Monday, August 22, 2016


 New variety helps growers meet high-dollar niche markets
Tomatoes are the Type B’s of the vegetable world: Laid-back, creative, collaborative.
Keeping and growing tomatoes into Fall Season
Newswise, August 22, 2016— Want a slice on a burger? Fine. Chopped into a salad? Great. Pureed and slathered over a pizza crust? Yum. Steeped in a winter stew? Ahhhh.

But fresh is what most consumers covet, and that’s what Dr. Kevin Crosby, Texas A&M AgriLife vegetable breeder in College Station, had in mind when he released a new variety called Hot-TY.

“It’s very heat tolerant, so if you plant it now from San Antonio to College Station south, it will start flowering within a month,” Crosby said. “And you can harvest from late October until after Thanksgiving or until there is a frost.”

The fresh frenzy is tempting Texas tomato growers statewide, serving up potential for the industry to recoup some of its steady decline over the past 50 years, Crosby believes.

In 1960, Texas growers harvested 28,500 acres of tomatoes valued at almost $7.7 million, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

 Only an estimated 300 acres are grown in Texas now for commercial canning, Crosby said. But last year, Texas fresh tomato yields from about 900 acres were valued at almost $4.9 million.

Here’s the catch, according to Crosby: Tomatoes are coming back for the small-scale and backyard farmers and organic growers, not large-scale commercial growers. And they are selling to grocery stores and farmers’ markets for consumers who want fresh, vine-ripe tomatoes.

“It’s growing in those areas because the value of the crop is very high in that sector, especially around metropolitan areas,” he said.

That can be seen when adjusting the 1960 price for inflation to 2016. Tomatoes in 1960 sold for $5.27 per hundredweight which would equal $42.09 in 2015, the latest year for which production figures are available.

But the price per hundredweight in 2015 was about $60, almost 40 percent higher than what farmers were receiving more than 50 years ago when adjusted for inflation.
Crosby noted that vine ripe, organic tomatoes can gross $50,000 per acre these days.

Interest was obvious recently when Crosby invited Texas tomato enthusiasts – be they commercial, niche or backyard growers – to a workshop to learn the most recent tips for producing the high-dollar fruit.

Crosby said that in working on a joint tomato project with the Texas Department of Agriculture, he found growers had lots of questions.

More than 50 growers came to learn about the new variety, how to graft onto rootstock, what diseases are on the horizon, how to combat them and what researchers are finding about the human health aspects of tomatoes.

“Flavor and quality – that’s what people want in a vine-ripe tomato,” Crosby said. “Maybe that kind of tomato is less than 10 percent of the market, but it’s very lucrative. So theoretically, though the acreage may be less than 1,000 acres, I guarantee you they’re making a lot more per acre than when there were 40,000 acres.

“And there is a lot of interest in not just quality but in better farming practices when you’re making a profit. There is no question tomatoes are one of the healthiest vegetables, and we consume a lot of them. They deliver a lot of nutrients and minerals and are important to a lot of cuisines, so it helps that you can add that to your diet and benefit from it.”

Among the most recent research on the health aspects of tomatoes is the potential to prevent prostate cancer, according to Dr. Bhimu Patil, director of the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center at Texas A&M.

“Some vegetables might be slightly higher in levels of phytochemicals, but you may not like them as much,” Crosby said. “Think about mustard greens. I mean, they are very nutritious, but I think people like tomatoes better.”


August is National Sandwich Month
Newswise, August 22, 2016— If you are like most people, you will consume about 200 sandwiches this year. Add it all up and it means -- this is no baloney Americans will eat about 45 billion sandwiches in 2016.

There’s nothing wrong with most sandwiches, but the key is what you put on them and serve with them, says Texas A&M University’s Steven Riechman, associate professor of health and kinesiology.

No doubt, a good sandwich can be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but choose the wrong type and your diet is toast, so to speak.
“You have to pay attention to the bread and the meat,” Riechman explains.

“The bread should preferably be whole grain, not white because whites have the highest calories and lowest fiber content. And the leaner the meat, the better.”

Legend has it that the sandwich was created by John Montague, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich. While playing in a card game in 1762, he wanted a meal that he could eat at the table. He ordered some meat with bread placed on both sides so his hands would not get messy.

