For Center, 20 Years of Creating Vegetables [Texas Monthly]

r, 20 Years of Creating Vegetables [Texas Monthly] - Featured Image


by FRANCESCA MARI – APRIL 5, 2014 – Texas Monthly; NY Times

Original article:

Workers in South Texas last year harvested the sweet Texas 1015, an onion created to stop tears.

In 1983, after more than 10 years of research, a Texas A&M University horticulturist named Leonard Pike created an onion that did not make people cry. This alone was revolutionary, but Dr. Pike also conferred another attribute upon his plant progeny: a single center.

Workers in South Texas last year harvested the sweet Texas 1015, an onion created to stop tears. Credit Jody Horton

Workers in South Texas last year harvested the sweet Texas 1015, an onion created to stop tears. Credit Jody Horton

Previous onion varieties had multiple centers and were a mess of interlocking circles when sliced, but the sweet Texas 1015 — named after the optimal planting date, Oct. 15 — would cut into perfect concentric circles. This meant that restaurants chains like Outback Steakhouse and Chili’s and food suppliers like Sysco could efficiently produce onion rings and, more important, people would want to eat them.

This pragmatic approach is at the heart of the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center at Texas A&M, which Dr. Pike founded in 1993 and is celebrating its 20th anniversary. The center, which is intended as a collaboration of science and industry, is now led by Bhimu Patil, one of Dr. Pike’s former students and a professor at A&M.

In a partnership between research and business, the 11 members of the advisory board, which includes representatives from the chemical company Monsanto and the grocery chains HEB and Kroger, identify the center’s priorities based on industry needs — namely, breeding fruits and vegetables that taste better, have more nutrients, tolerate heat and drought, and resist disease. More than 40 scientists, doctors and academics at the center incorporate these needs into research that includes crop management, plant physiology, human nutrition, pharmacology and sustainability. The combined effort can, in turn, help secure grants from agencies like the National Institutes of Health and the United States Department of Agriculture.

For a relatively small institution, the center has contributed a great deal to the produce aisles. It has bred about 40 cultivars, or new vegetable and fruit varieties, and identified 56 bioactive compounds that are important for health research and are worth an estimated $6.3 million. Before retiring in 2006, Dr. Pike created the maroon carrot, which has up to 40 percent more cancer-preventing beta-carotene. David Byrne, an A&M AgriLife Research scientist, released his 19th peach varietal, TexFirst, designed for Texas’ mild winters. Kevin Crosby, an A&M associate horticulture professor, is responsible for seven types of peppers, including the golden yellow mild habanero, which is low in capsaicin — the chemical responsible for a pepper’s heat.

The center has generated $1.10 million in royalty revenue for A&M from seed sales, and its most famous vegetable, the Texas 1015, has had an economic impact of about $1 billion since it was released in 1983, according to Agricultural Economics.

As the center celebrates 20 years, Dr. Patil said, it remains committed to its market-driven approach to crop improvement and consumption, which was the focus of a recent conference: “Produce for Health: The Intersection of Sustainability, Food and Nutrition Security, and Education.” Held at the AgriLife Center on A&M’s campus, the conference featured more than 25 speakers and attracted more than 200 attendees.

Dr. David L. Katz, the director and a founder of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, argued in his keynote address for the role of a plant-based diet in fighting the leading causes of death, including cancer and heart disease. “If you were told there was a drug safe for old and young with no side effects that was very cheap, and that taken daily would reduce chronic disease by 80 percent,” Dr. Katz said, “you’d call your doctor immediately for a prescription or you’d call your stockbroker.”

“But that drug already exists,” he said, referring to a healthy lifestyle with lots of fruits and vegetables.

“We’re facing health problems amounting to $30 billion dollars a year by 2025,” said Susan Combs, the state’s comptroller and former agricultural commissioner. “We need to invest in these high-value fields, and it’s clear that agriculture with clear nutritional health benefits is one of them.”

Research, she added, was part of the state’s diversification after the 1980s oil bust and brings a high return on investment.

