Agriculture, Veterinary Medicine and Natural Resources November News from Iowa State University

CORN STARCH RESEARCH COULD LEAD TO HIGHER CROP VALUE Researchers at Iowa State University are trying to find a way to boost the value of corn by studying starch. Alan Myers and Martha James, faculty in biochemistry, biophysics, and molecular biology, are working to find the specific molecular mechanisms in the corn plant that produce starch. The team has identified and cloned three maize genes needed for starch synthesis. Their current research is aimed at discovering what role the enzymes made from these genes play in the process of starch production. Discovering the fundamental mechanisms of starch biosynthesis could allow producers to increase the value of their crops and the utility of corn for consumers, Myers said. "We want to provide a base of information that can be used in a broader effort to exploit plants as agricultural production factories, to the economic benefit of the state of Iowa," Myers said. "We also hope that this broad effort will lead, in the long run, to environmental benefits and reduced costs of consumer products." The National Science Foundation recently provided the team with a $330,000 grant to continue their research for three years. Contact Myers, (515) 294-9548; James, (515) 294-3818; or Bridget Bailey, News Service, (515) 294-6881. AGRONOMY DISTANCE LEARNERS TAKE VIRTUAL FIELD TRIP Agronomy faculty and staff at Iowa State University have created a virtual field trip that takes students to a real operating family farm in Iowa without leaving their computer. Students use an interactive CD to explore panoramic views of the farm, weather data, community information, marketing plans, topography maps, soil series, and other data. Students even get to know the farmers through the CD's video interview. The virtual field trip was created for Agronomic Systems Analysis, a capstone course in the master of science in agronomy distance education program. Mary Wiedenhoeft, associate professor, led the project. "The overall objective of the course is for students to evaluate farming systems and then use critical thinking and problem-solving skills to create a farm management plan," Wiedenhoeft said. "In an on-campus course, we would take the students on a field trip to visit with the farmers and examine the farm. We had to try something different to incorporate this course into our distance learning program." The project earned Wiedenhoeft and colleagues an Award of Excellence in Educational Materials in the audio-visual category from the Agronomy Society of America. Contact Wiedenhoeft, (515) 294-3274, or Melea Reicks Licht, Agronomy Communications, (515) 294-1890. WEB-BASED DATABASE WILL FACILITATE WISE USE OF ANTIMICROBIALS Concerns about the creation of antimicrobial resistance "pools" in food animals and the transfer of resistant pathogens from animals to humans prompted the World Health Organization to challenge veterinarians to reduce the overuse and misuse of antimicrobials. Veterinary decisions about antimicrobial use are complex, says Mike Apley, assistant professor of production animal medicine at Iowa State's College of Veterinary Medicine. Practitioners need to consider the potential of the pathogen to be transferred to humans, results of clinical trials, applicable regulations, appropriate withdrawal times, and the potential of the selected regimen to affect therapy in humans. Apley advocates bringing evidence-based medicine into the decision making process. He and his colleagues have developed a Web-based relational database that quickly provides veterinarians with all of the current information in an easy-to-use format. Initial funding of $200,000 from veterinary and food animal producer groups has led to a $1.25 million grant from the Food and Drug Administration. Initial applications of the Veterinary Antimicrobial Decision Support System will be available to veterinarians next summer with development continuing over the next four years. Contact Apley, (515) 294-6462, or Teddi Barron, News Service, (515) 294-4778. UNDERSTANDING FOOD LABELS HELPS OLDER AMERICANS STAY HEALTHY Older Americans have a limited understanding of the nutrition information found on food product labels. Mary Jane Oakland, ISU nutrition professor; Helen Jensen, ISU economics professor; and graduate student Janet Wooden studied how older Americans read and use food labels. They analyzed three years of data from two USDA surveys on food intake, diet and health knowledge. The age groups analyzed included 51 to 60, 61 to 70, 71 to 80 and 81 years and older. The results indicate that people 71 years or older don't interpret and understand the labels as well as those who are 51 to 70 years old. "I think the 51-to-70 year-olds are doing better because of the emphasis on the relationship between food and health in recent years," Oakland said. The researchers concluded that older Americans need more education from registered dietitians on how to interpret food labels. Oakland said that educating this group could improve their understanding about the importance of preventive health care. Contact Oakland, (515) 294-2536, or Barbara McManus, Ag Communications, (515) 294-0707. REGISTRATION OPENS FOR IOWA'S FIRST ONLINE BIOETHICS COURSE High school and extension educators can register now for the first bioethics course in Iowa to be taught entirely over the Internet. The online course, An Introduction to Biotechnology Ethics, will be presented by Iowa State University, Jan. 14-May 10. It will provide educators with the background, resources and confidence they need to lead ethics discussions with their classes or extension audiences. Educators will be introduced to moral philosophy and influential moral theories as tools to evaluate biotechnology arguments, both pro and con. Course topics will include some ethical controversies surrounding transgenic plants and animals and ethical issues in human genetics. The instructor is Kristen Hessler, a postdoctoral teaching fellow in bioethics in ISU's philosophy department and the ISU Office of Biotechnology. The course was developed as part of a four-year, $3.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to universities in Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin that study social, economic and ethical aspects of biotechnology. To register, call (800) 643-9504 (toll-free in Iowa), (515) 294-9818 (outside of Iowa), or e-mail Contact Hessler, (515) 294-7576; Walter Fehr, Office of Biotechnology, (515) 294-6865; or Glenda Webber, Office of Biotechnology, (515) 294-4749.