As for who won that card game, no one knows -- but he aced the quick meal. The sandwich was born, and lettuce count the zillion ways it can be served, from tuna fish to peanut butter and jelly.

Speaking of peanut butter, studies show that the average child will eat about 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by the time he or she has graduated from high school.

The numbers on sandwiches are rather meaty, to say the least. Studies show that the average U.S. citizen eats at least 100 sandwiches a year, and within any two-week period, 95 percent of all American households consume at least one sandwich.

And more: The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association reports that Americans eat more than 100 hamburgers per year per person (yes, a hamburger is considered a sandwich), and that totals at least 14 billion hamburgers consumed yearly, which no matter how you slice it, is a lot of beef.

Riechman, who serves on Texas A&M’s Intercollegiate Faculty of Nutrition and enjoys a good sandwich himself, says that while a hamburger is okay every now and then, “it is not usually the leanest cut of meat.

“If you order a hamburger today, it most likely will contain a lot of saturated fat. And also, what you put on it is the key. Mustard is fine, but mayonnaise is high in fat and so are many other dressings. But when you start adding two patties, double fries and a large drink, you can easily top 1,100 calories or more. Do that often enough, and it’s almost certain you will gain weight.”

In other words, those big Whoppers can give you a whopping big waistline. But most people tend to overlook such figures and let their tastebuds rule, which is why McDonald’s says it sells 75 burgers every second of the day, a stat that would no doubt put a big smile on the Earl of Sandwich.

Decried as Unfair, Taxes on Groceries Persist in Some States

August 22, 2016--Republican state Sen. Gerald Dial has repeatedly tried and failed to eliminate Alabama’s sales tax on groceries. He says the tax “punishes those on fixed incomes.”

Thirteen states and many localities continue to tax the sale of groceries, even though the taxes disproportionately hurt the poor and may affect the quality, variety and even the amount of food they can afford to put on the table.

The reason: The taxes provide a steady source of revenue in volatile times, making it difficult for states to get rid of them without finding a way to make up the revenue. Recent efforts in several of the states to eliminate or lower the taxes have failed.

“States might be looking at getting rid of sales tax on groceries, but groceries are between a sixth and a seventh of all consumption,” said Scott Drenkard, analyst at the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax study group. “If you want to raise the same amount of money you might have to increase the [general] sales tax by a full percentage point.”

Alabama, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and South Dakota tax groceries at the same rate as the sales tax on all purchases, according to the Tax Foundation. Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia and Utah tax food at a lower rate. Seven fewer states tax groceries than in 1998, when researchers at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities foundthat 20 did. But the trend to eliminate the tax has stalled.

It’s not just states that rely on grocery tax revenue. A new study, “Do Grocery Food Sales Taxes Cause Food Insecurity?” by four researchers led by Norbert Wilson of Auburn University, finds that because counties and localities sometimes collect food taxes even if their states don’t, people living in more than a third of the nation’s roughly 3,000 counties are taxed at some level on the food they buy at the store.

The average tax rate is 4.3 percent, which translates to more than $200 for a family with an annual grocery bill of $5,000, the authors wrote. But in some places, like Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, combined state and local taxes can be as high as 9 percent.

The taxes disproportionately hurt low-income Americans, the authors wrote, and contribute to “food insecurity,” which the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as “reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet” or “disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.”

“The correlation that we are able to report says that in the presence of the tax we see a higher rate of food insecurity,” Wilson said.

Although families spend less on groceries than those with higher incomes, what they do spend accounts for a bigger share of their income.

The lowest-income Americans spent an average of $3,667 on food in 2014, which amounted to 34.1 percent of their income, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Middle-income families, in contrast, spent an average of $5,992 on food, or 13.4 percent of income.

People whose income is below poverty lines and who receive food stamps don’t pay the tax because the stamps are nontaxable.

'The Most Regressive Tax'
Many of those states that still tax groceries are among the least affluent in the country. Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Utah are in the bottom fifth of states in per capita income.

And the Wilson-led study points out that most of the counties that do not exempt grocery from the sales tax are located in Southern states like Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi, where food insecurity tends to be the most acute.

