College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences

WSU’s On Solid Ground – Antibacterial Microbes, Legume Flour – Feb. 27, 2013

Natural Soil Antibiotics Offer Potential Alternative to Farm Chemicals

Linda Thomashow, a U.S. Department of Agriculture - Agricultural Research Service geneticist and adjunct professor in plant pathology at WSU.
Linda Thomashow

Research at WSU shows that several naturally-occurring antibiotics can control root disease and promote crop health, setting the stage for more economical and environmentally-sensitive options that farmers can use compared to the standard chemical fare.

“All you have to do is make your microbial community happy,” said Linda Thomashow, a USDA Agricultural Research Service geneticist and adjunct professor in plant pathology at WSU, during a recent presentation at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Boston. Thomashow said the door is open for scientists, farmers, and industry to develop commercial applications of root bacteria that can protect the rest of the plant.

Typically, science has concentrated on treating the above-ground parts of a plant, Thomashow said. “So much less is understood about the plant mechanics for defenses that are available underground.”

Certain bacteria produce antibiotics that protect crop plants.
Certain bacteria produce antibiotics that protect crop plants.

However, the tools of molecular biology have helped scientists understand the microbial and molecular workings of bacteria in the rhizosphere, the layer of soil next to roots, including how antibiotics there can suppress plant diseases. Thomashow calls these “a first line of defense.”

One particularly ominous-sounding disease, take-all, causes more than $1 billion per year in losses by rotting roots and depriving plants of water and nutrients. It’s often found in soils that are continuously replanted in wheat, whose money-making potential discourages farmers from planting alternative crops that might break disease cycles.

In some areas of eastern Washington, farms have seen several decades of continuous wheat. Those same soils have in turn seen high densities of the bacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens producing a compound called DAPG that can suppress the take-all fungus. Such beneficial bacteria create “suppressive soils” that help control soilborne pathogens with minimal use of commercial fungicides and other chemicals. It should be possible to get similar results with a commercially-available soil amendment if scientists, industry members, and farmers rise to the challenge and expense of bringing a living thing to market, said Thomashow. “If you balance that against the expense of developing a new chemical, it really doesn’t cost any more, and it’s a sustainable alternative to the use of chemicals.”

Learn more about take-all at http://bit.ly/15qn2CW. Learn more about how plant pathologists are discovering alternatives to chemical pest and disease control by visiting the WSU Department of Plant Pathology website at http://plantpath.wsu.edu/.

–Eric Sorensen

Adding Legume Flour to Wheat Bread Could Expand Markets

Roasting legumes before grinding for flour makes for better dough.
Roasting legumes before grinding for flour makes for better dough.

Legume flour can increase the amount of protein, fiber, minerals, the essential amino acid lysine, and disease-fighting phytochemicals in wheat bread. However, fortifying bread with legume flour can make the dough more difficult to process and result in low loaf volume. A recent article in Cereal Chemistry detailing a study led by Byung-Kee Baik, then of the WSU Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, revealed that the best way to counteract these problems is to roast the legumes before grinding into flour. By determining the best way to prepare legume flour for bread, the study could lead to more nutritious baked goods on supermarket shelves.

Baik suggests that flour made from roasted legumes, when incorporated into bread recipes, has more desirable characteristics compared to flour from raw, cooked, or fermented legumes. Roasted legume flour bread had higher loaf volume and a more appealing aroma than bread using cooked legume flour. In addition, bread dough made from roasted vs. raw or fermented legume flour was less sticky, and therefore easier to handle.

Beyond the health-promoting qualities that legumes can add to bread, they also help meet the goals of sustainable agriculture when used as rotation crops because they help to fix nitrogen, improve soil physical structure, and control pests and weeds. Baik’s study could therefore encourage more production of chickpeas, lentils, peas, and soybeans, as well as help growers find new markets for their harvest. To view the article, see http://bit.ly/TKNcwo.

To find out more about research in WSU’s Department of Crop and Soil Science, see http://bit.ly/wsucss.

