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Wheat Fuel, Food Sense, Creek Restoration

Posted by | January 16, 2008

Future Fuel of Champions?

Washington’s wheat growers help feed the world. If WSU’s Kulvinder Gill gets his way, they may also help fuel your car. Gill holds the O.A. Vogel Chair in Wheat Breeding and Genetics.

Researchers think that Washington’s waste biomass, including wheat straw, could potentially supply 20 to 30 percent of the state’s transportation fuel if needed technology and infrastructure can be developed to make it economical. Currently, the maximum percentage of straw that can be converted into ethanol is 50 percent. That means 50 percent still goes to waste.

“We think we can improve recovery by changing gene composition,” said Gill. To do this, researchers will need to identify, characterize and manipulate the genes controlling biomass production in wheat.

Gill is collecting samples of wheat lines from every major wheat breeding program in the world — some 800 in all — including varieties released in the 1950s. He hypothesizes that some lines will yield more ethanol than others because of differences in straw composition. He is analyzing the lignin and cellulose content of each line and will then group them by cellulose and lignin content. Samples from each group will be used to produce ethanol to learn if differences in yield can be identified.

Once a wheat line with the right composition of cellulose and lignin can be identified, Gill said those genes can be transferred to the best Northwest wheat varieties, a process that would take two years using a fast marker-assisted selection method.

“If farmers ever want to use that straw for ethanol production, they will get a higher yield than from current wheat varieties,” Gill said.

WSU's Kulvindar Gill is researching biofuels.

WSU’s Kulvindar Gill is researching biofuels.


Making Sense of Food

An after-school Food $ense Program offered by Washington State University Extension in Spokane County is teaching youngsters how to make wiser food choices.

Lack of knowledge about the benefits of eating a variety of foods, poor nutrition choices and increased consumption of prepared and fast foods are contributing to increasing obesity rates in young people.

Food $ense classes were provided to 200 third through sixth grade students during the school day and as an after-school program. An emphasis was put on introducing new and different foods during these classes to encourage variety and balance in a healthy diet. Students were taught how to make healthy choices including low-fat, low-sugar foods to promote a healthy lifestyle, organize foods into correct places on the food guide pyramid using Build on a Healthy Base, and practiced safely making healthy snacks.

Surveys conducted at the end of the year indicated that 80 percent of the students who participated in the Food $ense program understood the concept of variety and the importance of trying new foods and choosing healthy options to maintain a balanced diet.

After attending a Food $ense program, one student exclaimed, “I learned we can combine strawberries and spinach and it can actually taste good!”

After attending a Food $ense program, one student exclaimed, “I learned we can combine strawberries and spinach and it can actually taste good!”


Youth Restoring Mouse Creek for Salmon Habitat

A small group of dedicated adults and children are proving yet again that everyone can make a difference. In this case, the proving ground is a section of Mouse Creek in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie Wilderness.

WSU Snohomish County Extension 4-H will host restoration activities at Mouse Creek on Sauk Prairie Road near Darrington on Tuesday, Feb. 5, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

With help from the community, the fourth, fifth and sixth grade 4-H members from Darrington Elementary School and Arlington’s Stilly Valley School will work to remove invasive species from the site and plant Red Alder saplings to improve and restore the stream’s salmon habitat. Like many streams around the region, Mouse Creek’s native salmon population has dwindled over the years, in this case mostly due to livestock damage.

The students are participants in the WSU Extension 4-H Natural Resource program, Forest and Salmon Stewards. The program is a partnership between Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group, Stilly-Snohomish Fisheries Task Force, Snohomish County Surface Water Management, the U.S. Forest Service, and WSU Extension 4-H.

For more information or directions to the site, contact Gabrielle Roesch, Natural Resources Program Coordinator, at (425) 357-6011 or gabrielle90@wsu.edu.

4-H's Forest and Salmon Stewards prove that a small group of dedicated kids and adults can make a big difference.

4-H’s Forest and Salmon Stewards prove that a small group of dedicated kids and adults can make a big difference.