Alabama state Sen. Gerald Dial, a Republican, tried and failed this year to phase out the state’s tax on groceries over four years and replace it with a one cent increase in the overall sales tax, to 5 percent.

The tax, Dial said, is “the most regressive tax you can have and punishes those on fixed income.”

But removing it would leave a $650 million to $700 million hole in the state budget — a gap Dial’s proposed increase in the state’s overall rate on other goods was designed to cover.

But his colleagues’ uncertainty over whether it would make up for lost grocery tax revenue helped doom the bill.

“The food tax is pretty stable,” Dial said. “People buy pretty much the same amount of food. In bad times my wife doesn’t buy as many shoes, but we still buy the same amount of food.”

In Alabama, most of the sales tax goes toward education. And Nancy Dennis, spokeswoman for the Alabama RetailAssociation, noted that every time the sales tax goes up, retail sales go down. That worries both retailers and educators in the state.

“The kicker here is where the replacement tax revenue is going to come from,” she said. “Alabama, like many states, is in budgetary crisis. So if legislators take away revenue, it’s not going to help solve their problems in continuing to help fund the state.”

On the local level, Tim Swanson, a candidate for mayor of Daphne, a city of about 24,000 on the eastern shore of Alabama’s Mobile Bay, is running on a platform of eliminating the tax. It’s a position he took four years ago in an unsuccessful bid for the job because it is a “regressive tax.”

“It hurts the seniors, the poor, those on fixed incomes and now half the middle class,” he said.

He said the idea has made his opponents “panicky” over the prospect of lost revenue and a fear “we would have to get rid of policemen and firemen.”

Swanson said the city gets revenue from more than 50 sources of taxes and fees, and that any or several of them could be increased to make up for lost grocery tax revenue. Or, he said, the city could reduce spending somewhere else.

He also questions how effective the tax is because many people in Daphne drive across the Florida border to buy their food because that state has no tax.

Shoppers in other states also appear willing to drive to dodge the tax. A Wichita State University study published earlier this year found that Kansans living near the Colorado, Nebraska and Missouri borders often cross over to buy groceries, avoiding state and local taxes in their home state that can run as high as 10.5 percent.

Kansas lawmakers this year again discussed eliminating the tax before abandoning the idea in the face of ongoing budget shortfalls.

The grocery tax also is under review in Mississippi, where Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and legislative leaders put together a commission in July to study overhauling the state’s tax and spending structure.

“Every option, including reducing or perhaps eliminating the tax on unprepared food, will be thoroughly examined,” Bryant said.

In Idaho, a tax credit that offsets the state’s 6 percent tax on groceries for some low-income families has dampened the political will to eliminate the tax, according to House Majority Leader Mike Moyle.

The tax credit, $100 per person annually, is available to people who have low incomes but who make too much to qualify for food stamps. Moyle, a Republican, would like to scrap the tax to give relief to a broader spectrum of taxpayers.

Fear of Volatility

A decade ago, then-Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a Republican, signed a tax bill that he hoped would be his legacy. It included dropping the state’s sales tax on food from 4.7 to 1.75 percent.

Since then, according to Republican state Sen. Howard Stephenson, most residents haven’t even noticed that they pay less sales tax on food. At the same time, he said, the state’s tax revenue is more volatile. “And that’s not a good idea.”

“States ought to tax the one thing that everybody buys regardless of what the economy is doing so you can have the stability of revenue to provide income and social welfare benefits,” said Stephenson, who also heads the Utah Taxpayers Association. “It makes much more sense to give a food tax credit to low-income families, than it does to reduce the tax for those who can pay it without pain.”

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Blood Pressure Diet improves Gout Blood Marker

Effect on uric acid levels nearly matches impact of gout medicines
DASH diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy

Newswise, August 17, 2016 — A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and reduced in fats and saturated fats (the DASH diet), designed decades ago to reduce high blood pressure, also appears to significantly lower uric acid, the causative agent of gout.

Further, the effect was so strong in some participants that it was nearly comparable to that achieved with drugs specifically prescribed to treat gout, a new study led by Johns Hopkins researchers shows.

The findings--derived from a randomized clinical trial--could offer an effective, safe and sustainable dietary approach to lower uric acid and possibly prevent gout flare-ups in those with mild to moderate disease and who can't or don't want to take gout drugs.