-Bob Hoffmann

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The goal of the Washington State University CAHNRS Office of Research is to promote research beneficial to the citizens of Washington. The Office of Research recognizes its unique land-grant research mission to the people of Washington and their increasing global connections. The CAHNRS Office of Research provides leadership in discovering and applying knowledge through high-quality research that contributes to a safe and abundant food, fiber, and energy supply while enhancing the sustainability of agricultural and natural resource systems.

Featured Research

Harvesting Winter WheatStudy: Conserving soil and water in dryland wheat region

By Sylvia Kantor, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences

In the world’s driest rainfed wheat region, Washington State University researchers have identified summer fallow management practices that can make all the difference for farmers, water and soil conservation, and air quality.

Wheat growers in the Horse Heaven Hills of south-central Washington farm with an average of 6-8 inches of rain a year. Wind erosion has caused blowing dust that exceeded federal air quality standards 20 times in the past 10 years. MORE

By Sylvia Kantor, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences

A new study by researchers at Washington State University shows that mechanical harvesting of cider apples can provide labor and cost savings without affecting fruit, juice, or cider quality.
The study, published in the journal HortTechnology in October, is one of several studies focused on cider apple production in Washington State. It was conducted in response to growing demand for hard cider apples in the state and the nation…MORE

SubsurfaceIrrigationWSU wins national award for water-saving research

By Sylvia Kantor, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences

Water scarcity – one of the toughest challenges predicted for the 21st century – is being addressed by Washington State University. As part of a multistate research program, WSU is among 19 land-grant universities honored recently for their efforts to help farmers irrigate their land more efficiently, especially during droughts and water shortages.
“A safe, reliable supply of water is inextricably linked to food security,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, director of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture…MORE

Cooper-500New “magnifying glass” helps spot delinquency risks

By Rebecca E. Phillips, University Communications

PULLMAN, Wash. – Drug abuse, acts of rampage – what’s really the matter with kids today? While there are many places to lay blame – family, attitude, peers, school, community – a new study shows that those risks vary in intensity from kid to kid and can be identified.

Scientists at Washington State University and Pennsylvania State University have found a way to spot the adolescents most susceptible to specific risk factors for delinquency MORE

Beef-cattle-from-iStock-photos-500Food labels can reduce environmental impacts of livestock production

 “It’s important to know that small changes on the consumer side can help, and in fact may be necessary, to achieve big results in a production system,” said Robin White, lead researcher of a Washington State University study appearing in the journal Food Policy. MORE





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MudflatImpact: Burrowing Shrimp and Invasive Eelgrass

Shellfish production in Washington is a $60 million a year industry. Several major pests plague this industry, resulting in major crop loss. One of the most important pests is subterranean burrowing shrimp. These shrimp bioturbate (stir up) the sediment, causing the oysters to sink and die. For the past 60 years the industry has been using the insecticide Sevin to control this pest, but due to lawsuits its use was phased out in 2012. Without alternative control for shrimp, tens of millions of dollars in annual crop revenue will be lost and the industry will quickly lose its economic viability in southwestern Washington.

PoultryFarmImpact: The National Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center

The Environmental Protection Agency has identified agriculture as the leading contributor of pollutants to the nation’s rivers, streams, lakes, and reservoirs. These reports often do not separate animal agriculture from other agricultural enterprises, but they do note that pathogens, nutrients, and oxygen-depleting substances associated with manure are three of the top five pollutants. Some emerging issues related to manure management include: endocrine disruptors (hormones), pharmaceuticals (antimicrobials), and antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Adopting farm practices that minimize the environmental impact is important for food safety.

BiosolidsImpact: Biosolids and Compost

Biosolids are the solids produced during municipal wastewater treatment. Composts are made from a variety of organic materials, including both urban and agriculture sources such as yard trimmings, biosolids, storm debris, food waste or manure, and food processing residues. While these materials have traditionally been viewed as waste, they can play a valuable role as soil amendments in urban and agricultural settings. They provide nutrients and organic matter and they sequester carbon, thereby conserving resources, restoring soils, and combating climate change.

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CAHNRS seeks $190 million through the Campaign for WSU. This unprecedented fundraising goal is managed through the CAHNRS Office of Alumni and Friends. If you would like to learn more about the CAHNRS’s fundraising priorities, please explore our website or meet the team.

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