Health also sells. To prove the point, Dr. Patil invited Emiliano Escobedo, the executive director of the Hass Avocado Board, established in Irvine, Calif., in 2002 to promote avocado consumption. The board invested in research to communicate the crop’s nutritional benefits to consumers. The result was the motto “Love One Today: naturally good fats, cholesterol free.” From 2002 to 2013, Hass avocado consumption in the United States increased to nearly 1.7 billion pounds from 484 million pounds.

“We wanted people to feel they’re getting more out of their $1 or $1.50,” Mr. Escobedo said.

After one speaker called for research to build consumer trust, Sekhar Boddupalli, Monsanto’s head of Global Consumer Research and Development, rose for his presentation. “Oh, wow. Having Monsanto follow a speech about trust. I wonder if that’s a setup,” he said. Dr. Boddupalli did not discuss genetic modification, for which his company is known. He instead focused on consumer disappointment with taste.

Improving taste, of course, along with health, is what the center is all about, Dr. Patil said. Recalling the Texas 1015, he noted that it contained reduced amounts of pyruvate, the tear-provoking compound known to fight cholesterol and cancer. But its success had helped change both habits and lives.

“People derive greater health benefits from mild onions they eat,” he said, “than from more nutrient-rich onions they don’t.”

A version of this article appears in print on April 6, 2014, on page A27B of the National edition with the headline: For Center, 20 Years of Creating Vegetables.

Link to article: PDF

The Results of a 7-Yr Study are In! Vegetarian and Pescovegetarian Diets Shown to Lower Cancer Risk [WSJ]

Featured Image: Wall Street Journal - Vegetarians Reduced Cancer Risk

WSJ Street Lgoo

The Wall Street Journal reports that a vegetarian diet may be optimal for warding off the second most deadly cancer in the US.

The study included 770,000 participants and showed a 22% relative reduction in risk for bowel cancer and a 43% reduction for those who ate fish, as well. Although the relationship between fish and cancer reduction is unclear, the study found positive effects of decreased meat and increased vegetable intake on bowel cancer risk overall.

SOURCES: Michael Orlich, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor, preventive medicine, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, Calif.; Alfred Neugut, M.D., Ph.D., oncologist and epidemiologist, professor, Columbia University Medical Center, and co-director, Cancer Prevention Program, New York Presbyterian Hospital, New York City; David Bernstein, gastroenterologist, North Shore University Hospital, Manhasset, N.Y.; March 9, 2015, JAMA Internal Medicine, online

Follow the link to watch the video online at the Wall Street Journal and read more!

How Scientists Get You to Eat Your Vegetables [Prevention Magazine online]

Every seat in the College Station, Texas hall was filled with scientists and folks from the food industry, gathered for one reason: to wish a happy 20th birthday to the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center.

When you first hear that such a place exists, nestled inside of Texas A&M University, the name sounds ridiculous. How can you improve upon a vegetable? I imagined subterranean laboratories where veggies are injected with a secret bacon-flavored serum, a mutant supergarden where veggies are crossbred with kale to make super superfoods.

What I learned was that the VFIC wasn’t just a place where scientists aim to make vegetables healthier (though they often do by boosting antioxidant and vitamin content.) Above all else, it’s where they try to get people to simply eat their vegetables. The best way to maximize the health benefits of vegetables, of course, is to get people to put them in their bodies.

“The final end product of this whole center is to provide healthy, tasty, and flavorful vegetables and fruit, which will eventually reduce healthcare costs,” said Bhimu Patil, director of the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center. Studies have shown that fruits and vegetables help inhibit diseases of all stripes, from cancer to obesity.

“I guess sometimes we’re in a little academic bubble here,” said Kevin Crosby, a vegetable breeder and associate professor of horticultural sciences at the VFIC. “We think people should eat vegetables, and we don’t know why they don’t—but we also need to think how to educate the public, how to spread that interest or that excitement about vegetables to everyday people who don’t even think about vegetables.”

To read the complete article by Mandy Oaklander of, either download a PDF or visit the original link.