Dietary excesses, such as consuming a lot of red meat and alcohol, have long been associated with gout, a disease marked by high levels of uric acid in the blood and whose causes remain somewhat of an enigma despite centuries of investigation.

The Hopkins researchers noted that while symptoms of gout outbreaks -- severe inflammation and sharp pain in the joints, particularly the base of the big toe -- have been linked to elevated uric acid, it's been unclear exactly what type of diet might lower uric acid and decrease the risk of flare-ups.

In an effort to find out, Stephen P. Juraschek, M.D., Ph.D., research and clinical fellow in general internal medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and his colleagues used data from the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) clinical trial, a widely popular and often-cited study whose results were first published in 1997.

These results showed that the DASH diet --which emphasizes reduced salt, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products and reduced intake of red meats, sweets and saturated fats -- had a marked positive improvement on blood pressure and cholesterol.

In the original DASH-sodium trial, 412 participants ate either the DASH diet or a typical American diet for three months. For each month of the study, the participants' diets provided a different level of sodium in a random order, including low (1.2 grams per day or about half a teaspoon), medium (2.3 grams per day or about one teaspoon), and a high level (3.4 grams per day or about 1.5 teaspoons).

The high sodium level was comparable to the average daily intake in a typical American diet.

At baseline and at the end of each sodium intake period, the researchers conducting the original study also took blood samples, which were analyzed for a variety of blood markers, including uric acid.

In this new study, Juraschek and his colleagues examined these data to determine whether and how each intervention affected uric acid blood concentrations.

They found that the DASH diet led to a modest 0.35 milligrams per deciliter decrease in uric acid concentrations overall. However, the higher participants' baseline uric acid levels, the more dramatic the decrease.

For those with the highest baseline uric acid levels--more than 7 milligrams per deciliter -- for example, the decrease was as high as 1.3 milligrams per deciliter.

In the context of what is known about levels of uric acid linked to gout flare-up risk,

"That's a large reduction in uric acid," explains Juraschek. Gout-treating medications, such as allopurinol, often reduce patients' blood uric acid concentrations about 2 milligrams per deciliter.

 "When you get as high as the reduction we believe occurred with the original DASH diet in this study, the effect starts being comparable with gout medications."

Juraschek noted that the effect of sodium on uric acid concentrations was small, but significant and quite the opposite of what the researchers expected.

Specifically, during the part of the DASH trial in which participants were given the least sodium, their uric acid concentrations were the highest, with slight decreases achieved during the medium and high sodium portions of the trial.

Although high sodium levels appear to slightly decrease uric acid concentrations, Juraschek cautions against jumping to the conclusion that to reduce blood uric acid it's a good idea to purposely consume lots of sodium.

"More than 70 percent of people with gout have high blood pressure," Juraschek says. "If one was to consume more sodium to improve uric acid, it could worsen blood pressure."

The researchers caution that further research is needed to more clearly establish the link between the DASH diet and uric acid in patients with gout and to directly explore whether the DASH diet might reduce or prevent gout flare-ups.

But, they conclude, the new study, described in the August 15 issue of Arthritis and Rheumatology, could offer patients a viable way to control uric acid concentrations -- and presumably gout flare-ups -- through a diet already shown to have positive effects on blood pressure, a well-established risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

There are about 8.3 million people in the United States with gout, costing the health care system an estimated $7.7 billion.

"Results of this trial are good news to patients with high blood levels of uric acid or those at risk for gout. A dietary approach to prevent gout should be considered first line therapy.

“This study suggests that standard dietary advice for uric acid reduction which is to reduce alcohol and protein intake, should now include advice to adopt the DASH diet," says senior author Edgar R. Miller III, M.D. Ph.D., professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Other researchers who participated in this study include Allan C. Gelber, M.D., Ph.D., Lawrence J. Appel, M.D., M.P.H., and Edgar R. Miller III, M.D. Ph.D., all from Johns Hopkins, and Hyon K. Choi, M.D., Dr.P.H., of Harvard Medical School.

