From Genetics to Genomics


From Genetics to Genomics cover.

Originally published in 2006 with the assistance of Leland Hardmen, professor emeritus of Agronomy and Plant Genetics, the stories highlighted in Genetics to Genomics illustrate how research discoveries over the past century progressed from the whole plant or animal to the cell, to the chromosome, and now to the gene. A printable PDF version can be found in the Digital Conservancy. The content is also available digitally below.

Today, scientists in CFANS, CBS and CVM are focused on developing new discoveries that will help Minnesota industries and Minnesotans. 


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Little was known of genetics in the late 1880s when the University of Minnesota's Agricultural Experiment Station began investigations of livestock, plants, and biological chemistry. Gregor Mendel's basic genetics work, published in the Proceedings of the Natural History Society of Brunn in 1866 and 1869, would not become generally known out­side Europe until after 1900. But Willet M. Hays, who came in February 1888 as an agronomist and the Experiment Station's initial researcher, recognized the single plant and single animal as the basis for improvement. He applied that principle to improve crops and livestock, and became the 19th century's strongest advocate for scientific breeding of plants and animals. Twenty-first century University researchers continue this leadership through discovery at the cellular­molecular level.

Hays traveled to London for the 1899 Hybridizer and Genetics Conference. Upon returning, he encouraged the U.S. secretary of agri­culture to help form an organization of plant and animal breeders to advance genetics research and its application. Hays chaired the organiz­ing committee that created the American Breeder's Association, fore­runner of today's American Genetic Association. He was its secretary from 1903 to 1912, and the first editor of The American Breeders Magazine, now the journal of Heredity.

Ross Gartner was another giant in the formative decades of Land Grant University research, and led the field of biochemistry in the same way that Hays elevated the plant breeding movement. Only four years after arriving at the University, in 1914, he became head of the new division of agricultural biochemistry. His research interests encompassed topics from the organic matter of northern Great Plains soils to the colloid chemistry of wheat flour proteins. The accomplishments of Gartner, Hays, and many other early scientists formed the University of Minnesota's reputation as one of the world's leading research institutions. The graduate school was beginning and the first doctorate in bio­chemistry was awarded in 1915. By 1927 a building devoted to agricultural biochemistry was up, planned for 35 graduate students. By 1942 it held twice that many, from all parts of the world.

Gortner's research contributed to almost every field of agricultural science. His Outlines of Biochemistry textbook--at 1,000 pages­-became "the book of biological chemistry'' and helped train the next generation of increasingly specialized scientists who worked in teams to solve complex biological problems. They investigated the basic com­position of grains and milk in order to improve the milling and baking qualities of grains and improve the quality and storage of products made from milk.

In 1935 animal scientist Laurence Winters was the first to publi­cize results of crossbreeding swine. He was soundly denounced by purebred swine organizations who unsuccessfully called for his dis­missal. Winters developed improved breeds of swine-Minnesota No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3-which were leaner and made more efficient use of feed. His work initiated a revolution in livestock genetic improve­ment using crossbreeding and reproductive technologies, beginning with artificial insemination (AI). The first AI calf was born at the University in 1936, and breakthroughs continue today with embryo transplants in dairy cattle and mapping the genomes of swine and turkeys.

Certain aspects of genetic research have always been controversial, but government-supported University research continues to improve crops, live­stock, and microbial life forms. Today's projects inte­grate applied and basic studies, and their significance may not be realized for years.

Discovery at the Agricultural Experiment Station helped bring understanding of life's processes from the whole plant or animal to the cell and now to the gene. The University's improvement of plant and animal processing, production, health, and safety propelled the Twin Cities and Minnesota to world leadership in these industries. Today Minnesota is the undisputed center-and leader-of the food industry with $200 billion of business annually. The stories and timeline in this publication describe significant discoveries and publications from University scientists, milestones on the long journey from genetics to genomics.

The stories in this book illustrate how research discoveries over the past century progressed from the whole plant or animal to the cell, to the chromosome, and now to the gene.

''As an experimentalist and horticulturist, I do not expect to perform miracles. But I do expect, by careful observing and trying and working and judiciously carrying out your ideas and comparing one season with another, to develop and extend methods in the interest of economy and comfort." -Samuel B. Green, Experiment Station horticulturist, 1888

"Some seriously suggest that science should take a holiday, that there should be a moratorium on scientific research.... There is a general feeling, shared by many liberal-minded scientists, that thus far the greatest contribution of science has been to the materialist development of our society, and not to the social betterment of the improvement of human relations.” -F.A. Silcox, forester, USDA, on MAES 50th anniversary, 1935

"For any man to criticize and find fault with what these most-capable, intelligent and courageous (purebred) hog breeders have done for humanity ... is about the meanest, littlest and most despica­ble thing that anyone could stoop to." -Col. H. S. Duncan, farmer, Creston, Iowa, 1938

"Oh, there are lots of critics. If you don't do any­thing, you'll never have critics." -Norman Borlaug, Nobel Laureate, 1985

Gains in Grains

Wheat dominated the Midwest farm economy in the lace, 1800s. In Minnesota, more than six million acres were harvested, and Minneapolis, with more than 400 flourmills already operating by the 1880s, became the milling capital of the world.

Minnesota's early renown in plant breeding came through the work of Willet M. Hays, who began breeding wheat varieties in 1889. Farmers reported that his University of Minnesota No. 163 wheat, distributed in 1899, matured earlier and out yielded other varieties. No. 169, released in 1902, yielded still more. Wheat was worth about 67 cents/bushel then; an extra bushel and a half per acre in yield was a bonus worth the equivalent of $20 per acre today.

Hays began the first pure-line selection (landrace breeding, where a new variety is developed from one outstanding plant) and progeny testing of oats in the United States in 1888. He tested barleys of hybrid origin as early as 1894; his 1899 selections of timothy plants are the earliest U.S. records of timothy improvement, and he developed Primost, the first U.S. pure-line variety of flax.

The Experiment Station's introduction of Minnesota No. 13 corn by Hays took the U.S. Corn Belt 50 miles farther north within a decade. In the 80s, over 25% of the germplasm in the U. S. hybrids come from a select few U of M inbreds. All five of these are 100-year-old, open pollinated varieties and Minnesota No. 13 is second among those historic elite, with its genes present in 13 percent of corn harvested today.

Through the decades the University's development and introduction of crop vari­eties would be fostered through cooperation of a diverse group of scientists: agrono­mists, involved in the production of field crops; plant geneticists, breeding new vari­eties; plant pathologists, working on disease resistance; and cereal chemists, analyzing nutrient value and milling and baking qualities. Today the team may include a molecular geneticist, human or animal nutritionist, medical specialist, ethicist, or a food industry representative.

Hays, the plant breeder, encouraged David Harper, the Station's first chemist, to analyze the milling and baking qualities of wheat varieties. Harry Snyder succeeded Harper in 1891, expanded the work and gained international recognition in the chemistry of wheat products. Milling and baking qualities-which include flour color and protein content-became criteria in select­ing new and improved wheat varieties for release. Snyder's work gave the University and its Agricultural Experiment Station leader­ship in the chemistry of wheat products and introduction of ana­lytical methods and new laboratory techniques that became stan­dards in the world's cereal industry laboratories.

The first department of plant pathology in the United States was established here in 1907. F.M. Freeman, its head, held the only Ph.D. on the Station's faculty. At that time stem rust, known as "The Red Terror" in wheat, cost Minnesota farmers great finan­cial losses, sometimes even their farms. Under Freeman, Elvin Stakman, the first graduate student on the St. Paul campus, made the critical genetic discovery of the existence of rust "races," a genetic level below species that is unique to rusts. Stakman's break­through, published in his 1913 thesis, ''A Study In Cereal Rusts: Physiological Races," opened the door to a century of worldwide improvement of small grains.

Stakman showed that races differed greatly in their ability to infect specific wheat varieties, and that they easily and quickly changed their genetic makeup. His work fostered cooperation of plant pathologists with agronomists and plant breeders to develop rust-resistant wheats. 'Thatcher,' a spring wheat variety released by the Experiment Station in 1934, survived serious rust epidemics of 1935 and 1937 virtually unscathed, was grown on some 17 million acres in the United States and Canada by 1941, was still the principal U.S. variety in 1951, and led spring wheat acreage in Montana into the 1960s! The genes of 'Thatcher' are in the pedigree of much of the wheat grown today. During Stakman's graduate study Freeman had him climb the campus water tower and expose greased microscope slides. He successfully captured rust spores and documented their idea of widespread, air-borne spore dispersal. 

In 1921 Stakman took the experiment to new heights, attaching petroleum jelly-coated slides to airplanes and trapping rust spores two miles above the earth, leading to knowledge of the "Puccinia Pathway''-a 2,500-mile-long route through central North America. Rust spores blow south on fall winds to overwin­ter on growing wheat in Texas and Mexico, then ride the winds north in spring to infect the northern crop. 

University scientists developed a standardized technique, adopted worldwide, to identify new, evolving rust races using "dif­ferential varieties." With it, 12 standard wheat varieties, each with resistance to one or more races, are inoculated in a controlled environment to identify the race of an unknown spore. When a new rust race evolves in nature, plant breeders transfer genes from a resistant variety to a potential new line of wheat. & new rust outbreaks were traced to spores moving on seasonal air currents from Mexico to Manitoba, spores were col­lected at different altitudes and identified by the differential vari­eties technique. Thus was born the science of aerobiology, which deals with the occurrence, transportation, and effects of viruses and other airborne materials. The principles of spore dis­persal have since been applied to problems as diverse as germ warfare, dispersal of mold-causing spores in "sick" buildings, and the spread of anthrax disease. Minnesota became the world center of rust research on cereal grains, and scientists here created a rust race categorization system used worldwide. Advanced knowledge of fungal genetics brought plant pathololgist Clyde Christensen into the secret high­ priority WWII project co develop superior genetic races of penicillin that grew and multiplied more rapidly. Penicillin production was increased and available in quantity to treat Allied forces wounded on D-Day. Christensen and his colleagues later found that losses from grain spoilage in commercial grain elevators and on-farm bins were caused by the fungus Aspergillus flavus, which produces aflatoxin and causes serious reproductive problems in livestock. The cumulative results of their research were published in Storage of Cereal Grains and Their Products in four editions from 1954 co 1992. By the l 980s their strategies foe controlling storage problems became industry standards. Christensen also authored a popular worldwide textbook, Molds and Man, published in three editions spanning 30 years and 12 printings.

Charles H. Burnham came in 1938 to head the plant cyro­genetics laboratory, where scientists would combine the study of cytology-the structure and behavior of cells-and genet­ics-the heredity and variation of organisms. Burnham found how chromosomes can physically exchange pieces, resulting in genetic change or mutation, and first showed that those breaks usually occucred at the ends  of chromosomes. Building on Burnham's work, in 1970 Ron Phillips was the first to find where on plane chromosomes riboso­mal DNA genes are located. They regulate synthesis of all proteins in a cell, and chat knowledge was critical for genetic work co move for­ward. Accompanying experi­ments indicated chat thou­sands of those genes are located at the nucleus organizer region. During the 1970s, the vision of collaboration was made real with the integration of the disciplines of genetics, molecu­lar genetics and physiology with traditional plane breeding and pathology. A research team was created for each major Minnesota crop: corn, soybean, wheat, oat, barley, and alfalfa. The teams led to innovations such as the use of molecular markers and production of transgenic plants (containing genes transferred from other plants). 

In 1975 Ed Green, Burle Gengenbach, and Phillips regenerat­ed corn from cells of immature embryo tissue. That technology led to the first production of whole grass plants from tissue cul­ture. All methodologies for genetic engineering of plants introduce DNA into cell culture, then regenerate plants using this technology. 

