Crop Tech Corner

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By Emily Unglesbee
DTN Staff Reporter

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- This bi-monthly column condenses the latest news in the field of crop technology, research and products.

HAPPY ACCIDENT

A group of Canadian scientists made an important accidental discovery while tinkering with the starch composition of plants. A team of University of Guelph researchers inserted a corn enzyme into Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant often used in laboratory work. As part of their study on the enzyme's effect on starch, the researchers snapped pictures of the plants. When examining the photos later, they were startled to discover that the altered plants were twice as big as their wild counterparts. Further investigation showed that the corn enzyme had caused the plants to produce 400% more seeds, without altering the seed composition.

The larger plants could be a boon in other crops, such as canola and soybeans, since they capture more light and produce more yield without requiring more land, the researchers noted in a university press release. "Farmers and consumers would benefit significantly in terms of food production, green energy and the environment," Michael Emes, a University of Guelph biologist and study co-author, said in the release. "The ramifications are enormous." The researchers plan to test the effects of the corn enzyme in canola next.

You can find the study here: http://bit.ly/…, and the press release here: http://bit.ly/….

FENCING BUGS OUT

Imagine guarding your crops with a virtual fence that senses the presence of a target insect and zaps it with a laser. Too sci-fi to believe? Global Good, a collaboration between Bill Gates and a global research consortium called Intellectual Ventures, is trying to make such a system a reality. The group is developing a "Photonic Fence" system, where software detect insects as they cross a plane and measures its size and wing beat frequency. These measurements allow the software to quickly identify not only different insects, but also gender, according to the Intellectual Ventures website. Once an insect is identified as a pest, the software "runs a safety check to ensure no innocent bystanders are in view, and then activates a laser to zap" the target.

The Photonic Fence is aimed at controlling threats such as mosquitoes and agricultural pests, and is undergoing field testing later this year, PR representative Missy White told DTN in an email. However, Global Good hopes the fence could be more than just a sophisticated bug sniper, she added. "The system is not only an environmentally-responsible alternative to chemical pesticides, it's a valuable source of big data on bugs," White wrote. "Photonic fence can also be used to monitor insect populations to evaluate the effectiveness of repellants or as a research tool to understand insect behavior."

For more information, see the Photonic Fence website here: http://bit.ly/…, and the Nature study behind the system's laser technology here: http://go.nature.com/….

FACT-PROOF CONSUMERS

Don't confuse us with the facts. That's the takeaway of a University of Florida study on how consumers form opinions on food. The online survey was designed by Brandon McFadden, a UF professor of food and economic resources. More than 1,000 people responded to the survey, which asked questions that revealed both the respondent's opinions on genetically modified food (GM) and their actual understanding of the science behind it.

The results painted a discouraging picture of consumers' knowledge of how ingredients are produced, according to a UF press release. For example, 80% of the respondents supported mandatory labeling of food containing DNA. Respondents' opinions were also unstable; after answering questions about the safety of GMOs, some appeared to alter their positions when asked corresponding questions about scientific data on GMOs, McFadden noted in the release. In other words, when asked about scientific facts, consumers began to doubt their own opinions.

"The findings question the usefulness of results from opinion polls as a motivation for creating public policy surrounding GM food," McFadden concluded in the study abstract.

You can find his study here: http://bit.ly/… and the UF press release here: http://bit.ly/….

Emily Unglesbee can be reached at emily.unglesbee@dtn.com

Follow Emily Unglesbee on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee

(PS/CZ)