Funding for this study was provided by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute under grant/contract numbers U01-HL57173, U01-HL57114, U01-HL57190, U01-HL57139, K08 HL03857-01 and U01-HL57156 and by the General Clinical Research Program of the National Center for Research Resources under grant/contract number M01-RR02635 and M01-RR00722. Juraschek receives support from The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases under grant number T32DK007732-20.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Why Americans Waste So Much Food

Why Americans Waste so much food
Most people feel guilty about discarding food, but say it would be hard to stop

Newswise, August 11, 2016— Even though American consumers throw away about 80 billion pounds of food a year, only about half are aware that food waste is a problem. Even more, researchers have identified that most people perceive benefits to throwing food away, some of which have limited basis in fact. 

A study published today in PLOS ONE is just the second peer-reviewed large-scale consumer survey about food waste and is the first in the U.S. to identify patterns regarding how Americans form attitudes on food waste.

The results provide the data required to develop targeted efforts to reduce the amount of food that U.S. consumers toss into the garbage each year, said study co-author Brian Roe, the McCormick Professor of Agricultural Marketing and Policy at The Ohio State University.

The researchers developed a national survey to identify Americans’ awareness and attitudes regarding food waste. In July 2015, it was administered to 500 people representative of the U.S. population.

The study found that 53 percent of respondents said they were aware that food waste is a problem. This is about 10 percent higher than a Johns Hopkins study published last year, Roe said, which indicates awareness of the problem could be growing.

“But it’s still amazingly low,” he said. “If we can increase awareness of the problem, consumers are more likely to increase purposeful action to reduce food waste. You don’t change your behavior if you don’t realize there’s a problem in the first place.”
Among other findings, the study identified general patterns that play a role in people’s attitudes regarding household food waste.

“Generally, we found that people consider three things regarding food waste,” said doctoral student Danyi Qi, who co-authored the study. “They perceive there are practical benefits, such as a reduced risk of foodborne illness, but at the same time they feel guilty about wasting food. They also know that their behaviors and how they manage their household influences how much food they waste.”

In particular, the survey revealed patterns in how Americans think about food waste:
• Perceived benefits: 68 percent of respondents believe that throwing away food after the package date has passed reduces the chance of foodborne illness, and 59 percent believe some food waste is necessary to be sure meals are fresh and flavorful.
• Feelings of guilt: 77 percent feel a general sense of guilt when throwing away food. At the same time, only 58 percent indicated they understand that throwing away food is bad for the environment, and only 42 percent believe wasted food is a major source of wasted money.
• Control: 51 percent said they believe it would be difficult to reduce household food waste and 42 percent say they don’t have enough time to worry about it. Still, 53 percent admit they waste more food when they buy in bulk or purchase large quantities during sales. At the same time, 87 percent think they waste less food than similar households.

In studying these patterns, the researchers see several areas in which to focus educational and policy efforts.

“First, we can do things to chip away at the perceived benefits of wasting food,” Qi said. “Our study shows that many people feel they derive some type of benefit by throwing food away, but many of those benefits are not real.”

For example, removing “Sell by” and “Use by” dates from food packages could significantly reduce the amount of good food that is trashed, the researchers said.
“Only in rare circumstances is that date about food safety, but people are confused about the array of dates on food packages,” Roe said. Recent efforts to create uniform national standards for such labels have received bipartisan support.

In addition, the researchers see an opportunity to help consumers understand the negative environmental impacts of food waste.

Food waste is the largest source of municipal solid waste in the U.S. and the most destructive type of household waste in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, the researchers report.

“Helping people become more aware of that wouldn’t be a silver bullet,” Roe said, “but it could sway 5 to 10 percent of people who are generally willing to change their behaviors to improve the environment but who have never put two and two together about the damaging impacts of food waste.”
Finally, researchers believe better data on measuring household waste could lead to improvements.

“Basically, right now everybody thinks they are doing as good as or better than everybody else,” Roe said. “It’s somebody else that’s creating food waste.” 

To combat that problem, Roe, Qi and other members of Roe’s research group are developing a smart phone app to better measure household food waste.

Roe is seeking federal grants and private support to fund the project, a collaboration with the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University.