Researchers are creating "radiation-hybrid" lines for each chro­mosome by irradiating material from each oat-maize addition line to break the chromosome into small pieces. Approximately 600 lines have been developed and materials distributed to 40 labora­tories that are mapping the maize genome. 

Much present-day field crop research deals with Fusarium headblight (scab) in barley and spring wheat, a serious problem since 1993. Scab is caused by Fusarium spores which overwinter on crop residue and infect wheat and barley flowers the next sea­son. Scab reduces yield and lowers crop quality and value. Some consider it the most costly plant disease outbreak in North American history. From 1993 to 1998 many farmers, weary of fighting scab in wheat and barley, gave up; hundreds of farms were lost to foreclosure. The Ninth Federal Reserve District compared the scab epidemic to the Irish potato famine of the mid-1840s; both saw agricultural economies devastated by microscopic fungi. 

Wheat growers have been greatly affected; barley growers especially hard hit. Before 1993 most Minnesota barley brought a pre­mium price for male. Male-makers will nor buy scab-infected grain, and both barley acres and income have dropped dramatically. Scientists today are working on the scab problem with the cools of genomics and molecular biology, studying genetic and  biological factors that regulate the interaction between the fungus and the plant. They have developed wheat and barley transgenic plants carrying antifungal protein genes and use genomic approaches to identify novel resistance genes. The development of an integrated physical and genomic map to show the generic structure of the head blight fungus was completed in 2004. These efforts move us closer toward control of Fusarium head blight disease.

Present research connects with the past as investigations of ruse diseases continue, bur at the level of single genes which control precise plant traits. In 2002, molecular geneticist Brian Steffenson and a Washington State University colleague were first to isolate a rust-resistance gene in a small grain crop and then move it from one barley plant to another, another milestone in the control of cereal ruse disease. As advances in genomics continue to accelerate, we can anticipate even better crop improvement. 


  • 1863 German monk Gregor Mendel discovers that traits are transmitted from parent to progeny by discrete units, later called genes.
  • 1881 Minneapolis Grain Exchange established. Today, largest cash exchange market in world.
  • 1882 U of M purchases Minneapolis land for agricultural research and reaching.
  • 1888 Willet Hays was hired to begin genetic improvement of wheat, barley, flax, oats and corn.
  • 1895 'Preston,' 1st U of M wheat variety is released.
  • 1899 Forage Crops Other than Grasses authored by Thomas Shaw, professor of ani­mal husbandry.
  • 1899 Wheat Varieties, Breeding, and Cultivation, written by Willet Hays and Andrew Boss, AES bulletin 62. Primer, guide­book, history, authority, and a bible of wheat and wheat breeding.
  • 1900 'Primost,' the first pure-line flax variety, developed and distributed in the U.S.
  • 1901 Plant Breeding authored by Willet M. Hays.
  • 1903 Hays helps organize American Genetic Association.
  • 1907 U of M plant pathology department is established, 1st in the U.S.
  • 1909 Elvin Stakman discovers existence of "Races." publishes Ph.D. thesis in 1913, "A study in cereal rusts: physiological races"
  • 1916 'Redwing', 1st wilt resistant flax variety released.
  • 1916 Catastrophic epidemic of wheat stem rust cuts yields in Northern Great Plains by 300 million bushels.
  • 1920 Plant pathologists develop tech­nique, adopted worldwide, to identify evolv­ing rust races using "differential varieties." Races shown to be a unique genetic classifica­tion in fungi, a level below species.
  • 1921 Agricultural biochemist Roscoe
  • Thatcher's book, The Chemistry of Plant Life, is published.
  • 1921 Breeding Crop Plants, by Herbert Hayes, published by McGraw-Hill.
  • 1921 Science of "aerobiology" begins, using spore sampling techniques to capture and identify airborne stem rust spores.
  • 1922 Experiment Station publishes "Races: The determination of biologic forms of Puccinia graminis on Triticum spp." U of M becomes the world center for research and teaching of "physiologic specialization."
  • 1930 Experiment Station releases first adapted hybrid corn, 'Minhybrid 402.'
  • 1931 "Breeding Wheat for Baking Quality" by C H, Bailey and H.K. Hayes published. Translated into Jugo-Slavic and published in Poljoprivredin Glasnik Xl:2-5.
  • 1934 Stem rust-resistant 'Thatcher' wheat released, to become one of the most popular varieties ever grown.
  • 1938 Charles Burnham is 1st U of M plant geneticist, studies cytogenetics of corn.
  • 1942 Methods of Plant Breeding, 1st edi­tion, by Hayes and Forest lmmer published in NY and London by McGraw-Hill.
  • 1 946 Jean Lambert begins soybean breed­ing program at U of M.
  • 1940s Clyde Christensen begins studies of toxin-producing fungi in scored grains.
  • 1951 Molds and Man by Christensen, 1st of 3 editions and 12 printings.
  • 1948 Evaluation of alternative crops suit­able for Minnesota begins.
  • 1953 'Renville' soybean released, first Minnesota developed variety,
  • 1957 Stakman authors widely used Principles of Plant Pathology textbook.
  • 1 957 'Park' Kentucky bluegrass released. Foundation of northern Minnesota's grass seed industry.
  • 1962 Burnham publishes Discussions in Cytogenetics textbook, unique because it couples complex inheritance data with the behavior of normal and aberrant chromosomes.
  • 1970 Norman Borlaug awarded Nobel Peace Prize for his "green revolution" based on improved wheat genetics. U of M graduate in forestry and plane pathology, credited with saving more lives than any other person.
  • 1970 'Era' wheat released, 1st semi-dwarf spring wheat from a public breeding program.
  • 1972 Ronald Phillips begins project to iden­tify genes that control biochemical pathways regulating the synthesis of proteins in corn.
  • 1974 Storage of Cereal Grains and Their Products, now edited by Clyde Christensen, sets industry standards for proper storage of grains.
  • 1975 First successful regeneration of corn from cells in tissue culture is completed. Today's methodologies for the genetic engineering of com use this technology.
  • 1977 Cytogenetics text updated by Burnham and Phillips, 489 pages.
  • 1978 'Morel (more extract) barley released. Research and outreach investment of $9 million leads to $297 million in benefits.
  • 1982 Chromosome breakage shown to be the principal cytogenetic effect occurring in oat tissue culture.
  • 1989 Protoplast fusion used to create interspecific hybrids in Lotus (birdsfoot tre­foil), gaining resistance to seed shattering.
  • 1990 First successful oat-corn hybrid is created, to assist in mapping corn genome. U of M participates in an NSF-funded project to map the corn genome.
  • 1993 Corn plants tolerant to sethoxydim and haloxyfop herbicides are patented.
  • 1993 Fusarium headblight (scab) reported in Minnesota. U of M scab initiative begins.
  • 1994 Breeders search for scab resistance in Chinese and Japanese areas with a long history of the disease.
  • 1994 DNA-based Markers in Plants. edited by Phillips and Indra K. Vasil.
  • 1994 Plant pathologists perfect a system to screen large numbers of progeny for resis­tance to scab.
  • 1996 Patent issued for "Method and an Acetyl CoA Carboxylase gene for conferring herbicide tolerance."
  • 1999 'McVey' wheat released, first variety with good yield under either scab or no-scab conditions.
  • 2000s Fusarium headblight continues as worse plant disease epidemic in US, the eco­nomic impact surpasses the 1930s rust epi­demics.
  • 2000 First generic map of a plant is pub­lished, Arabidopsis thaliana. Carried out by a worldwide ream of molecular biologists.
  • 2002 Gene for stem ruse resistance is cloned and transferred from one barley variety to another by plant pathologist Brian Steffenson.
  • 2004 Completion of a series of 10 differ­ent oat/maize chromosome addition lines by Ron Phillips and Howard Rines.
  • 2004 The detailed genomic map of Fusarium graminearum is finished, a major break in understanding the fungal cause of scab epidemic. International effort is led by Corby Kistler, USDA-ARS scientist at the U of M.
  • 2005 David Garvin, USDA-ARS, pro­poses model species as starting point for gener­ic mapping of cool season grasses, including wheat, barley, oars, and rye. His U of M lab developed inbred lines of a wild grass, Brachypodium distachyon to serve as reference genotypes. Its compact stature and small genome make it an ideal model. Laboratories worldwide confirm B. distachon’s structure and similarity with its domesticated relatives.

Food, Flowers and Frost


“I would not live in Minnesota because you can't grow apples there," newspaperman Horace Greeley reportedly said in 1860. By 1865 the University had imported and begun testing 150 apple

varieties from Russia. When Samuel Green, the Experiment Station's first horticulturist, arrived in 1888 he immediately began crossing apples and by 1889 was teaching fruit breeding in one of the earliest U.S. college horticulture programs.

Fruit Breeding

Fruit breeding at the University of Minnesota is one of the old­est continuous such programs in the United States and the only one remaining in the Midwest. The early goal was to develop win­ter-hardy fruit varieties of acceptable quality chat farmers and homeowners could grow for their own use. Few varieties then avail­able could survive a Minnesota winter and chose char could were of poor quality. Two varieties known for winter hardiness, the 'Malinda' apple from Vermont, and the 'Wealthy' apple, selected by Peter Gideon in Minnesota, became the foundation of early apple-breeding work and their genes are in many University apples.

The initiation of fruit breeding at the University was due in large measure to the success of the colorful and controversial Gideon in developing the first great apple variety for the northern plains. He had arrived in Minnesota in 1853 with many fruit trees to rest and a bushel of apple seeds to plant. By 1868, he had identi­fied an outstanding seedling, eventually named 'Wealthy' after his wife, which became one of the most important cultivars in the United States by the late 1800s and early 1900s. Indeed, it was pri­marily due to his success in developing and commercializing 'Wealthy' that the state legislature agreed to fund fruit breeding in 1878. Gideon was named the first super­intendent of the new station, located near his farm on Lake Minnetonka in Excelsior. He directed the program until 1889 when he retired at age 70 and that sta­tion was abandoned.

A fruit forest, and ornamental tree research station had been established at Owatonna in 1887. E.H.S. Dam, the superintendent, attempted some fruit breeding, resulting in the release of his namesake 'Dartt’ crabapple, but it was was mainly a varietal testing station and closed in 1925.

When the present Horticultural Research Center near Excelsior was established in 1907, hundreds of seedlings from controlled crosses of apples, grapes, pears, plums, raspberries, and strawberries were moved there from the Experiment Station in St. Paul. Early apple stock had come from Russia and from U.S. vari­eties. The diverse program included breeding stock of apricot, cherry, gooseberry, peach, and plum imported as pot-grown stock from Europe, while early plum and plumcot plants came from the nursery of Luther Burbank. The first crosses with hardy northern kinds were made in 1908.

Branch experiment stations, now known as Research & Outreach Centers (ROCs), at Crookston, Duluth (closed in 1975), Grand Rapids, Morris, and Waseca are used to test potential new varieties. Grand Rapids plays an especially important role in win­ter-hardiness evaluation as it is the coldest horticultural research center in the lower 48 states. Horticultural, floral, and ornamental "All American" selections are tested, as are tree fruit, chrysanthe­mum, and berry varieties developed by Minnesota researchers.

The best known results of the fruit breeding program are ‘Haralson' and 'Honeycrisp' apples. 'Haralson,' known for its eating, baking, and keeping qualities was introduced in 1922 and is a descendent of 'Malinda.' Thirty years in the making from the cross of its parents to its introduction in 1991, the 'Honeycrisp' apple is crisp, juicy, and flavorful. 'Honeycrisp' is now the most widely planted variety in Minnesota orchards, is grown in the Loire Valley of France and in northern Germany, and is being tested in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. More than two mil­lion trees have been planted in North America.

