerao is working to speed up the process of testing soil samples for soybean cyst nematodes. Bhalerao and his university team have developed a machine that automates the task of extracting and counting nematode eggs from the soil samples that stream into laboratories across the Soybean Belt each year. "We can go from a soil plug to an actual egg count in one minute," Bhalerao told DTN. That process would normally take 10 to 20 minutes and require a skilled nematologist. Bhalerao's machine could be run by "semi-skilled labor -- anyone competent enough to run a machine and operate a browser," he said.
During the process, soil samples are mixed with water, which allows the eggs to float to the top, where they're strained through a set of sieves. Then they're automatically crushed, stained, and counted with image analysis software, Bhalerao explained. Ultimately, Bhalerao would like to develop a website where the test results can be uploaded, stored, and made available to farmers. He hopes his machine will cut the cost of testing by 20 times, and allow backlogged soil testing labs that process an average of 3,000 nematode samples a year to ramp up their testing to 30,000. Bhalerao's team is finishing up work on a prototype, and he expects to have a working system by the end of this summer. He's interested in selling his new technology to soil-testing companies, university labs, or farmer co-ops.
For more information on his new nematode testing machine, you can read a University of Illinois news release on his work here: http://bit.ly/….
PLAYING WITH POLLINATION
Canadian researchers are tinkering with the mechanics of pollination, with the goal of limiting the unwelcome cross-pollination between groups of plants such as GE and non-GE crops. According to a university news release, scientists at the University of Guelph in Ontario have uncovered a gene in a handful of fruit trees that turns them into more modest self-pollinators. Instead of opening their flowers up to release pollen, the gene prompts the plants to keep their flowers closed and complete the pollination internally. The researchers believe they could someday insert the gene into GE crops and turn them into self-pollinators that would pose little risk of contaminating non-GE crops with their pollen.
The gene discovery has a sweet-smelling side, too. Up to 80% of the volatile compounds that perfume makers cherish in fragrant flowers such as jasmine can be lost to the wind when the plants' flowers open to pollinate. Turning such plants into self-pollinators could greatly increase the amount of perfume compounds each plant could yield.
To read more about the Guelph scientists' discovery, see this university news release here: http://bit.ly/… and the published study here: http://bit.ly/….
MAPPING OUT WHEAT'S DIFFERENCES
Kansas State researchers have finished producing a genetic map of wheat. According to a university news release, the two-year project will serve as a guide-map for future plant breeders by laying out genetic variations in a worldwide sample of 62 wheat plants for important traits likes pest and disease resistance or drought tolerance. The wheat genome has proved a beautifully diverse source of genetic variation. Scientists mapped out 1.6 million locations where the wheat plants differed from each other genetically. The K-State researchers have plans to add to the number of wheat lines in the analysis, widening this genetic pool for breeders.