The LSU group developed the SmartIntake app several years ago to help participants in food intake studies report what they eat more accurately.
Funding for the study came from the McCormick Program in Agricultural Marketing and Policy, housed in Ohio State’s Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Want a Better Memory? Try Eating a Mediterranean Diet

Eating a Mediterranean diet can slow down cognitive decline

Mediterranean Diet improves memory
Newswise, August 10, 2016 — Eating a Mediterranean diet can slow down cognitive decline
The Mediterranean diet can improve your mind, as well your heart, shows a study published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Nutrition.

By sticking to the Mediterranean diet the study showed that people had slowed rates of cognitive decline, reduced conversion to Alzheimer's, and improved cognitive function.

The main foods in the Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) include plant foods, such as leafy greens, fresh fruit and vegetables, cereals, beans, seeds, nuts, and legumes. The MedDiet is also low in dairy, has minimal red meat, and uses olive oil as its major source of fat.

Leading author Roy Hardman from the Centre for Human Psychopharmacology Swinburne University of Technology Melbourne Australia and his colleagues evaluated all the available papers between 2000-2015 that investigated if and how a MedDiet may impact cognitive processes over time. In total, 18 out of the 135 articles met their strict inclusion criteria.

"The most surprising result was that the positive effects were found in countries around the whole world. So regardless of being located outside of what is considered the Mediterranean region, the positive cognitive effects of a higher adherence to a MedDiet were similar in all evaluated papers;" he said.

Attention, memory, and language improved. Memory, in particular, was positively affected by the MedDiet including improvements in: delayed recognition, long-term, and working memory, executive function, and visual constructs.

"Why is a higher adherence to the MedDiet related to slowing down the rate of cognitive decline? The MedDiet offers the opportunity to change some of the modifiable risk factors," he explained.

"These include reducing inflammatory responses, increasing micronutrients, improving vitamin and mineral imbalances, changing lipid profiles by using olive oils as the main source of dietary fats, maintaining weight and potentially reducing obesity, improving polyphenols in the blood, improving cellular energy metabolism and maybe changing the gut micro-biota, although this has not been examined to a larger extent yet."

Moreover, the benefits to cognition afforded by the MedDiet were not exclusive to older individuals. Two of the included studies focused on younger adults and they both found improvements in cognition using computerized assessments.

The researchers stress that research in this area is important due to the expected extensive population aging over the next 20-30 years.

They envision that the utilization of a dietary pattern, such as the MedDiet, will be an essential tool to maintain quality of life and reduce the potential social and economic burdens of manifested cognitive declines like dementia.

"I would therefore recommend people to try to adhere or switch to a MedDiet, even at an older age," Hardman added.

Like many researchers, Hardman takes his research home: "I follow the diet patterns and do not eat any red meats, chicken or pork. I have fish two-three times per week and adhere to a Mediterranean style of eating."

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Salad Days – Tomatoes That Last Longer and Still Taste Good

Newswise, August 3, 2016 — The tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) is one of the most valuable fruit crops in the world with an annual global value in excess of $50bn.

Tomatoes important crop in seniors' diet
We eat so many they also play an important role in our diet providing valuable vitamins, minerals and health promoting phytochemicals. Plant breeders are working continuously to supply high yielding, better tasting, more nutritious and longer lasting tomato varieties, but some of the best tasting varieties soften rapidly and can have a short shelf life.

The precise mechanisms involved in tomato softening have remained a mystery until now. Research led by Graham Seymour, Professor of Plant Biotechnology in the School of Biosciences at The University of Nottingham, has identified a gene that encodes an enzyme which plays a crucial role in controlling softening of the tomato fruit.

The results, published today, Monday 25 July 2016, in the academic journal Nature Biotechnology, could pave the way for new varieties of better tasting tomatoes with improved postharvest life through conventional plant breeding.

The TomNet study was carried out by Professor Seymour in collaboration with Professor Paul Fraser at Royal Holloway, University of London. It was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Syngenta Seeds, a supplier of vegetable seeds to the global market.

Professor Seymour said: “To support the tomato industry and further improve consumer satisfaction with new tomato varieties, a major scientific goal has been to identify genes that allow the targeted control of fruit softening without impacting other aspects of ripening. Such work would permit excellent fruit flavour and colour development, combined with enhanced shelf life.”