Potato Breeding

The potato's nutritional yield of carbohydrates and protein per acre is the greatest of all major food crops. Not surprisingly, it is the fourth most important food crop on earth. Finally, potatoes are both the world's and Minnesota's most popular vegetable crop, worth about $120 million a year to Minnesota growers and supporting a large processing industry.

Samuel Green began breeding potatoes here in 1901, and by 1905 was crossing South American types with our local varieties to improve disease resistance. The University’s Fred Krantz, a lead­ing U.S. potato breeder from 1919 to 1958, developed eight new varieties; most are found in the pedigrees of many varieties grown today. Krantz worked closely with breeders in other important potato-growing states and the USDA.

In the 1970s Minnesota plane pathologists proposed the con­cept of "generalized resistance" to lace blight of potatoes, breeding for tolerance rather than all-but-impossible true resistance to dis­ease. This work improved returns to potato growers by maintain­ing yield, delaying disease, and lessening disease severity.

More than 150 years after late blight caused the potato famine in Ireland, the disease still plagues Minnesota potato grow­ers, who spend an estimated $16 to $32 million per year on thou­sands of tons of blight-control chemicals. A lace-blight resistance gene isolated from a wild potato promises future relief from the lace blight problem. Meanwhile, University researchers are working to identify germplasm and incorporate plant resistance to green peach aphids, Colorado potato beetles, Verticillium wilt, and other disease problems.

The modern era of potato improvement began when horticult­urist Florian Lauer used tissue culture propagation co produce and increase virus-free seed potatoes. The technique is now stan­dard practice in the potato industry.

New genetic technologies are integral to potato quality improvement. For example, if you've ever refrigerated a potato and then found it pleasantly sweet, you can appreciate the problem facing Upper Midwest potato growers who store warehouses full of potatoes for year-round processing into fries or chips. Chips made from these "sweet" potatoes are dark colored with a burned flavor. University researchers have identified and cloned a gene and associated marker, responsible for producing an enzyme char converts starch to sugar during cold storage. By regulating the gene, scientists may one day totally eliminate the sweetness-storage problem. In the meantime, the presence of chromosome markers allows breeders to select parents that produce offspring co make the light colored potato chips that consumers prefer. This makes breeding much more efficient.

Chrysanthemum Breeding

Breeding ornamentals began with greenhouse chrysanthe­mums in 1924, and several greenhouse varieties were released from 1934 to 1940. In 1936 L.E. Longley began breeding mums for outdoor display in northern gardens. Initial selections were for early flowering planes that could be enjoyed before frost. Mums then were not cold hardy; there were no attractive garden mums chat bloomed before killing frosts in Minnesota and areas similar in climate and latitude. The Station's mum-breeding program changed chat situation; by 1949, 26 new varieties had been intro­duced. Many became grown nationally.

The cushion habit of mums, a genetic discovery of Station mum breeders, was the basis for the University's first plane patent, issued in 1977 for the 'Minngopher' mum. Flower blossoms on cushion mums cover the plant from the ground up. Previous mums, like most other flowers, bloomed only ac the cop of long seems. Within a decade the cushion type became the dominant chrysanthemum worldwide.

The cushion habit was combined with the 1992 discovery of a single mum of unprecedented, enormous size co yield the 'My Favorite’TM series. This shrub-sized mum produces several thousands of flowers on a single plant and is sold worldwide. Flower breeder Neil Anderson continues prolific new releases.

Plant Hardiness Investigations

The University's Laboratory of Plant Hardiness dares from 1960 and the research of Conrad Weiser, Paul Li, and colleague,<;. Ir soon became a leading world center for cold-hardiness studies. The initial work was understanding the basic physiology of cold hardiness, to explain how planes acclimate for winter. Techniques were developed co evaluate the potential of plane materials--from the 'Honeycrisp' apple to Northern Lights azalea co potatoes­ to thrive in northern climates.

The concept of "Deep Supercooling" evolved here in the 1960s and 70s to explain how plant cells survive the winter months. The investigation centered on fundamental understand­ing of what happens inside the cells of flower buds during fall cooling and spring warm-up periods. When water in any tissue turns co ice the cells are destroyed. But learning that cellular water in buds can stay liquid until -40°F led to understanding how and why certain planes survive Minnesota winters. The extent of "deep supercooling" in hardy plane tissues varies with the season and the hardiness of the plane, reaching a maximum in midwinter. lt is a survival mechanism for some plane tissues.

Also important was understanding that cold acclimation is accomplished by regulating (turning on or off) genes chat synthe­size certain proteins which change the chemical composition of a cell and therefore affect cold survival. For example, a dogwood can survive a -40°F freeze if it is acclimated, whereas non-accli­mated plants can survive only a few degrees of freeze. Fully accli­mated dogwood can even survive when exposed to liquid nitro­gen, at -165°F.

Related hardiness research at the cellular level led Minnesota researchers Li and Mark Brenner to understand how the plant growth hormone, abscisic acid, induces chilling tolerance in pota­toes. To researchers, chilling tolerance refers to the plants' ability to survive temperatures between 32°F and 50°F.

Li's work with field crops, specifically chilling sensitive corn, resulted in 'CM6,' a seed treatment patented in 2002 by the University, chat improves seedling performance in the chilly early spring environment and enhances drought resistance.

Students and scientists from 21 countries conducted investi­gations at the University and are now leaders in plant hardiness research of gene regulation, gene expression, sig­nal transduction, and genetic engineering of cold tolerant plants. Low-temperature stress to crop plants lowers quality, reduces yield, delays harvest, and sometimes causes crop failure. Paul Li, head of the Hardiness Lab, notes that crop plant toler­ance to low-temperature stress affects the stability of world food production and commodity prices and impacts the social fabric of society.

Li organized the first International Plant Cold Hardiness Seminar in 1977 and published Plant Cold Hardiness and Freezing Stress: Mechanisms and Crop Implications. The book doc­umented scientist’ basic understanding of hardiness up to that time. Li led all of the following world gatherings of hardiness researchers, including the sixth seminar held in Finland in 2002 focused on "Plant cold hardiness: gene regulation and genetic engineering." Many of the contributions came from researchers around the world who studied in the University's Laboratory of Plant Hardiness.


  • 1878 Minnesota legislature appropri­ates the grand sum of $2000 to purchase a track of land as an experiment station and $1000 per year for operation. Peter Gideon served as superintendent until 1889.
  • 1888 First Experiment station apple cross is made by Samuel Green.
  • 1901 First potato crosses completed.
  • 1905 Disease resistant South American potatoes added to Minnesota breeding pro­gram.
  • 1907 Research Center established near Chanhassen.
  • 1908 University grape breeding initiated, crossing locally bred ‘Beta’ — originally wild — with labrusca type cultivars.
  • 1917 Record winter for extreme low temperatures. Thousands of U of M apple seedlings die, but the survivors are a boon to breeding program. 'Haralson.' 'Folwell,' and 'Minnehaha' varieties were released in the 1920s, and some of their genes live on in 'Honeygold' and 'Honeycrisp.’
  • 1919 F. A Krantz begins potato improvement, introduces eight new varieties over next 39 years.
  • 1920 First five U of M plum varieties released.
  • 1920 First three strawberries released. Followed by four more the following year.
  • 1920 'Latham' raspberry released, it is still popular.
  • 1922 'Haralson' apple released.
  • 1924 Start of chrysanthemum breeding, early-flowering plants selected so blooms could be enjoyed before first frost.
  • 1920s L. B. Harvey initiates U of M cold tolerance studies.
  • 1933 'Warba', first U of M potato variety is released.
  • 1933 'Red Lake' currant released, now grown worldwide.
  • 1934 'Parker' pear released.
  • 1939 Longley successfully releases a winter hardy chrysanthemum, 'Duluth'.
  • 1944 First three grape varieties released, including 'Bluebell' which is still available.
  • 1948 Regional potato gene bank estab­lished in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., with coopera­tion from Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota and Wisconsin. Today it's the largest germplasm collection in the U.S.
  • 1950s Experiment Station breeders develop genetic "cushion" habit in chrysan­themums, blossoms cover the plant from ground up. Within a decade this becomes the dominant mum type worldwide.
  • 1952 'Meteor' tart cherry released. Still popular for baking.
  • 1960 Laboratory of Plant Hardiness established.
  • 1960s "Deep Supercooling" concept explains bud survival.
  • 1967 Focused blueberry breeding pro­gram begins, following early attempt in 1910s. Minnesota program developed cold hardy, low-stature plants that are protected by snow.
  • 1970 Conrad Weiser proposes that development of plant cold hardiness requires changes in gene expression and synthesis of proteins.
  • 1977 U of M receives its first plant patent, for 'Minngopher' chrysanthemum.
  • 1970s Plant pathologist Carl Eide pro­motes use of multiple gene resistance —“ gen­eralized resistance” — in potato breeding pro­gram against late blight.
  • 1977 U of M organizes and hosts first International Plant Cold Hardiness Seminar. A quarter century later the sixth conference is held in Finland.
  • 1978 'Northern Lights' azalea released. First that can survive Minnesota winters.
  • 1980 'Northwood' red maple released.
  • 1983 'Northblue' and 'Northsky' blue­berries are released, first from U of M. Jumpstarted the U-pick blueberry industry in Minnesota.
  • 1986 'Alderman' plum released.
  • 1988 Day-neutral trait in mums is patented.
  • 1990 Rose breeding program reinstated to develop larger, more hardy, disease resis­tant roses that grow on their own root stock.
  • 1990 'Honeycrisp’ apple is patented.
  • 1991 'Honcycrisp’ apple is intro­duced, 30 years after initial cross.
  • 1992 Cushion habit combined with discovery of giant mum plant that produces several thousand flowers.
  • 1996 'Polaris' and 'Chippewa' blueber­ries released.
  • 1997 Joe Sowokinos clones the anti­sweetening gene (UgpA) from the potato cultivar Snowden, and is the first to characterize the physiochemical and catalyric properties of the enzyme it produces.
  • 1997 'Frontenac' grape introduced. Result of initiative to produce a quality, hardy variety for wine production. Now popular with winemakers from Midwest to New England.
  • 2002 'CM6' seed treatment increases cold resistance of corn seedlings.
  • 2002 Center for Plants and Human Health established at U of M to facilitate research of foods, planes, and medicine.
  • 2003 "Antisweetness" gene first inserted into the potato cultivar Dakota Pearl by Joe Sowokinos. The commonly used Agrobacterium sp. transformation system was used for inserting the gene.
  • 2005 A result ofU ofM breeding, Easter lilies that are frost tolerant, continuously flowering and seed propagated are in commercial trials.
  • 2005 'Candy Lights' and 'Lilac Lights' azaleas available to nursery trade.
  • 2005 'SnowSweet’TM  apple released, lauded for sweet taste with a slight tartness, and firm white-flesh that is slow to oxidize when cut.
  • 2005 'ltasca’TM strawberry jointly released with USDA for national markets.
  • 2006 Release of the Marquette grape. A variety descended from Pinot noir and bred to produce a traditional type of red wine.
  • 2007 Two hardy polyantha roses of small stature, constant bloom, featuring large dusters of small flowers to be released.

Beneath the Surface

Beneath the surface of the earth a complex of soil bacteria and fungi provides the fundamentals of life to plants and-through plants-to humans and all animals. The study of these micro­scopic forms of life-microbiology-evolved through discover­ies in the fields of medicine and agriculture. A Department of Microbiology was established at the University’s Medical School in 1924 and shared a faculty member with the Division of Soils, now the Department of Soil, Water and Climate.