The Rise of the Avocado, America’s New Favorite Fruit [The Washington Post]

Rise of Avocados [Featured Image]

Original post by Roberto A. Ferdman from The Washington Post’s “Wonkblog,” January 22, 2015. 

Avoado - dramatic [Flickr, cyclonebill] -webcrop

America is in love with avocados.

The country’s appetite for the creamy versatile fruit (yes, avocados are fruit) has grown just about every year for the past 15 years, according to data from the Hass Avocado Board, invading kitchens and menus across the country. The rise is such that sales of Hass avocados, which make up more than 95 percent of all avocados consumed in the United States, soared to a record of nearly 1.9 billion pounds (or some 4.25 billion avocados) last year, more than double the amount consumed in 2005, and nearly four times as many sold in 2000.

Once a rare treat, enjoyed only by cities on the west coast fortunate enough to sell fresh fruit when they were in season, avocados can now be found year round piled high at supermarkets nationwide, on restaurant menus in even the most remote towns, and in Subway sandwiches across the country.

“The demand has just been incredible,” said Emiliano Escobedo, director of the Hass Avocado Board. “I think avocados are pretty much mainstream at this point.”

Why the sudden outpouring of love for avocados? A few reasons stand out.

The most tangible explanation is that the rise of avocados in the United States comes on the heels of loosened import restrictions, which used to ban shipments of the fruit from Mexico. The restrictions were problematic, because Mexico was (and still is) the world’s largest producer. Without the supply, all of avocados the United States consumed instead came from California, which couldn’t grow them year round or consistently put fresh ones on supermarket shelves outside of the west coast.

Avocado Graph [TheWashingtonPost]Washington Post Logo

To read the full article, visit the original link on the Washington Post’s website or click here to download a PDF. Eating the Mediterranean Diet May Lead to a Longer Life


(CNN) — Eating a Mediterranean diet may be your key to living longer. That’s according to a new study led by Immaculata De Vivo, associate professor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and Harvard Medical School.
The diet involves eating items off a menu that is rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans and peas, unrefined grains, olive oil and fish. It keeps dairy, meat and saturated fats to a minimum. And you can have a glass of red wine with dinner without cheating.

The diet has been consistently linked with health benefits that includes helping you manage your weight, and it can lower your risk for chronic issues such as cardiovascular disease.

This new research looks at data from 4,676 healthy middle-aged women involved in the Nurses’ Health Study, an ongoing study tracking the health of more than 120,000 U.S. nurses since 1976.

It found women who ate a Mediterranean diet had longer telomeres.

Telomeres are part of your chromosomes, the thread-like structures that house your DNA. At the end of these chromosomes are telomeres, a kind of protective “cap” that keeps the structure from unraveling. It thereby protects your genetic information.

Even in healthy people, telomeres shorten with age. Shorter telomeres are associated with aging, lower life expectancy and age-related diseases such as artherosclerosis, certain cancers and liver disease.
Scientists have noticed some lifestyle choices such as smoking, being overweight or obese and drinking a lot of sugar sweetened drinks can prematurely shorten a person’s telomeres.

Scientists believe oxidative stress and inflammation can also shorten them.

Fruits, vegetables, olive oils and nuts — the key components of a Mediterranean diet — have well-known antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. The team of U.S. researchers led by De Vivo therefore wanted to see whether the women who stuck with this diet had longer telomeres.

By Christina Lee, Special to CNN – 3 December 2014

Read the full article here.

Grapefruit Juice May Be As Effective as Diabetes Drugs

Time - Grapefruit - FeaturedImage

Image from Wikimedia Commons

“A new mice study suggests that grapefruit juice might be just as effective as the type 2 diabetes drug, metformin, at lowering blood glucose. The research, which was funded by the California Grapefruit Growers Cooperative, was published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE.

Regarding the funding, study co-author Joseph Napoli, PhD, professor and chair of nutritional sciences and toxicology at the University of California, Berkeley, said this: “I understand the skepticism.” But the funders had nothing to do with the experiment, he says, besides providing some money and grapefruits. “We were very clear in telling them, you’re going to get the data we get,” Napoli says. “We can’t guarantee you’re going to like what you see. It might be nothing.”

