By the year 2050, the world’s population is expected to exceed 9 billion. The problem at hand for producers is how to feed this fast growing human race.
Solutions won’t be found in a single program. There must be a collaborative effort.
Since its establishment in 1870, the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR) has embraced collaboration. Beyond the mission of a land grant university to provide accessible educational opportunities, CAFNR is a leader in research and a prominent partner working to solve global problems.
Each year, ground-breaking research takes place at its central Missouri campus as well as at more than 20 statewide centers totaling nearly 14,000 acres to rank CAFNR among the top 15 programs in the world for animal and plant science research.
Mizzou’s collaborative culture encourages researchers to cross disciplines on campus, working on projects and sharing resources — they call it the Mizzou Advantage. CAFNR faculty regularly team with colleagues at the Danforth Plant Science Center, Bond Life Sciences Center, MU School of Medicine and MU College of Veterinary Medicine. MU plant and animal scientists also work with industry experts nationwide.
In addition to traditional agriculture, CAFNR helps make the latest discoveries in science in food safety concerns, promote a sustainable environment, improve economic development, genetic research, refine animal production systems and enhance the health of humans.
Securing Safe Sustenance
Recently, the Food and Drug Administration announced that trans fats are unsafe in food. CAFNR researchers have been working for years to create healthy alternatives to trans fats. Last year they announced a soybean oil that produces no trans fat in cooking.
Grover Shannon, professor of plant sciences, and Kristin Bilyeu, USDA molecular biologist, have found a naturally occurring gene in soybeans that, when combined with another natural gene, increases the amount of oleic acid in the oil from 20 percent to 80 percent.
“We are working with researchers around the country to begin growing these healthier soybeans and get the soybean oil into the market as soon as we can,” said Shannon, who also is associate director of the National Center for Soybean Biotechnology based at MU. Work continues to increase the crop yields of these healthier soybeans.
CAFNR scientists are studying food safety on the molecular level, too. One project is looking at nanomaterials, particles increasingly used in water treatment, food packaging, pesticides and cosmetics. A growing concern is that they pose a potential health risk to humans and the environment, but thanks to CAFNR researchers a reliable method for detecting silver nanoparticles in foods has been found.
Mengshi Lin, associate professor of food science, and his colleagues studied the residue and penetration of silver nanoparticles on pear skin and discovered they were still attached to the skin and in the pulp, even after cleaning.
Lin also was a part of a team of CAFNR food scientists that studied how to better detect and deal with contamination issues in the global food chain. The group worked together with Jiangnan University in China to disseminate food safety knowledge and analytical techniques to Chinese faculty, students and the country’s food industry to alleviate problems at their source.
A Sustainable Environment
With land and water becoming a limiting commodity, it is important that we all be stronger stewards of the land.
CAFNR researchers at the Center for Agroforestry think that 116 million acres of marginal land near the Missouri and Mississippi rivers could be planted with biofuel crops such as switch grass, poplar trees, willows or Miscanthus. The study found that these crops can also remediate soil, improve water quality and provide an additional revenue stream for farmers.
Other Researchers are working with Missouri farmers to control phosphorous and nitrogen runoff into rivers to help control the infamous Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
A recent study involving shrimp sought to better control the detrimental impact to water ecosystems worldwide. David Brune, a professor of agricultural systems management, is developing more environmentally friendly seafood production system.
This system not only curbs overfishing, but uses algae to control water quality by providing oxygen and removing carbon dioxide and ammonia. Paddle wheels keep the water moving for greater photosynthesis of the algae. That productivity makes it possible to maintain water quality while stocking shrimp at a high density.
Refining Animal Production
“One of the top causes of fatality in cattle is heat stress,” MU Post Doctoral Student Brad Scharf told the crowd at a field day at CAFNR’s Wurdack Research Center, southwest of St. Louis. “But with our new app, hopefully ranchers can get quick access to beneficial information that could help save an animal’s life.”
ThermalAid is a new smart phone app that monitors heat-related stresses on beef and dairy cattle and alerts farmers when there is a problem. The app also recommends which intervention strategy will be most effective.
Another animal agriculture issue is the Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome Virus (PRRSV) that annually costs the hog industry $800 million. The virus can inhibit pigs from reproducing and slows the growth of young pigs. A collaborative team of CAFNR and Kansas State University researchers have disproved one way the virus spreads, which helps narrow the search for an ultimate cure.
Battling Adverse Weather Conditions
CAFNR crop variety trails have historically been a valued tool for farmers. Each year, countless cotton, corn, soybean and rice varieties are grown and tested for yields in varying soil types and environment conditions.
But just studying plants isn’t enough. Drought destroys 10 percent of global crops each year. MU has 13 experts specifically studying ways to improve yield in water deficit conditions. CAFNR operates two drought simulators (of fewer than a dozen in the world) that test the effects of water deficiency on crops. Two more simulators are planned.
CAFNR researchers also are looking at how to grow crops on land where it cannot now be planted. Gene Stevens, associate professor, is looking at ways to replace traditional “rice paddy” methods with center-pivot sprinkler irrigation systems to increase rice production.
“Information developed from this research could result in more rice acres being planted in other locations of Missouri and the world,” said Stevens. “The economic impact would go beyond farmers, creating more jobs in rice processing endeavors.”
Solving problems is what science is about. Science must lead the way through a team approach to innovation. As science progresses, researchers the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources will be collaborating for the greater good of the planet.