By 1950 the "Blue Baby Syndrome," an often-fatal disease of infants on farms with rich prairie soils, was traced to baby formula chat contained naturally-occurring, nitrate-laden water from farm wells in central and southwestern Minnesota. In response to concerns of the Minnesota Department of Health, the University hired microbiologist Edwin Schmidt co investi­gate. His dedication fostered a world renowned research pro­gram in the nitrification process that continues to unearth fun­damental knowledge today. In 1954, Schmidt reported in

Science discovery of a soil fungus capable of forming nitrate as a growth produce. This opened a new field of research in the nature and significance of heterotrophic nitrification. The effect on fertility management, water quality, pollution abatement, crop yield gains, and sustainable agriculture is global.

In the early 1960s Schmidt's laboratory pioneered the application of fluorescent antibody techniques co soil microbes. A unique cool used in medicine to identify infectious disease agents in animal tissues and fluids, ics use in soil microbial ecology overcame a maJor barrier to under­standing bacterial life in soil, per­mitting accurate and rapid identifi­cation of specific soil microbes,

published in Science in 1962. Combining the fluorescent antibody technique and an agglutination process developed in Iowa, University soil scientist George Ham set out to identify the specific strains of Bradyrhizobium japonicum (one of the most important organisms to agriculture) that form the nitro­gen fixing nodules on soybean roots. For over a decade it was recommended co inoculate soybean seed with commercial bac­terial strains for greater nitrogen fixation and thus greater yields. However, by 1967 Ham's research clearly showed that neither grain yield nor protein was increased by inoculation. Most of the nodules were instead formed by B. japonicum strains native to the soil. The inability to replace indigenous rhi­zobia with better nitrogen-fixing strains remains a major limita­tion in soybean production.

Scientists in Schmidt's laboratory sought co learn the mole­cular basis by which soil rhizobia form nodules on soybean roots. They found chat chis process was fostered by lectin-a plane-produced protein-which bonded specifically to acceptor sites on B. japonicum but not other bacterial cells. Publication of this research in Science in 1974 jump starred another field of study-the chemical signals between bacteria cells and the host plant. Scientists still have much co learn about how the variables in a host plane and its soil environment regulate bacterial nodu­lation, plane growth, and ultimately survival.

Soil microbiologist Michael Sadowsky dug into rhizobia immediately on his start in 1989, following Schmidt's retire­ment. His molecular biology expertise led co completion of the genetic map of B. japonicum.

Sadowsky and others have also used DNA fingerprinting methods to create a library of 4,000 strains of Escherichia coli bacteria isolated from animal sources. The fingerprints are used by public health investigators to identify and trace sources of fecal pollution in water.

Experiment Station and USDA scientists have studied atrazine residues and behavior in soils since the 1960s, finding unusual carryover and damage in certain types of soil from this widely used herbicide. This research now focuses on bacterial genes and metabolic pathways involved in biodegrading chlori­nated herbicides. Environmental microbiologist Sadowsky and biochemist Larry Wackett have cloned, sequenced, and expressed all genes involved in the atrazine biodegradation path­way and isolated, purified, and characterized several of the enzymes involved in atrazine degradation. Five patents resulted from chis work, 2001-2004, greatly aiding pollution abatement. Currently they are examining and identifying the genes of other soil bacteria chat aid the degradation of recalcitrant chemicals.

Work during the 1980s and 90s by soil microbiologist Peter Graham led co establishment of the Rhizobium Research Laboratory, which has a DNA fingerprint collection of more then 2,000 strains from Minnesota, the United States, Latin America, Africa, and Europe. This resource aids scientists worldwide who work with crops and sustainable agriculture sys­tems.

Graham collected and identified a natural strain of bacteria from a Colombian location that functions in very acidic soil, as low as ph 4.5. Introduced in acidic Brazilian soils, it increased yield up to 60% for edible beans, a staple in local diets. In Minnesota, the leading U.S. producer of dark red kidney beans, growers with low pH soils benefit from using the same soil bac­teria treatment, which also works with commonly used chemi­cal seed treatments. Seed companies in Australia and Canada are now incorporating the bacteria into their products. Graham has moved on to resting inoculated soybeans, which thrive in the irrigated areas of central Minnesota.

The project also contributes knowledge to the global study of how legumes and soil bacteria have spread from centers of origin. For example, how and when did field beans and their symbiotic bacteria-which originated in Central and South America-become well established in both Europe and North America?


  • 1889 Sources of Home Made Manures, first U of M soil-related publication.
  • 1899 The Chemistry of Soils and Fertilizers, authored by agricultural bio­chemist Harry Snyder.
  • 1924 Soil microbiology begins, joint program in Agriculture and Medical School, Department of Bacteriology and Immunology (now Department of Microbiology). Microbiologist Robert Starkey recruited from Rutgers.
  • 1926 Starkey lured back to Rutgers. Replaced by Charles Skinner, also from Rutgers, who stays through the mid-1930s.
  • 1949 Microbiologist Edwin Schmidt, who worked at Rutgers under Starkey, hired to lead renewed initiative in soil and medical microbiology.
  • 1954 Investigation of methemoglobinemia ("blue baby" syndrome) leads Schmidt to initiate a new field of agricultural research, "heterothrophic nitrification." Affects fertility management, water quality, pollution abatement, crop yields, and sustainable agriculture.
  • 1962 "Fluorescent antibody tech­nique" is adapted from medical research and applied to soil microbial ecology. Overcomes barriers to understanding soil microorganism. ‘Detection of Aspergillus flavus in soil by immunofluorescent stain­ing." Science, Vol 136. No. 776-7.June I, 1962
  • 1962 Russell Adams begins studies to reduce residues of the herbicides atrazine and simazine in Minnesota soils. Widespread expansion of pesticide use in the 1950s created need to understand their behavior, persistence, and interactions with the soil.
  • 1964 Schmidt has sabbatical leave at University of Louvain, Belgium. Learns of Belgian development project in Morocco and eventually leads to 30-year U of M project with Institute Agronomique Hassan II.
  • 1965 Rouse Farnham and Harlan Finney develop a new classification system for organic soils, based primarily on degree of decomposition of the organic material. Became part of USDA classification system used worldwide. 
  • 1974 The role of lectin as the chemi­cal signal between bacteria cells and host plant is published in Science magazine. E. B. Bohlool and Edwin Schmidt. "Lectins: A possible basis for specificity in the rhizobium-legume root module symbiosis." Science, Vol. 185, (269-71). July 19, 1974.
  • 1982 Belgian soil scientist Pierre Robert, scientist on Morocco project, begins research in Minnesota of computer mapping of soils, and methods to reduce fertilizer and herbicide use.
  • 1982 Peter Graham identifies a nitro­gen fixing rhizobium functioning in extremely acidic Colombian soils. Introduced into Brazil's beanfields in 1985, and by 1990, edible bean yields were 60% higher.
  • 1986 Focused research effort begins on water quality issues related to agricul­ture, especially in watershed of Minnesota River.
  • 1991 Rhizobium Research Laboratory reference collection established. Contains more than 2,000 strains from U. S., Latin America, Africa, and Europe.
  • 1992 First biennial International Conference on Precision Agriculture held at U of M.
  • 1995 Precision Agriculture Center, with Robert as director, established to foster site-specific management knowledge and techniques. Precise computer and GPS­-controlled applications of fertilizer and her­bicides reduce costs and pollution.
  • 2000 Library established ofDNA fingerprints from 4,000 strains of E. coli bacteria, isolated from fecal pollution by animals.
  • 2001 Team including U of M soil biologist Michael Sadowsky completes generic map of B. japonicum, one of the most important microorganisms in agriculture, and sequences three additional strains.
  • 2001-2004 U of M team includ­ing Michael Sadowsky, biochemist Larry Wacken and students clone, sequence, and express all genes in the atrazine biodegrada­tion pathway of a strain of Pseudomonas. Five patents result. 2004 Seventh International Conference of Precision Agriculture attracts 650 researchers from 35 countries to U of M.
  • 2005 "Practices and Issues in the Inoculation of Prairie Legumes Used in Revegetation and Restoration" published by Graham. Ecological Restoration. Vol. 23(3) pp. 186-194. 

Chemistry for Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives

We knew little about food and nutrition in the late 1800s. Vitamins and amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, were not yet dis­covered. The recommended dietary allowances for vitamins, miner­als, and other nutrients would not be published until 1940.

Three women pioneered the early food and nutrition work at the: University of Minnesota's St. Paul campus. Clara Shepperd Hays came with her husband, Willet, in 1888 and was one of only two women in the United Scares with a master of science in domestic science. She taught food and nutrition in Farmers Institute courses and compiled and edited food and nutrition information in the Farmers Institute Annual. Her sister and successor, Juniata Shepperd, taught chemistry of foods in 1894, was first to teach food science and nutrition courses at the University, and published herHandbook of Household Science in 1902.

Alice Child earned a bachelor of science in chemistry at the University in 1901 and later a master's, and taught chemistry and physics for many years. Finding scarce opportunity for a woman to advance, she restarted her career by enrolling in the home econom­ics division to study the application of chemistry to food, a first in 1912, and went on to lead the division's foods research work.

In dairy husbandry, Theophilus Haecker worked on problems of the times in making butter and cheese, while in the meat laboratory Andrew Boss did early work on meat processing. But in the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was the University's Agricultural Experiment Station chemists, biochemists, and micro­biologists who brought it renown in the food industry.

Cereal Products

David Harper began work as the Experiment Station's first chemist in 1888, and published the Station's first paper, on the chemistry of wheat. He and Harry Snyder, his successor, are credit­ed with creating the region's sugar beer industry through their stud­ies of the sugar content of beets. Snyder became known as America's foremost authority on the applications of cereal chemistry to indus­try, especially for his work on the adaptability of flours from differ­ent wheats for bread baking and the bleaching of flour and its effect on nutritive value. He authored four textbooks, spanning a wide range of copies: Dairy Chemistry, Soils and Fertilizers, Chemistry of Plant and Animal Life, and Human Foods and their Nutritive Value.

The milling industry made great strides in the latter 19th cen­tury through use of roller mills and purifiers, making white flour, once a delicacy for the upper classes, cheap and widely available. But vitamins and minerals were lost during the milling process, and cases of beriberi, from lack of thiamin, and pellagra, caused by niacin deficiencies, increased dramatically. Snyder's work would play a role in the later fortification of white flour with vitamins and minerals.

Clyde Bailey, who came in 1911 to head the new cereal tech­nology laboratory, brought world recognition to the Station for fur­ther advances in understanding the chemistry of wheat flour and the changes during storage, affect of milling on the flour, and changes during fermentation (rising), and baking. Because of the importance to the breeder in evaluating every new variety of wheat, considerable study was given to the development of procedures for estimating baking qualities of wheat flour. An outstanding accomplishment was 'Thatcher' wheat, which incorporated disease resistance and baking quality, a result of the cooperation of agronomists, geneticists, pathologists, and biochemists. The University became one of three institutions in the U.S. offering advanced studies in cereal chemistry.

When the American Association of Cereal Chemists founded the Cereal Chemistry journal in 1923, Bailey became its editor in chief and guiding spirit. Later, William F. Geddes, head of biochemistry from 1944 until his death in 1961, edited Cereal Chemistry for 18 years and became the first editor of Cereal Science Today.

By the early 1950s U.S. bakers were using about 250 million pounds of dry milk solids annually, but not without problems. Bread made with milk looks better, tastes better, and toasts better. Homemakers knew the value of scalding milk used to bake bread; unless the milk was heated drastically it tended to soften and slacken the dough and diminish the size of the loaf, precisely the problem bakers often encountered using dry milk solids. Biochemist Robert Jenness, a specialist in milk chemistry, determined that neither the 143°F heat of pasteurization nor the heat of the drying operation were enough to avoid the problem; the lowest heat treatment that assured success was 165°F. Jenness identi­fied the problem source as the whey protein mixture and developed a rapid objective test for the solubility of whey protein that could be applied to dry milk. It became a principal test for baking quality.

