Published on 07/16/19

Peanut IL shows researchers impact on ‘Peanuts Around the World’

By Allison Floyd

AUBURN, Ala. – The 51st gathering of the American Peanut Research and Education Society brought together hundreds of scientists and students to share cutting-edge research, with a particular focus on the value that international research is having on the U.S. peanut industry.

With a theme “Peanuts Around the World,” the conference called on the Feed the Future Peanut Innovation Lab to demonstrate ways research collaboration has dual benefits for science, industry and agriculture in the U.S. and other countries around the world.

“I think the theme was very popular,” said APRES executive officer Kim Cutchins. “The symposium looking at peanut research and tools of the peanut lab was well received. Everybody gained from what was said and shared how we all benefit from working together. “

The Feed the Future Peanut Innovation Lab organized popular sessions, including a two-hour symposium titled “Synergies from U.S. Global Research Partnership” which highlighted individual projects in the lab’s portfolio and how scientists in the U.S. and African partner countries are working to harness genetic diversity in peanut. That diversity will help farmers in partner nations, as well as in the U.S., adapt to pest and climate challenges today and for years to come.

Agricultural challenges don’t recognize political boundaries, and solutions may come from other parts of the world.

For example, resistance to tomato-spotted wilt virus in the U.S. comes from peanuts bought in a market in Brazil in 1952, explained David Bertioli, a professor in the University of Georgia Institute for Plant Breeding, Genetics and Genomics and principal investigator of an innovation lab project incorporating wild alleles to improve West African peanut cultivars.

“When this type of transfer happens properly, everyone wins,” Bertioli said.

International treaties meant to thwart bad actors and protect biological resources have limited research in unintended, negative ways by slowing the exchange of germplasm to a trickle, which hurts global food security, he said.

Working to inventory and analyze the diversity of peanuts grown across Africa, a team of U.S. and African researchers are leveraging the recently sequenced peanut genome to create the tools plant breeders can use to generate varieties with natural resistance to disease and other shocks.

David Bertioli, Soraya Bertioli, Josh Clevenger and Peggy Ozias-Akins (all with UGA) work on the U.S. side of these related Peanut Innovation Lab projects, while Daniel Fonceka of Senegal, David Okello in Uganda and plant breeders from seven other countries in Africa lead the work on that continent.

Researchers at the APRES meeting also got a chance to see and touch some of the technology the Peanut Innovation Lab is using, validating and promoting around the world.

Virginia Tech plant pathologist Maria Balota explained some of the electronic devices she’s using in an innovation lab project on high-throughput phenotyping. A series of handheld sensors and specialized cameras will allow plant breeders in Africa more quickly to evaluate different lines they are breeding for certain traits. By knowing how to assess the color saturation in a leaf, for example, a scientist can learn the health of the plant faster than by waiting until the plant shows more obvious signs of stress.

Frank Nolin, a retired equipment manufacturer who spent his career making machines and fixtures for the peanut industry in the Southeastern U.S., showed off a small-scale sheller he designed and built for Malawi. While the Peanut Innovation Lab worked with Nolin to create machines that will work in Africa, his designs also piqued the interest of researchers at APRES who have a similar need to shell smaller quantities of peanuts and may have to do the work by hand without an appropriately-sized machine.  

“Almost everyone at the APRES meeting who does small-scale shelling said they have very old equipment or they have to shell by hand,” Nolin said. “The interest (in these machines) is from all around the world. There is not and has not been anything available for them except the FSIS washboard type sheller that is gentle enough with the peanut for them to use. The washboard type sheller is very slow and needs frequent maintenance.”

Nolin has designed and built shellers operated by a crank and others by motor, aspirators that separate the nut and shell, and sorting tables that allow buyers to sift shelled nuts and reward farmers for best practices that result in large, high-quality nuts.

“I am just so happy to be part of the Peanut Innovation Lab work and play a small part in helping to develop ways to help people in developing countries,” Nolin said. “I really appreciate the opportunity.”

The USDA Agricultural Research Service also demonstrated a machine that uses microwaves to measure the moisture of in-shell peanuts faster and easier than the traditional way required for shelled nuts.

The non-destructive method transmits low-intensity microwaves through peanut pods and measures them on the other side.

A simple, quick test for moisture is important to the work of the Peanut Innovation Lab, which focuses on technology to minimize mold growth that leads to aflatoxin.

But the device also drew the interest of people who shell and store peanuts in the U.S.

The APRES meeting was held July 9-11 in Auburn, Ala. Researchers from around the world, including partners brought to the meeting by the Peanut Innovation Lab, presented more than 75 sessions over three days on topics ranging from pathology and weed science to manufacturing and markets to sustainability.

The Bertiolis were honored with one of the most prestigious awards of the conference, the American Peanut Council Research Award, while David Bertioli also won the Corteva Agriscience Award for Research and Education.

Allison Floyd is the PR coordinator for the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Peanut, which is headquartered at UGA.

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