ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- This bi-monthly column condenses the latest news in the field of crop technology, research and products.
A GRAIN OF MANY COLORS
Once again, science is adding to sorghum's growing resume of uses. The crop holds promise as a new source of fabric dye, according to research from University of Nebraska textile chemical engineer Yiqi Yang. Working with Chinese scientists, Yang has found a way to use sorghum husk extracts to dye wool fabrics, with excellent results. The dye proved to be highly stable and colorfast in the face of washing, ironing, rubbing and light, Yang reported. It also retained its UV protection and fluorescence properties after 30 laundry cycles, where it outperformed a number of synthetic dyes.
As a bonus, Yang noted that sorghum-based dyes could be an environmentally friendly alternative to synthetic dyes on the market. While it does not seem to work well with cotton fabric, Yang believes it could work well with silk and nylon, as well as in food additives, cosmetics and hair products.
CLIMATE CHANGE COULD CONFUSE PERENNIALS
Perennial plants answer to two alarm clocks -- day length and temperature. Usually the two agree: The longer, sunnier days of spring and summer are reliably hot; the shorter days of fall and winter are cold. But when the edges of that cycle blur -- think large temperature fluctuations or spring creeping earlier under climate change -- plants get confused. That's the conclusion of researchers from the University of Illinois, who recently played greenhouse tricks on switchgrass and cordgrass to see their reactions to this phenomenon. They dug up the dormant plants in October and placed them in toasty greenhouses through March. At first, all the plants "woke up," researchers reported. Then, confused by the short, warm days, the switchgrass slowed its new growth and entered a period of stagnation -- alive, but not growing. The cordgrass ultimately chose to obey its day-length alarm clock, re-entered dormancy, let its new growth die, the researchers said.
The researchers hope the biological lessons they learned from these experiments will produce data that will help other crops adjust to a warming world and the wild temperature swings that can come with it, particularly in the spring. "We think of climate change as being a slow and steady process; it's possible that evolution could keep up with a pace like that," noted lead researcher, agronomist D.K. Lee. "But we're seeing extreme and sudden temperature fluctuations. That's what we're worried about."
DIGGING INTO FUSARIUM
There's nothing simple about the Fusarium genus. It houses hundreds of different species of fungi, some of them terrible crop diseases, others benign and even helpful. That's why the National Science Foundation has awarded a $1.2-million grant to two Penn State University scientists to completely catalogue the Fusarium genus, with help from a broad array of international scholars. "Despite their importance and ubiquity, the genus is in need of a complete taxonomic revision, in which only about half of the approximately 300 species we know about even have names," said David Geiser, a Penn State plant pathologist and one of the grant recipients, in a university press release. "Currently, researchers, disease diagnosticians and citizens who have important questions about Fusarium are not able to get satisfying taxonomic answers."
Emily Unglesbee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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