The Station's long tradition of leadership in cereals continues. Station food scientists Len Marquart, Joanne Slavin, and Gary Fulcher's recent book, Whole-Grain Foods in Health and Disease, summarizes current scientific understanding of the role grain plays in human health. Station researchers, funded by the National Institutes of Health and USDA, participate in a national effort to increase consumption of healthful whole grains by 50 percent in at least half of the population in five years.

Dairy Products

Cheese is produced through the work of "good" bacteria that coagulate milk. Sixteenth-century records describe drying and pre­serving a calf's stomach and adding a piece of it to milk to start the cheesemaking process. The existence of bacteria (in the stomach tis­sue) and their role was not understood until the late 1800s. Commercial bacterial cultures were then introduced and used to make cheese with fewer vats lost from what we now know were genetic changes in the bacteria.

In the 1920s dairy chemist Leroy Palmer studied the con­stituents of milk and me changes mar they undergo during process­ing. He investigated the biological value of the proteins, and vita­min and mineral requirements of animals.

Already in 1894 under Theophilus Haecker the University had developed domestic Edam and Gouda cheeses. From about 1933 toto the 1950s the Station rented sandstone caves on St. Paul's West Side and there developed and produced a domestic Roquefort-type cheese. Willes Combs had found that the caves, once used for growing mushrooms, provided a combination of temperature and humidity similar to those in France where Roquefort cheese is ripened. Combs inoculated his cheese with the fungus Penicillium roqueforti, which led to the distinctive blue veining pattern for which blue cheese is known. Marketed as Minnesota Blue, Combs' cheese brought St. Paul acclaim as "The Blue Cheese Capital of the World." When World War II cut off the supply of Roquefort cheese from France the demand for Minnesota Blue soared. In time, Combs decided that producing cheese was taking time from research and teaching and scaled back production. To supply the market, Land O'Lakes and Kraft developed their own brands of blue cheese, and a private firm began producing blue cheese at Treasure Cave in Faribault.

In the early 1950s Combs, Howard Morris, and James Jezeski created a new "white" blue cheese using a white mutant strain of bacteria created by irradiating blue cheese mold with ultraviolet light. Named "Nuworld" because, unlike all other cheeses, it had no roots in Europe but was strictly a produce of the new world, it was the first new cheese in more than 500 years. Nuworld became known as the "space-age" cheese.

In the 1970s, responding co dieters looking for new low-fat foods, Morris developed three types of low-fat cheeses-a soft French, a Swiss, and a Brick--containing only half the calories found in standard cheeses. They were test-marketed by the Experiment Station and later adopted by cheese manufacturers.

For the past three decades Larry McKay has studied how to improve the microorganisms used in dairy starter cultures that make dairy products such as cheese and yogurt possible. While the relevant bacteria involved in dairy cultures were identified in the 1890s, and commercial cultures for cheese were introduced then, the dairy industry yet relied on naturally occurring strains.

Sometimes they worked well; sometimes they didn't. No one knew why. Two vital enzymes, one to convert casein and the other to convert lactose, were unstable and often became slow coagulators and useless in dairy fermentation.

McKay learned that these traits are carried by "plasmids" — tiny rings of DNA a thousand times smaller than a chromosome — sep­arate from the main generic material of the bacteria. To improve strains of bacteria used in dairy produce production meant develop­ing a specific, reliable gene-transfer system. McKay and his col­leagues developed a protoplast transformation system enabling them to work with plasmids in the laboratory, then transfer the information inside the cell. They became the first in the world to transfer plasmids from one microbe to another. In the 1970s McKay's was the only laboratory in the world working on plasmids in dairy culture; today some 500 groups worldwide are involved.

Daniel O'Sullivan's "probiotic" research investigates two forms of beneficial bacteria that occur normally in humans. Lactobacillus, found in me small intestine and readily available from cultured dairy products, produces anti-microbial peptides for defense against bacteria and viruses. Bifidobacterium naturally occurs in the large intestine, but declines as people age. It fights gastrointestinal infections and may help lactose intolerance and prevent colon cancer. O'Sullivan and other scientists have completed the genetic map of Bifidobacterium Longum DJ101A, and have found that strains of the bacteria now added to dairy products are missing many important elements that naturally occurring bacteria supply to the colon. O'Sullivan wants to develop a better Bifidobacterium to add to yogurt and cheeses to make those products more beneficial.

A food science research program is searching for natural organ­isms that produce compounds toxic to illness-causing bacteria such as Escheichia coli. They could be used with products such as alfalfa sprouts — which are consumed raw — or meats that are insufficiently cooked, and organic fruits and vegetables that may be fertilized with cattle manure. The project is even looking at how E. coli might be controlled in the intestine of cattle, using corn that is generically modified to specifically inhibit the growth of E. coli.

Most present food and nutrition studies relate to dairy starter culture organisms, diet and health aspects of human nutrition, and food safety. Historically, food safety research related co accidental deterioration or contamination. Today's focus on food safety has changed to include prevention of intentional contamination. The University received $15 million from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to develop ways to protect our food supply from deliberate contamination or terrorist attack. Food microbiolo­gist Frank Busta leads the consortium of more than 90 investigators that represent 12 universities working with state health and agricul­ture agencies, professional organizations, and private industry. A major asset of the project is a unique farm-to-table industry group that worked with the University for nearly two years to identify security gaps in the nation's food supply and to develop counter­measures.


  • 1891 Chemist Harry Snyder begins research in cereal chemistry. Later recruited by Minneapolis milling industry, he played a major role in the fortification of white flour with vitamins and minerals lost in the milling process.
  • 1894 First U of M cheeses produced, Edam and Gouda.
  • 1897 The Chemistry of Dairying: An Outline of the Chemical and Allied Changes Which Take Place in Milk and in the Manufacture of Butter and Cheese, authored by Snyder.
  • 1901 Experimental flour mill and labo­ratories built to test flour proteins of potential wheat varieties from breeding program.
  • 1902 Handbook of Household Science, authored by Juniata Shepperd, included topics on food science and chemistry of foods.
  • 1903 The Chemistry of Plant and Animal Life, published by MacMillan, authored by Snyder.
  • 1915 Nutritionist Alice Child begins studies of food chemistry.
  • 1924 Process to ripen fruits and vegeta­bles using ethylene gas developed and patented by U of M. Still used today.
  • 1925 The Chemistry of Wheat Flour by Clyde Harold Bailey, published in New York (324 pages).
  • 1929 Milk and Milk Products authored by C. Eckles and W.B. Combs, and Harold Macy, published by McGraw-Hill. Went to four editions, last published in 1951.
  • 1933 10,000 pounds of 'Minnesota Blue' cheese produced, using Penicillium roqueforti.
  • 1934 'Thatcher' wheat released, became one of U.S.’s most popular varieties. Plant geneticists selected it for its outstanding dis­ease resistance and yield. Because cereal chemists identified the excellent processing and baking qualities of the grain, it was rapidly accepted by the milling industry.
  • 1944 The Constituents of Wheat and Wheat Products by Bailey, 322 pages.
  • 1950s Sam Coulter invents and patents cyclone-nozzle spray dryer for milk solids, widely used by industry. 
  • 1953 Nuworld cheese, a white-veined blue cheese and first new cheese in more than 500 years is introduced; becomes known as the "space-age" cheese.
  • 1950s Biochemist Robert Jenness solves whey protein problem of dried milk used in baking.
  • 1957 New food science building includes a "pilot plane" for real-world, commercial processing research-the first at any U.S. university.
  • 1959 Widely used college textbook, Principles of Dairy Chemistry, authored by Jenness.
  • 1960 Graduate student in food micro­biology, Frank Busta, conducts food safety studies of minimally processed foods, such as those thar are refrigerated or frozen. Finds that bacteria are not killed, but "cell injury" occurs. Cells can recover, then mul­tiply, and cause illness.
  • 1968 Jenness studies milk proteins from over 200 species of mammals, look­ing for evidence of relationships.
  • 1970s Larry McKay begins research that leads to his discovery of plasmids in bacteria in dairy starter cultures, beginning understanding of the primary problem in cheese production. While all organisms contain chromosomes, a plasmid is unique to bacteria and is a separate piece of DNA 1,000 times smaller than the chromosome.
  • 1970s U of M Extension Service Farmstead Cheese project encourages small-scale on-farm cheese production in the European model.
  • 1970s Medical researcher Lee W. Wattenberg, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, finds that crucif­erous crops inhibit tumor formation in lab rats. Begins cooperative work with horticulture researchers to evaluate specific vari­eties.
  • 1983 Nutritionist Dennis Savaiano and Veteran's Hospital collaborators show that yogurt microorganisms aid in digestion of lactose and help milk-intolerant people digest dairy products.
  • 1984 McKay successfully introduces new DNA into the plasmids of cheese­making bacteria. Now, over 500 laborato­ries worldwide study the generic makeup of bacteria used to make cheese, yogurt, and other fermented products.
  • 1986 Biotechnology in Food Processing, book edited by S. K. Harlander and Theodore P. Labuza. 
  • 1987 U of M researchers from medi­cine and agriculture conduct large scale evaluation of commercial broccoli and cab­bage varieties to determine variation in lev­els of anti-cancer phytochemicals.
  • 1987 Minnesota-South Dakota Dairy Foods Research Center is established. Focuses on cheese, improving starter cul­tures the through genetics, probiotics and nutraceuticals, and milk products.
  • 1991 Sue Harlander and A Bologa develop a simplified DNA fingerprint test for meat and dairy products to detect the presence of a bacterium that causes deadly food poisoning.
  • 1993 Ed Zattola reports how forma­tion of "microcolonies" allow some bacteria to escape cleaning processes widely used in food processing industry.
  • 2002 Publication of Whole-Grain Foods in Health and Disease by food sci­entists Len Marquart, Joanne Slavin and Gary Fulcher, summarizes current scientific understanding of the role grain plays in human health.
  • 2003 Lloyd Metzger designs first pilot-scale, enclosed-vat system for cheese pro­cessing. The fully automated system makes cheese from 2,500 lbs. of milk, and is a laboratory version of the 40,000 pound commercial systems. Constructed in coop­eration with Scherping Systems, Inc., Winstead, Minn., largest manufacturer of cheese-making equipment.
  • 2003 New endowed chair, "General Mills Chair in Genomics for Healthful Foods," created to investigate the relation­ship between food and human health.
  • 2004 University receives $15 million Homeland Security grant to develop sys­tems to protect food supplies against bioterrorism.
  • 2005 Researchers organize international exchange of research, "Whole Grains 2005: A Global Summit on Whole Grains, Functional Components and Health." 

Bulls to Bioinformatics

The Station's earliest work in generic improvement of livestock began in the 1890s with Willer M. Hays, who fostered the organization of breeding circuits among farmers with dairy cattle. The daughters of sires were studied, and sires with proven desirable traits were kept for exchange among members.

University of Minnesota researchers have contributed to world­wide improvement of livestock through more than 75 years of work in reproductive technologies. It began with their development of artificial insemination (AI), which allowed the breeding of thou­sands of females using the semen of a single male possessing outstanding generic traits.

Laurence Winters came to the Station from Canada in 1928 and attempted artificial insemination of swine in 1929. Unsuccessful with swine, Winters turned to sheep and then to dairy cattle, enlisting the aid of a graduate student, Clarence (Stub) Cole. He successfully inseminated a Guernsey cow that in 1936 gave birth to Minnehaha Tuba, the first AI-conceived calf.

In 1937, anxious to put Al technology to practical use, Cole began the first U.S. circuit for Al of dairy cattle with a few herds within a 10-mile radius of the Grand Rapids station. By spring 1938 he had inseminated 121 cows with a conception rare of 87 percent. It was America's first demonstration of the practical appli­cation of Al to dairy herd improvement. Commercial AI organiza­tions soon followed and the herd bull became largely a relic.