Major breakthrough in plant biology and fruit development

In the modern supply chain shelf life is critical. To reduce wastage this is often extended by developing hybrids that are bred to include natural mutations that slow the whole ripening process. But improving shelf life this way can often have a detrimental effect on flavour and colour.

The question of how the tomato fruit disassembles its cell walls and softens during ripening has perplexed researchers for over two decades. This research has found the key to uncoupling softening from the other aspects of fruit quality.

Professor Seymour and his team have identified a gene that encodes a pectate lyase which normally degrades the pectin in the tomato cell walls during ripening.

Professor Seymour said: “In laboratory experiments we have demonstrated that if this gene is turned off, the fruit soften much more slowly, but still show normal changes in colour and the accumulation of taste compounds such as acids, sugars and aroma volatiles. Natural variation exists in the levels of pectate lyase gene expression in wild relatives of cultivated tomato and these can be used for conventional breeding purposes. This discovery can provide a means to refine the control of fruit softening in modern tomato cultivars.”

This latest discovery follows the sequencing of the tomato genome – research published in Nature in May 2012 and funded by BBSRC. Professor Seymour spearheaded the UK contribution to this international project with colleagues from Imperial College and the James Hutton Institute. The work also builds on BBSRC activities lead by Professor Fraser on advancing the tomato metabolome published in Nature Scientific Reports.

Dr Charles Baxter from Syngenta said: “This discovery has relevance for the development of new tomato varieties via conventional plant breeding and is a significant step forward in understanding processes involved in fruit development, allowing more refined control of this process in plant breeding.”

Using conventional plant breeding, tomato wild species can be readily crossed with the cultivated tomato. One wild species, Solanum pennellii, has low levels of pectate lyase gene expression in the fruit. This genetic variation can be used to breed slow softening cultivated tomatoes.

Paul Fraser, Professor of Biochemistry at Royal Holloway said: “The study also shows how you can precisely alter fruit ripening properties without adverse effects on the chemical composition of the fruit. In this way the consumer traits such as taste, colour, and nutritional quality are not adversely affected and in some cases enhanced.”

Professor Seymour said: “We already have a line harboring a very small section of the S. pennellii genome with the alternative form of the pectate lyase gene.

“This line can be crossed with an elite tomato variety. DNA sequence differences between the pectate lyase genes from the cultivated tomato and S. pennellii can then be used as markers to screen the progeny from this cross. Individuals can be selected that represent the elite line background, but also contain the S.pennellii variant of the gene.

“Then repeated backcrossing is undertaken to the elite line to fully recover this genetic background. The chosen lines are then self-pollinated a number of times to fix their genetic characteristics.”

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Dinner in 3D

3d printing offers revolutionary way to cook
Newswise, August 2, 2016 — We’re all accustomed to having appliances on our kitchen counters, from toasters and blenders to coffee makers and microwaves. 

If Mechanical Engineering Professor Hod Lipson has his way, we’ll soon need to make room for one more—a 3D food printer that could revolutionize the way we think about food and prepare it.

Over the past year, Lipson and his students have been developing a 3D food printer that can fabricate edible items through computer-guided software and the actual cooking of edible pastes, gels, powders, and liquid ingredients—all in a prototype that looks like an elegant coffee machine.

The printer is the result of a design project devised by Lipson and his students, led by Drim Stokhuijzen, an industrial design graduate student visiting from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, and Jerson Mezquita, an undergraduate student visiting from SUNY Maritime who is now a research associate in Lipson’s Creative Machines Lab (CML). 

“Food printers are not meant to replace conventional cooking—they won’t solve all of our nutritional needs, nor cook everything we should eat,” says Lipson, a pioneering roboticist who works in the areas of artificial intelligence and digital manufacturing atColumbia Engineering .

“But they will produce an infinite variety of customized fresh, nutritional foods on demand, transforming digital recipes and basic ingredients supplied in frozen cartridges into healthy dishes that can supplement our daily intake. I think this is the missing link that will bring the benefits of personalized data-driven health to our kitchen tables—it’s the ‘killer app’ of 3D printing.”

Lipson’s team, who also includes PhD student Joni Mici and undergrad Yadir Lakehal, has been working nonstop to get the prototype up and running—the major challenge is getting the printer to “cook” the food.