What they found was not nothing.”

Continue to read the full article at Time Magazine’s website.

TIME magazine: Eating Fruit Cuts Heart Disease Risk by 40%

Time Magazine-Featured Image








Eating fruit every day can lower risk of heart disease by up to 40%, new research suggests.

The researchers found that compared to people who never eat fruit, those who eat fruit every day cut their heart disease risk by 25% to 40%. Those who ate the most amount of fruit also had much lower blood pressure compared to the participants who never ate fruit

Read the full article here

Dr. Patil Featured as Keynote Speaker: FAVHealth2014 Symposium



Dr. Patil will be leaving in a few days for Australia to present as a keynote speaker at the 6th International Human Health Effects of Fruits & Vegetables Symposium.

The event will celebrate research focused on the incredible variety of health benefits of fruits and vegetables, as well as recent improvements in processing and growing procedures that help deliver the advantages that a diet rich in FAVs can provide to the public. It centers around the label of FAVs as functional foods: those that “provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition, protection against disease, and increase in performance.”

The symposium’s website, which can be found here, explains:

This symposium addresses recent research on fruit and nuts that aims to (1) identify and improve fruit quality in terms of internal and external properties, (2) enhance the composition as it relates to nutritional value and human health, and (3) develop insights into consumer preferences and behavior to guide product specifications and production systems. Presentations will encompass breeding and commercialization of new cultivars as well as pre-harvest and post-harvest aspects of research on commercial fruit and nut crops with a specific focus on citrus, nuts, Mediterranean zone fruits, pome, stonefruit, vine and berry fruits. Academics, scientists, researchers, consultants, technologists, marketers and industry leaders are invited to participate.

Food quality has been defined as all those characteristics of a food (not just sensory characteristics) that lead a consumer to be satisfied with the product.”

Sessions will be focused on the following themes:

  • Breeding and biofortification of fruit, vegetables and nuts for phytonutrient concentration
  • Pre-harvest and post-harvest factors affecting phytonutrient content
  • Isolation and characterization of bioactive compounds
  • FAV and cancer prevention
  • FAV and sports performance
  • FAV and brain function and eye health
  • FAV and cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes
  • Antioxidants, inflammation, and ‘super-fruits’
  • Bioavailability and bioaccessability of bioactive compounds

It’s Onion Testing Season!


The Vegetable & Fruit Improvement Center at Texas A&M University offers custom onion pungency test services* to onion growers, shippers, importers, grocery chains, and other interested parties. Backed by 30 years experience in onion breeding and 20 years in onion pungency research, we provide reliable and accurate analysis.


Testing Procedure

  • Automated analysis using a modified Schimmer and Weston method.
  • Fast and accurate – most reports within three working days.
  • More consistent than a press method – we blend whole onions after removing the neck and bottom to extract the juice

Click here for a request form.

Scholars Must Unite to Fight Hunger [The Hindu]

Scholars Unite to Fight Hunger

The Hindu [Logo]

Dharwad: The global community of scholars must work together to solve problems like food insecurity, sad Mark Hussey, noted agricultural scientist and interim president of Texas Agricultural and Medical University.

Addressing fresh graduates, postgraduates and PhD awardees at the 27th annual convocation of the University of Agricultural Sciences held in Dharwad on Thursday, he said the world’s exponentially growing population was at the core of these problems.

“As a result, food insecurity, malnutrition and world hunger are rampantly growing. Currently, one sixth of the world’s population (a billion people) suffer from chronic hunger and at least 2.5 million children die each year globally from undernutrition. Not only does hunger rob the poor of a healthy and productive life and stunt mental and physical development, it provides a breeding ground for crime and civil unrest,” he warned.

As a remedy, he suggested that there should be diligent efforts to train the next generation of ‘hunger fighters’ and to develop and deploy new technologies. He added that many of these issues could be addressed by agricultural universities.

Link to download article: PDF