Wishing to apply the science of genetics to swine improve­ment, Winters began a project to utilize inbreeding, crossbreeding, and selection of swine in 1936, basing it at the Grand Rapids sta­tion. He concentrated largely on the Poland China breed, eventual­ly involving three other Minnesota branch stations and Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.

From this work emerged the University's Minnesota No. 1, a new breed of swine introduced in 1946, and founding of the Inbred Livestock Registry Association. Fertile, vigorous, with a long body, good ham, and a high yield of lean bacon, the Minnesota No. 1 made fast and economical gains and was widely used in crossbreed­ing for efficient pork production.

While pork-producing farmers were enthusiastic about the Minnesota No. 1, Winters' earlier work brought him the wrath of the purebred swine associations, which pressured the University for his dismissal. Protected from this storm of criticism by the academic freedom that fosters innovation, Winters went on to introduce the Minnesota No. 2 and No. 3 breeds. His work was adopted through­out the country and beyond, providing leaner meat to consumers and saving Minnesota producers an estimated (in 1943 dollars) $3 million a year in feed.

As the AI industry developed, Experiment Station scientists improved techniques and semen quality. In the early 1950s Edmund Graham reported that in trials with identical triplet bulls Tom, Dick, and Harry, more frequent ejaculations yielded semen of higher quality. AI organizations began collecting semen every 4 or 5 days instead of weekly, reducing loses and improving semen quality in the process.

Insemination with frozen semen seemed far ahead when Graham's scientific paper, "Factors Involved in Freezing Semen," came out in 1953. But, within a decade more than 60 percent of all dairy cattle inseminations used frozen semen.

In early freezing methods, semen was collected and cooled, an extender added, and a 12-hour equilibration period was required. Graham's finding that percentage recovery race was greater when semen was frozen in a thin film-rather than in the usual glass ampoule revolutionized semen handling. Researchers developed a machine and method, later adopted by the Al industry, for freezing semen in the same pipette—or "straw”—actually used for insemination.

Graham's work on amino acid effect on fertility led to develop­ment of a semen extender adopted worldwide to increase cattle­ breeding efficiency. Still later he developed techniques for freezing semen without use of glycerol, essential in early freezing processes.

The Station's Al work also became widely known for freezing semen of sheep and swine, with the first liter of pigs resulting from Al born in 1970. In 1972 Graham developed an extender for turkey semen, enabling production of hatching eggs via artificial insemination with only one-sixth as many toms as before. Annual savings to turkey producers a decade later were said to be $13 mil­lion. He also developed a method for the successful cyropreservation (very low temperature freezing} of fish eggs and sperm, valuable in developing selective breeding programs for fish­eries management.

Already in the 1950s Graham pioneered ova transplant, suc­cessfully transplanting a fertilized egg from a donor to an incubator cow. In 1956 his work led to the world's second calf born from an embryo transfer, the first arriving slightly earlier in Wisconsin.

The University's lead role in research of reproductive technolo­gies continued in the 1960s as Alan Hunter extensively studied the role of the gelacinous glycoprotein that coats the sperm cell. He learned that the “tris" buffer in which sperm is scored affects the sperm-covering mucus much the same as the natural chemistry of the uterus and fallopian tubes in preparing the sperm to fertilize eggs. This finding helped with accomplishing in vitro (laboratory) fertilization. Hunter was a founding member of the University's Human In Vitro Fertilization Institute. Research of human subjects began in the 1970s and was actually easier due to human chemistry. (In order of difficulty, humans are easiest followed by cattle, sheep, and swine, with horses the most challenging.)

Oocyte maturation is a reproductive technology that has not yet been transferred to a live animal. In 2003 Hunter published his results of using immature eggs (oocytes) from the follicles of slaughterhouse dairy and maturing them in a test cube. That was the first time in the world that oocytes had been successfully matured and fertilized. The goal is to reduce the generation intervals to make multiple animals of the same age and with the same, desirable genetics for use in research.

Early results of present-day research in crossbreeding of dairy cattle by animal scientist Les Hansen indicate that, as Winters doc­umented earlier in crossbreeding swine, crossbreeding of dairy appears to be very beneficial. The purebred tradition in the U.S. has led to "inbreeding depression" because 90 percent of the country's Holstein herd now has one of three bulls as a parent. The unintend­ed result is limiting milk production. Nevertheless, as Winters invoked the wrath of purebred swine associations for his work, so has Hansen been criticized by a major dairy breed organization.

Hansen also heads a project to determine the genetic basis for general cattle health disorders, especially masti­tis. Statistical methods developed here for evaluating somatic cells-white blood cells, prime indicators of udder infection-tested in milk as indicators of mastitis presence, has been replicated and used now for genetic evaluation in the U.S.

Research in animal genomics by Scott Fahrenkrug is focused on manipu­lation of the pig genome to develop human medical produces, large-animal models to investigate human diseases, and animals with enhanced agricultural production traits. New technologies coupled with genomic sequencing enable the use of the pig as an alternative animal model (replacing laboratory mice) for study of human diseases such as cystic fibrosis and dia­betes. The physiology of swine and their organs are remarkably sim­ilar to humans, making this an ideal animal model.

Fahenkrug is investigating treatment for Type I diabetics, in collaboration with Bernard Hering, a medical researcher in the U of M Diabetes Institute. Hering reported the first transfer and pro­longed survival of pancreatic islet cells from pigs to diabetic mon­keys in 2006. If successfully applied to humans, normal or geneti­cally manipulated pigs could produce islet cells that provide an alternative to insulin injections for some of the millions of diabetics in the U.S.

In 2005 Fahrenkrug joined with private philanthropists to form "Spring Point Project," a not-for-profit research company formed to develop superior pigs for Xenotransplantation - moving organs or tissue from one animal species to another. They are constructing a large biological isolation unit to produce and maintain pigs consis­tent with FDA guidelines. Most of the board of directors at SPP have children with diabetes and are supporting this search for a cure.

In 2005 the National Institutes for Health (NIH) issued a formal program announcement requesting research proposals for creation of a large animal model for cystic fibrosis. Previous studies used mice, which do nor easily get lung diseases and are a much different scale. The University already had a proposal prepared by Fahrenkrug, ani­mal scientist Scott O'Grady and medical school researcher Cliff Steer that uses normal size pigs.

Cystic fibrosis is a thickening of the mucosal layer in the lungs, easily infected by disease organ­isms. This disease is a candidate for gene therapy, if the appropri­ate gene that controls the lung coating can be manipulated. Two discoveries from U of M scientists make this, and other, genomic research possible. First is use of the Sleeping Beauty Transposon System™, an enzyme that can precisely move a segment of DNA into a chromosome. This was discovered by Perry Hackett in 1997 during research of fish genetics. The second discovery, in 2006 by medical researcher Catherine Verfaillie, was of multipotent adult progenitor cells from the bone marrow of swine.

Using these two new cools, Fahrenkrug expects to greatly improve the efficiency of genetically engineering swine by either cloning or pronuclear injection. Current techniques are inefficient, with only 1% of injected, or 5% of cloned, embryos making it to term. With increased efficiency the likelihood of commercial use becomes more possible and the benefits to human health more imminent.

Animal genomics research by Fahrenkrug, Mike Murtaugh, Yang Da and others has led to the development of bioinformatics software and databases including the Minnesota Animal Genomics Ontology Database, Locusmap, Pedigraph and MiniInbred. These tools are used internationally by researchers mapping the genetics of many species. Fahrenkrug's work with swine demonstrates the remarkable changes in genetic research over the last century, and the consistent high achievement of U of M scientists, from 1930s crossbreeding, which transferred all of the genetics from me male, to the novel use of transposons to insert a single gene.



  • 1888 Thomas, professor of ani­mal husbandry, notes increased vigor and feed utilization in crossbred swine.
  • 1890s Breeding circuits organized to improve genetics of livestock.
  • 1900 Theophilus Haecker writes Station Bulletin #67, "Feeding Standards for Dairy Cattle," followed by bulletin 130. "Feeding Dairy Cows. First such research in U.S., led to revolution in dairy production: in 1890 the average cow produced 2,800 lbs. of milk and 128 lbs. of milk fat per lactation. Eighty years later it was 10,300 lbs. of milk and 385 lbs. of milk fat.
  • 1901 Animal Breeding, introductory text authored by Shaw.
  • 1924 C. H. Eckles publishes Feeding Dairy Herd, combining Haecker's studies with use of silage in dairy rations.
  • 1925 First edition of Laurence Winters' Animal Breeding textbook published by J. Wiley and Sons, goes through four editions.
  • 1928 Long-term crossbreeding study of hogs begins.
  • 1929 Unsuccessful attempts at artificial insemination of swine marked beginning of U’s world renowned breakthroughs in repro­ductive technologies.
  • 1920s-1930s Widely accepted visual quality rating of livestock is challenged as a predictor of offspring's performance by University animal scientists. Upsets tradi­tional views.
  • 1935 Six-year swine study shows the value of crossbreeding and begins a U.S. rev­olution in livestock breeding strategies of most species. Crossbred sows delivered up to two more piglets, and they weighed 5-7 pounds more at weaning. They reached market weight about 20 days earlier than purebreds while consuming 30 pounds less feed.
  • 1936 L. M. Winter and graduate student C. L. Cole's research leads to first calf conceived by Al, a Guernsey named Minnehaha Tuba.
  • 1937 First U.S. demonstration of the practical use of Al for dairy improvement, in herds near Experiment Station in Grand Rapids.
  • 1939 Dairy Science, a 700-page text authored by William Petersen, published by J. B. Lippincott.
  • 1946 Minnesota No. 1, a new breed of swine introduced to breeders worldwide, is widely used in crossbreeding for efficient pork production.
  • 1946 Inbred Livestock Registry Association is founded to maintain accurate generic records of crossbred livestock.
  • 1947 Start of identical twins and triplets use for dairy production research. By 1952 the U of M had the largest collection in the U.S. (47 sets of twins and 7 sets of triplets), making comparison research much more effi­cient.
  • 1952 Ed Graham uses triplet bulls—­Tom, Dick, and Harry—to improve AI tech­niques.
  • 1953 Ed Graham's publication, Factors Involved in Freezing Semen, led to a revolu­tion in Al.
  • 1953 British scientists Watson and Crick show the double-helix structure of DNA.
  • 1956 Second calf in world conceived from embryo transfer is born at U of M. First was at Wisconsin.
  • 1950s Graham successfully transplants fertilized bovine egg.
  • 1960s Pietrain swine breed imported from Belgium for the Station’s PSS studies. Later used in crossbreeding growth studies.
  • 1964 Control herd of Holsteins is estab­lished at Waseca, preserving 1960s genetics.
  • 1970 First litter of pigs born from Al using frozen semen.
  • 1980 U of M one of three universities leading investigation of in vitro fertilization of livestock.
  • 1984 Alan Hunter discovers that “tris buffer" simulates what happens to sperm cells in the uterus, enabling successful in vitro fertilization.
  • 1988 U.S. Congress funds human genome project. Ten years later, first rough draft of human genome is produced by pri­vate research lab.
  • 1988 Veterinary biologist L. Buoen finds the centuries-old problem of reduced fertility in cattle is due to a fused chromo­some pair. Develops test to screen carriers from breeding stock.
  • 1994 U of M Food Animal Biotechnology Center established to develop and disseminate techniques for improving the precision of traditional animal breeding practices.
  • 1997 Sleeping Beauty Transposon SystemTM, an enzyme that can precisely move a segment of DNA into a chromosome, discovered by Perry Hackett.
  • 2002 Alan Hunter is first to successful­ly mature and fertilize oocytes in laboratory. Taken from ovaries of hormone-free slaugh­terhouse animals.
  • 2002 "High resolution genetic map of bovine chromosome 29 through focused marker development,” published by Kent Reed and researchers from Japan, Nebraska, and USDA-ARS, in Cytogenetic and Genome Research.
  • 2004 U of M and California researchers initiate crossbreeding trials to increase genetic diversity using two French dairy breeds. Currently, 90 percent of U.S. Holstein herd has one of three Holstein bulls as a parent, resulting in lower milk production and precarious health.
  • 2004 "A Comprehensive Genetic Map of the Cattle Genome Based on 3802 Microsatellites" published. Kent Reed is part of worldwide team.
  • 2006 Medical researcher Catherine Verfaillie discovers multipotent adult prog­enitor cells from swine bone marrow.