Lipson notes that, while he is sure they can get the technology to work this summer, “stuffing it all into the new machine, which is much more compact than the printer we’ve been using, is a big challenge.”

The printer is fitted out with a robotic arm that holds eight slots for frozen food cartridges; the students are now working on incorporating an infrared heating element into the arm
Lipson, a member of Columbia’s Data Science Institute, sees 3D printing as a universal technology that has the potential to revolutionize lives by enabling us to design and manufacture things with unprecedented freedom: “If we can leverage this technology to allow artificial intelligence tools to design and create new things for us, we can achieve immeasurable potential.”

Instrumental in advancing 3D printing for more than 20 years, Lipson was one of the first researchers to work on multi-material printing, first printing electromechanical systems and moving on to bioprinting.

Printing biomaterials led him to printing food, which he says is an especially exciting area: “It touches on something that’s very basic to our lives. We’ve been cooking forever, but if you think about it, while technology and software have wormed their way into almost every aspect of our lives, cooking is still very, very primitive—we still cook over an open flame, like our ancestors millennia ago. So this is one area where software has not yet permeated. And when software touches something, it takes off.”

Taking off to the kitchen, Lipson and his team are collaborating with New York City-based International Culinary Center (ICC), a top culinary school in the U.S.

Working closely with Chef HervĂ© Malivert, ICC's director of food technology and culinary coordinator, Lipson led several workshops to bring together ICC’s culinary creativity with the CML’s technical knowledge to create new kinds of foods—novel textures, combinations, and spatial arrangements of basic ingredients that chefs cannot currently put together.

 Malivert hoped to expose his students to the future of food and new food technologies; Lipson’s aim was to explore and study the potential of printed food, to create and document the student-designed recipes, and unveil what food in 2025 might look like.

“The engineers have tackled how 3D printing works, but now we turn to the kitchen experts to face the creative question of what can be made,” says Lipson.

The workshops were a big success for both the chefs and the engineers. “It was exciting to be able to design dishes with the software, to see the drawing ahead of time, to see what’s going to happen, to make interesting shapes and geometries,” says Malivert.

“This will help with planning, and will be great to have at home. As these printers improve, it will be exciting to see where we can go with these machines.

“For instance, I think they will be very useful in the area of health and nutrition, especially in nursing homes and hospitals.”

While working with the ICC, Lipson also offered a new class this past spring on digital manufacturing at the Engineering School. More than 32 students, mostly undergrads, took the pilot course whose final project focused on food printing.

At the end of the semester, they demonstrated unusual printed edible constructs. Cream cheese was a popular choice as it was easy to extrude from the printer and blended nicely with other ingredients. He plans to offer the class again next year.

Lipson and his team aim to have their prototype printing much faster and more accurately by the end of the year, and, they hope, cooking as it prints, too.

Unlike conventional oven cooking, their 3D printer will be able to cook various ingredients at different temperatures and different durations, all controlled by new software being developed by Computer Science Professor Eitan Grinspun.

The software is critical, since the 3D printer they have been experimenting with is meant to design and print machine parts, holes, screws, notches, cuts, and bends, not your next meal.

“This is the wrong language for food,” explains Lipson.

“With food you want to layer, coat, sprinkle, mix, so we need a new language so that we can describe what we want to the printer. And it has to be easy for someone who’s not an engineer to create a digital recipe.”
Grinspun, who directs the Columbia Computer Graphics Group, is creating software that can predict what a 3D-printed shape will look like after it has been cooked for a specific time at a set temperature.

His team is developing a volumetric material simulator that accounts for thermal transfer and the change of material phase (the food’s viscoelastic properties) under heating/cooling conditions, in effect, attempting to replicate oven-cooking food.

3D food printing offers revolutionary new options for convenience and customization, from controlling nutrition to managing dietary needs to saving energy and transport costs to creating new and novel food items.

Lipson sees it as the “output device” for data-driven nutrition and personal health, akin to precision medicine, with huge potential for a profound impact.

Lipson is especially excited about working with the ICC chefs and plans to continue the collaboration.

“We’ve already seen that putting our technology into the hands of chefs has enabled them to create all kinds of things that we’ve never seen before, that we’ve never tried. This is just a glimpse of the future and what lies ahead.”