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Organic Ag, Roundworms and Tree Fruit DNA

Posted by | September 27, 2006

It’s a Fact

Organic food is one of the fastest growing segments of agriculture. According to the USDA, retail sales have escalated at the rate of 20 percent annually since 1990.

On Solid Ground is a weekly, electronic newsletter for the friends and stakeholders of the Washington State University College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS), WSU Extension and the WSU Agricultural Research Center.

Roundworms Help Scientists Understand Cholesterol Regulation

Microscopic roundworms are helping scientists better understand what regulates cholesterol and fatty acid levels in the body, according to Washington State University researcher Jennifer Watts. Her work was included in an article recently published in the scientific journal Nature, and focuses on a substance that activates the SREBP protein, which in turn, activates genes that regulate cholesterol and fatty acids levels.

Watts, an assistant research professor in the Institute of Biological Chemistry, uses C. elegans to examine the role unsaturated fatty acids play. “The roundworms are easy to study because all of their genes have been mapped and techniques exist which allow us to turn them on and off in order to see how they function in the worms,” she said. “We have identified a number of genes which regulate fat storage. In the absence of the mediator and SREBP proteins, those genes were turned off, and the worms lost a lot of their fat stores.” Watts helped analyze data for the Nature article. In the long term, her work could lead to an answer to the obesity problems that plague many humans today.

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Mapping the Tree Fruit Genome Mosaic

Better apples, peaches, pears and cherries at the market sooner– that is one benefit of research by WSU bioinformaticist Dorrie Main. Main is mapping the DNA mosaic of the plant family rosaceae, which includes Washington’s largest crop – apples – and other fruit such as cherries, peaches, berries and almonds. She focuses on genes related to fruit quality – sugar and acid levels, color, firmness and fruit size – as well as other useful traits such as cold hardiness, disease resistance and post-harvest decay. DNA-based markers for genes with these traits give fruit breeders the ability to pre-select seedlings that contain the improvements, which shortens the time it takes to develop commercially acceptable varieties.