Muscles to Meat

“Professor Snyder has on hand for the ensuing year a study of the food value of meats from the various animals and from several pares of the same animal," said the 1893 Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station biennial report. In his "Human Food Investigations” bulletin of 1898, agricultural chemist Harry Snyder reported analyzing the composition of beef, mutton, pork, poultry, fish, and eggs, along with cereal grains, for which he was best known.


Andrew Boss's $7,500 slaughterhouse and meat laboratory, built in 1901, was first used to teach students practical methods for on-farm slaughter of livestock, cutting up a carcass, and cur­ing the meat. This abattoir was the first of its kind on a college campus, and his course in dressing and curing meats, begun in 1894, is considered the origin of meat science.

In the early 1900s Boss took University cattle, sheep, and swine to the Chicago and St. Louis livestock shows where the success of his entries was based on the external, visible traits which judges valued in the show ring. Nonetheless, early work on the abattoir cutting floor helped relate carcass traits to evaluation of the live animal, and had been applied to livestock breeding.

Theophilus Levi Haecker, best known for his dairy feeding standards used throughout the world, worked with dairy and other livestock from 1901 to 1915. During this period he direct­ed an extensive study of fattening steers, noting feed consump­tion and daily weight gain. Representative steers were slaughtered at intervals and Haecker analyzed the carcasses for water, protein, fat, and minerals as the steer grew. This experiment, the first of its kind dealing with factors affecting carcass quality, stands as a clas­sic in livestock research.

Boss's 1901 meats laboratory, about the size of a country schoolhouse, served until replaced in 1973 by a new facility championed by meat scientist C. Eugene Allen. It is equipped with slaughtering and meat-handling facilities; laboratories for chemical, microbial, and histological research; a teaching labora­tory, and physiology and quality control laboratories. Here, for the first time the meat scientists-experts in physiology, chemistry, microbiology, food processing, meat hygiene, and other spe­cialties — came together under one roof. Variations in meat prod­uces are studied in their entirety: the genetic background, feeding history and environmental factors, pre- and post-mortem variables at slaughter, and each step in the processing and storage of meat products en route to the consumer.

Among studies to follow were those of dark-cutting beef, caused by physiological stress before slaughtering; palatability characteristics of meat; pathogens in meat; and meat foods with medium moisture content such as beef sticks, cured sausage, and luncheon meats.

Frank Busta and Pac Noren did extensive studies of long-time low-temperature cooking, such as in a crock pot or low-temperature oven, to check its effect on Clostridium perfingens, the culprit in one of the most common types of food poisoning. Their research became the basis for USDA standards for the minimum processing temperature of commercially processed, precooked beef available today at deli counters.

Following introduction of the Minnesota No. 1 breed in 1946, the swine industry underwent a reshaping revolution.

Before then the average hog carried about 50 pounds of lard to market. As breeders selected for leaner pigs, by the 1970s the average slaughter hog carried only 21 pounds of lard. This result­ed in a new problem; some of these leaner, meatier hogs became stressed when handled and transported-even when moved from one pen to another. The stress could lead to death, and their car­casses sometimes yielded pale, soft, watery meat that became dry and chewy on cooking. This condition came to be known in the living animal as porcine stress syndrome (PSS) and the pale, soft meat as PSS pork.

The late 1960s discovery of the underlying physiological causes of PSS and the enzymes that control it was one of many contribu­tions of researchers known as "meat scientists." A decade later work by Minnesota and Canadian meat and animal scientists and veterinary researchers documented that PSS traits are inherited, and they identified the "ryanadine receptor" gene respon­sible. University biochemist Paul Addis developed a blood test to iden­tify animals with this trait. Animal breeders can now identify hogs with the gene and remove them from the breeding herd. As a result, consumers enjoy pork cuts that are consistently tender and tasty.

By the 1970s Allen was investigating the biochemical basis for fat deposition in swine and beef. The findings revealed that lean pigs have more fat cells, but the cells are not as large as those in obese pigs. He studied the hormonal and enzymatic control mechanisms that determine the ultimate size of fat cells. Allen also found that white muscle tissue shortens slowly and very little during rigor mortis, compared with red fibers of beef, and is directly related to tenderness.

Today, a team of University muscle biology researchers­ William Dayton, Marcia Hathaway, and Michael White--work at the molecular level to study how hormones and growth factors regulate proliferation, specialization, and growth of muscle cells.

Muscle fibers are unique because they can be centimeters long and are formed from myoblasts that fuse together during a complex process initiated by hormone signals. Animals are born with a finite number of muscle cells, so the only way to increase muscle is to grow larger cells, the basic challenge of muscle biologists.

In 1991 the University team developed a unique culture system for embryonic porcine myo­genic (muscle) cells. This allowed researchers to study muscle activity at the cellular level in a laboratory instead of a living animal.

The investigators were among the first to culture "satellite cells" from beef, swine, and sheep, in 1994. Muscle biologists elsewhere had discovered that satellite cells grow in direct contact with the long muscle fibers and are what control muscle cell growth by fus­ing to existing muscle fibers. They also understood that an "insulin­like growth factor" (IGF) stimu­lates satellite cells to increase in number, causing increased muscle growth. During the 1990s, scien­tists gained a much more precise understanding of what makes muscle grow at the cellular level, a quantum leap from carcass evaluations a generation earlier.

Research of the Experiment Station muscle biol­ogists revealed a possible reason why the then-com­mon addition of subtherapeutic antibiotics to live­stock feed caused more rapid growth: because it increases IGF production. The team also discovered, in 1998, that steroids initiate production of IGF within muscle, explaining the dramatic increase in muscle mass from steroid use. The current research of Dayton, Hathaway, and White has also identified several specific IGF binding proteins and their functions. They discovered IGF binding protein-3, and have proposed to the animal science research com­munity that it is a potent regulator of muscle growth. This discovery, and others that build on it, will enhance livestock producers' ability to increase muscle growth and improve the quality of finished meat products.



  • 1863 Andrew Boss's course in dressing and curing meats begins. Considered the origin of meat science.
  • 1898 "Human Food Investigation” bul­letin by Harry Snyder is published by Experiment Station.
  • 1899-1900 Andrew Boss takes U of M livestock to Chicago and St. Louis shows where he receives numerous awards.
  • 1901 First U.S. educational abattoir ­slaughterhouse built on St. Paul campus.
  • 1903 Meat On the Farm: Butchering, Curing and Keeping, by Andrew Boss, pub­lished.
  • 1901-1915 Theophilus Haecker con­ducts livestock feeding studies, analyzes resulting carcass quality to develop feeding standards. Considered a classic in livestock research.
  • 1920s Alice Child is first U.S. scientist to apply chemistry to research of meats.
  • 1940 Isabel Nobles research of frozen meat preparation anticipates post-war popu­larity of home freezers.
  • 1940-1970 As a result of breeding leaner hogs, average amount of lard in U.S. herds decreases from 50 to 21 pounds per animal.
  • 1965 A team of muscle biology researchers is assembled to focus on muscle growth in livestock at the cellular and molec­ular level. This marks a paradigm shift from traditional meat science research based on visible, external animal traits and evaluation of the carcass, and is organized by species: beef, poultry, and swine. Minnesota soon became one of the top three institutions in the new science of muscle biology. Researchers made breakthroughs in under­standing the biochemistry of muscle growth and development, which are controlled by enzymes, steroids, and binding proteins­ fundamentally, how muscle cells form, grow. and change during processing. Their results apply to all major species and are enjoyed by anyone who consumes meat, which is now better tasting and more tender because of improvements implemented by the meat processing industry.
  • 1972 Introduction to Meat Microbiology, by food scientist Edmund A. Zottala, pub­lished by American Meat lnstitute.
  • 1973 New U of M meat science lab building opens, one of first in country to combine studies of foods and livestock. Beginning of research emphasis in muscle cell biology at the cellular—later gene—level.
  • 1978 As parr of food safety research of meats, Frank Busta and Gene Allen report finding Clostridium batulinum bacteria with the fastest doubling race of any organism on earth, every seven minutes in ideal condi­tions. Research leads to recommendations for minimal cooking times of slow-cooked beef (deli beef), adopted as USDA standards and used today by food industry.
  • 1978 William Dayton and Gene Allen first to purify the enzyme (calcium-activated protease) from porcine muscle. This enzyme is an integral part of the tenderizing sys­tem-now called Calpain.
  • 1991 U of M team of muscle biolo­gists-William Dayton, Marcia Hathaway and Michael White—develop unique culture system for embryonic porcine muscle cells.
  • 1994 U of M muscle biologists are among first to culture "satellite cells" for beef, swine and sheep.
  • 1996 Minnesota team proposes an expla­nation of why sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics in livestock feed cause more rapid growth, by stimulating IGF production.
  • 1998 Muscle biology group discovers that steroids stimulate "insulin-like growth factor" (IGF) within muscle, helping explain the dramatic increase in muscle mass from steroid use.
  • 2000 Dayton, Hathaway; and White identify several specific IGF binding proteins. IGFBP-3 and IGFBP-5 are potent regulators of muscle growth.
  • 2005 Dayton, Hathaway, and White dis­cover that IGFBP-3 and IGFBP-5 mediate the inhibitory action of myostatin in porcine muscle cells in culture. Myostatin is an inhibitor of muscle growth.

Flocks, Feathers, Viruses and Vaccines

From when they were brought to North America by the English until the 20th century, chickens were kept in small flocks for home consumption of eggs and meat with any surplus sold or exchanged for other products. In the late 1800s the University maintained a flock of about 100 hens to demonstrate poultry rais­ing as a part of diversified farming. J.B. Drew, a Winona County farmer recruited to reach blacksmithing, also tended the flock.

In 1911 a 5-acre tract was set aside at St. Paul and a 16' x 216' poultry house and a poultryman's residence were built, " ... to learn the possibilities of poultry-raising on a large scale in the tim­bered sections of northern Minnesota''-areas largely unsuited to crops and livestock. A flock was also established at the Duluth sta­tion and turkey flocks would be added at Crookston and Morris in the mid 1920s. Once begun, early research evaluated how vari­ous rations affected weight gain and egg production. From this start, and continued support of research since, grew Minnesota's standing as the top turkey-producing state in the country.

Frederick Hutt, whose background was in genetics, arrived on the scene about 1929. Hutt thought that mortality, rather than egg-laying ability, was the leading poultry-rais­ing problem. The Station's 1930-31 report noted that "special attention has been given... to genetic reactions governing inheritance and the principles of poultry breeding." New projects were begun in embryonic mortality, physiology of reproduction, and the genetic constitution of the fowl. A rising star in avian genetics, Hutt was enticed in 1934 to head the poultry department at Cornell University, and his Genetics of the Fowl, published in 1949, became the leading text of poultry breeding.

T. Canfield carried on from Hutt and developed a method for determining the sex of day-old chicks, poults, and goslings. It was widely adopted by the poultry industry and annual savings through its use were estimated to be $250 million.

