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Elsewhere in ag utilization

Editor’s note: As a service to our readers, we provide news from around the globe on new uses for agricultural products. Please note that ARS is the research arm of the USDA.

Spinning straw to liquid gold

The world’s first commercial plant to convert straw to ethanol is under construction in Spain and set to open the fall of 2006. While most U.S. ethanol plants are fueled by corn and most in Europe use cereal grains, this will be the first to produce ethanol from cellulose. From:, August 8, 2005

Rooting out cancer

Soft, downy fibers make cotton balls attractive, but cancer researchers are interested in the hairy roots. The compound gossypol, extracted from cotton roots, leaves, seeds and stems, may guard against certain types of cancer as well as snuff out costly farm pests. USDA ARS researchers have been able to grow root clumps in a laboratory, making it easy to extract and test the gossypol. The compound has shown impressive antifungal, antibacterial and anticancer effects. From: USDA-ARS, July 14, 2005

A poop magnet

USDA ARS chemists have turned chicken manure into a prized filtering product used to clean up polluted water. By charring the waste in an oxygen-free environment, scientists can produce a sponge-like material ideal for mopping up pollutants. The charred poultry litter is especially adept at grabbing heavy metals from wastewater, including copper, cadmium and zinc. Scientists have made charred waste pellets, granules and powders to accommodate a variety of filtering structures, from water tanks to columns. From: USDA-ARS, July 7, 2005

Good and moldy

You can’t fight fire with fire, but you can fight mold with mold, researchers are discovering. Aflatoxin, a natural carcinogenic produced by certain molds found in grains, is prevalent in hot, arid regions. The toxin is believed to be responsible for Africa’s high liver cancer rates, and it killed hundreds of thousands of turkeys in Brazil during the 1960s. From the toxic mold, University of Arizona researchers have been able to propagate mold strains that produce no toxins on grains or corn. The nontoxic strain spread on cotton fields was able to almost entirely supplant the toxic molds. From:, August 8, 2005

Better eat your broccoli

Broccoli compounds that have been shown to halt the growth of breast, prostate, colon and stomach cancer cells now appear to slow the growth of bladder cancer. Ohio State University researchers report that compounds called isothiocyanates hindered the growth of bladder-cancer cells, with the most profound effect on the most aggressive cancers they studied. Ohio State and Harvard studies found men who ate two or more half-cup servings of broccoli per week had a 44 percent lower incidence of bladder cancer than men who ate less than one serving per week. From:, July 29, 2005

Fueling up at the local cafe

High fuel prices have prompted an underground movement in Australia to cook-up backyard biodiesel. Motorists are collecting used vegetable cooking oil from fish and chip shops, converting it to biodiesel and putting it in their vehicles without engine modifications. Using store-bought chemicals, these clandestine refineries are skirting Australian law, which requires fuel makers to test biodiesel to make sure it meets government standards. Plus, the motorists are avoiding paying fuel excise tax. Most say the emissions from their diesel vehicles now smell like restaurants. The backyard-fuel chemicals are toxic, but proponents say making biodiesel is as easy as baking a cake. From: Sydney Morning Herald, August 7, 2005