Glowing cactus

An Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (USDA-ARS) scientist is studying gene expression in plants with green fluorescent protein (GFP). GFP is found naturally in jellyfish but used widely by geneticists in gene transfer studies because it's so easy to confirm that the gene is present. How? Because it glows.

Working with Christmas cactus, the researcher — Dr. John Finer — is studying stress resistance in plants. “We can use genetic engineering to impart stress-resistant characteristics, to modify growth habits, to make sure everything in the plant is working the way it's supposed to be working,” explains Finer. So far, Finer has been able to produce root structures that glow when viewed under a microscope and illuminated with blue light.

This may not create immediately obvious practical applications, but may eventually produce promising marketing opportunities with ornamentals. And just imagine the potential for turf!

Allergy suffers, have hope

Ragweed is one of the best-known antagonists of allergy sufferers. Common ragweed, Ambrosia artemesiifolia, is found worldwide, causing irritated eyes, runny noses and other discomfort when it blooms.

Last year, Hungarian scientists reported finding a fungus pathogenic to ragweed (ragweed reportedly is quite severe in Hungary). The fungus causes the leaves to die and can kill plants outright.

USDA scientists, cooperating with the Hungarians, have described the fungus as a species of Septoria. In fact, it was a species not previously known, so the scientists named it S. empambrosia. They hope to develop the new fungus as a biological control agent for ragweed.

Gas prices

Thought last summer's gas prices were bad? This summer bodes no better. In an April 9 report, the Energy Information Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Energy, predicted average summer gasoline prices slightly lower than last year's, at $1.49 per gallon. Within a couple of weeks, however, the actual national average price had already topped $1.61, suggesting that it may be difficult to predict what will happen this summer.

According to the EIA, “The risk of sudden price runups is high again this summer due to the fact that gasoline inventories are low relative to normal. Low inventories last year contributed to conditions that led to extreme supply tightness and high prices for the Midwest as suppliers attempted to meet stringent new reformulated gasoline standards with little room for error in terms of ready supplies at major regional distribution points. Pipeline problems at a crucial point in the spring tipped the precarious balance into a disequilibrium that yielded record high prices throughout much of the Midwest. Similar problems this summer could have similar effects…”

Two dollars a gallon (already a reality in a few higher-priced markets) is a common prediction for this summer, though estimates have ranged as high as $3 per gallon. That may be a bit extreme, but as the EIA points out, unpredictable factors make it anyone's guess.

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