Robert Shoffner came in 1940 and began advanced genetic studies, leading to identification of 20 genetic traits and some of their associated markers, such as the black plumage trait which was linked to the trait for higher weight. Thirteen inbred lines of chickens exhibiting "Minnesota Markers" were created and maintained. In 1945 the division proudly reported chat bird C2634-Patricia-a 2-year-old inbred White Leghorn, set a laying record of 153 eggs in 153 days!

Traditional phenotype breeding-selection based on appearance-required handling and hatching thousands of eggs and housing, feeding, and evaluating thousands of chicks and adult birds. This approach created a major strain on labor, facilities, and resources, and the resulting odor, waste, and sound created its own effect on the environment. To get our of chis massive chicken-raising business, Shoffner set out to understand the genetics of birds at the cellular level. He developed a technique based on research with grasshoppers he studied while on sabbatical study in Australia in the 1960s. He applied the technique to poultry by collecting a living tissue sample at the base of young feathers where cells are rapidly growing and dividing, and treating it to make the chromosomes visible under a powerful microscope. He and his students first saw and described the chromosomes of chickens in the early 1970s. Until then, no one knew how many chromosomes chick­ens had-a chicken has 78, a human 46-or where any genes were located on those chromosomes. Understanding the makeup of chromosomes opened possibilities for poultry scientists to manipulate genetic programming to improve desirable traits or eliminate undesirable ones.

Shoffner found that the sex-determining chromosomes (Z and W) for the offspring are carried by the female chicken. In humans, the sex determining chromosomes are X and Y and are carried by the male. By 1980 Shoffner's faculty-student team had pioneered genetic engineering techniques using retroviruses as carriers to insert genes into chicken embryos, a speedier and more precise process for poultry-improvement work.

For the past decade researchers headed by Doug Foster have examined molecular and cellular events regulating the cell cycle in chickens and turkeys that allow cells to escape the normal process of aging and essentially live forever. Such cells can be used for the manufacture of high-strength vaccines, production of new combi­nations of biologically important proteins, and in basic research and development. These "immortalized" cells are virus-free, grow continuously, require less labor. cake less space, cost less to produce, are constant in quality, and reduce waste. They may replace the chicken embryo as the basis for human vaccines.

Foster's research group produced the world's only naturally immortalized chicken cell line. Other avian cell lines have been derived from chemical or viral transformation or from tumors.

Furthermore, they are free of any viruses or retroviruses. The retrovirus family includes the AIDS virus and viruses involved with various cancers, hence there is great value in a retrovirus-free immortalized cell line for growing specific viruses for vaccine production. These chicken cell lines have been patented and distributed for research to more than 500 laboratories throughout the world.

Foster's goal is to have libraries of perhaps 200 immortalized cell lines representing different tissues and from different species, for example, kidney, skin, oviduct and heart tissues from chicken, pig, cow, fish, ere., to produce different vaccines for different dis­eases. Recent achievements include developing an immortal human breast cell line and a pig glandular endometrial  tissue cell line. Foster's group has developed 18 cell lines to date. One of these is in use by over 1,000 laboratories worldwide. Developing a complete library and database of cell lines will enable the creation of "culture kits" that other laboratories and vaccine companies can use to cre­ate vaccines for fighting emerging hunan and animal diseases.

Chickens aren't the only focus of poultry research at the University, where turkey research is credited with leading and keeping Minnesota the top turkey-producing state in 2005. The world consumes 55 million metric tons of processed poultry, 10 percent is turkey. The U.S. grows 300 million birds a year, half the world's production.

In 1998 Kent Reed began the University's genomic research of turkeys and by 2000 had identified eight generic markers, the first major step in mapping the turkey genome. In 2003 he pub­lished the first-generation genomic map of the turkey in the jour­nal Genome. Other teams published the consensus map of chick­ens in 2000. Currently Reed and others are studying these maps for the presence of unique genes.

Turkeys were only recently domesticated in North America, as opposed to chickens, which came from Southeast Asia and have been raised for thousands of years. In the last 30 years, turkeys have become popular worldwide. The similarities of the turkey and chicken genomes is very high, despite being separated for 30-35 million years. The results will allow turkey breeders to apply knowledge gained from 100 years of chicken improvement.


  • 1901 Farm Blacksmithing by J. M. Drew. chicken flock attendant, published by Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul.
  • 1911 Five-acre poultry research and teaching facility constructed in St. Paul, with flocks also under study in Duluth. Within the decade, research flocks were introduced at Morris and Crookston.
  • 1929 F. B. Hutt begins genetic studies and breeding of chickens. Traits of eight natural mutations in chickens are identified, such as palsy, club foot, and twisted beak.
  • 1929 Record of 56 eggs laid in 56 days, set by hen #28-115 at the Northwest School of Agriculture, Crookston. In 1945, hen C2634, "Patricia," set the new record by lay­ing 153 eggs in 153 days in St. Paul.
  • 1930s T Canfield develops method for sexing day-old chicks, poults, and goslings. Widely adopted by poultry industry, its use provided annual savings of about $250 mil­lion.
  • 1949 F. B. Hurt, former genetic researcher, publishes his Genetics of the Fowl, a major poultry breeding text.
  • 1950-70 Shoffner identifies 20 domi­nant traits in chickens, which become known as "Minnesota Markers.” Detailed linkage studies determined which genes control specific traits.
  • 1958 Shoffner develops a light manage­ment system to induce turkeys to lay eggs year-round.
  • Early 1970s Technique developed to "see” and describe chicken chromosomes through a microscope, opening possibility for manipulating genetic programming to improve desired traits and eliminate undesir­able ones.
  • 1970s Shoffner's team finds that chicken gender is determined by the female chromo­somes, unlike in humans and most other ani­mals. Female chickens are found to carry the Z chromosome as well as W chromosome, which determine the sex of off-spring.
  • 1972 Animal scientist E.F. Graham develops an extender for turkey semen that allows producers to produce hatching eggs via artificial insemination with only one-sixth as many corns as before. In 1984, use of the extender saved producers $13 million.
  • 1978 Graduate student Nancy Wang induces triploidy in female chickens, creating chromosome rearrangement valuable for research.
  • Late 1970s Pioneering techniques developed for gene insertions in chicken embryo, using retrovirus. Genetic engineer­ing in poultry occurred earlier than in other species.
  • 1995 "DF-1", first naturally occurring "immortalized” avian cell line is discovered.
  • 1998 Patent issued for "immortalized” avian cell line.
  • 1999 Patent issued for method of creat­ing "immortalized" cell lines.
  • 2003 A first generation map of the turkey genome published in Genome by Kent Reed et al.
  • 2004 Eighteen immortalized avian cell lines are now available.
  • 2005 Minnesota turkey producers raised 44.5 million turkeys, more than any other state. Minnesota growers also produced 11 million egg layers and 250 million eggs.
  • Future - Goal is a library of 200 cell lines representing different tissues—kidney, skin, oviduct, heart—to grow different vaccines for diseases in different species, ready to meet emerging diseases.

Animal Diseases: Causes and Cures

In the early 1900s brucellosis ravaged U.S. cattle and swine, causing abortions, breeding difficulties, and often sterility. A conserv­ative 1920 estimate was that 15 percent of Minnesota's dairy cows were infected and annual losses to farmers would easily exceed $100 million in 2004 dollars.

The blood serum test for the disease already was in use in Europe and here when J.B. Fitch came to the University of Minnesota in 1917 to head veterinary medicine. Fitch suspected the accuracy of the brucellosis diagnostic test when, by chance, he sent his samples to another lab and the results differed greatly from his own. In 1924 Fitch sent identical samples to five labora­tories and found that only 29 percent of the tests agreed. He found the antigen concentration used in the tests was 20 times as great in some labs as in others.

Fitch persuaded three states' laboratories and the Bureau of Animal Industry to cooperate with the Minnesota laboratory to standardize their techniques. They then led the drive for national standards for brucellosis testing. Largely because of his work, the number of infected U.S. cattle herds declined from millions in the 1930s to 7,483 in 1978 and fewer than 100 by 1995.

With poultry as with livestock, Station veterinarians played a large role in research of disease control and prevention. An inter­national example is Ben Pomeroy's diagnostic research from the 1930s through the 1980s that combated mycoplasma, bluecomb virus in turkeys, and Salmonella infections-a group including pullorum disease, fowl typhoid, paratyphoid, and related infec­tions. When Pomeroy began his work on pullorum disease, 40 percent of turkey poults tested by the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory were found to be infected. By 1956 the disease had been eradicated from turkeys and Minnesota became the first state to receive pullorum-cyphoid clean scams.

Pomeroy provided critical information on the epidemiology and control strategies which enabled the industry to manage avian influenza and hemorrhagic enteritis. Some of his disease control methods were adopted nationally and shared internation­ally in Canada, Spain, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Mexico, France, Brazil, and Morocco. Pomeroy's pioneering epidemiologi­cal studies in avian species continue to influence today's food safety and HACCP policies. His discoveries in flock health man­agement helped Minnesota become the leading turkey producing state for the last half-century.

Minnesota's diagnostic investigations enabled a new genera­tion of scientists to pursue molecular technologies beginning in the 1980s. The success continued and now includes progress against PRRS, Johne's Disease, and avian pneumovirus.


Combating PRRS Disease

An unknown swine disease appeared in the United States in 1986, in Europe in 1990, and spread worldwide. It infected pigs of all ages and is now the most serious disease of swine, accord­ing to the National Pork Board. The worst effects are on preg­nant sows-causing abortion, mummifications, and stillbirths as well as illness and death to suckling piglets. Young feeder pigs suffer from the respiratory form of the disease. Losses in breeding herds are $250 to $300 per female, or about $150,000 per out­break in a typical herd.

The cause, thought to be a virus, was elusive. University veterinary scientists led by James Collins used lung homogenates from infected animals to reproduce the disease in germfree pigs and pregnant sows. From the homogenate a private laboratory isolated the highly contagious RNA virus, named PRRS, standing for "porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome." By 1994 the genome of the original strain of the North American PRRS virus was sequenced by Mike Murtaugh in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Collins and South Dakota State University scientists identi­fied the virus's primary targets: the heart, lung, blood vessels, and lymph nodes. They found the virus remains active for at least 21 days and transmits from pig to pig by close contact, such as nose rubbing, and by semen to sow and then to fetus. The virus repli­cates in target tissue and is released into the bloodstream, where it spreads to other tissues. The discovery of spread through the bloodstream suggested that a vaccine could be successful. Scientists weakened the PRRS virus by growing it in cell cultures for several generations until it no longer caused disease. From this weakened form of the virus they produced a vaccine.

To aid in diagnosing PRRS the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory produced specific antibodies to use in a quick, accurate test of swine serum. While this helped producers reduce their losses, the diagnostic test was not fast enough to help boar stud operations, which must guarantee tested semen. In 2003, a same-day PRRS test was developed by Kay Faaberg and overcame the problem.

While vaccines and sanitation measures help control PRRS, the virus constantly changes, and vaccines must change as well. In spring 2004, 11 College of Veterinary Medicine scientists began a collaboration with 57 researchers from universities across the country in a coordinated attack on PRRS disease in swine and Johne's disease in cattle. The $8.8-million dollar program is the first of its type funded by USDA.


Fighting Johne's Disease

Johne's disease is a centuries-old ailment in dairy cattle that infects about 21 percent of the U.S. herd and causes losses of about $200 million per year. It is a chronic enteritis that causes diarrhea, weight loss, decreased milk production, and death. The major concern is the ease with which it spreads throughout a herd via contact with feces or milk from even one infected ani­mal to calves.

Current detection and diagnosis pose great difficulties because culturing the disease organism takes 16 weeks or more, and blood tests are not sensitive enough. Research over the past decade by University veterinary scientists has shown that there are strong genetic similarities between the many strains of the bacteria which causes Johne's disease.

In 2005 the complete genomic sequence of a clone of Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The project was a collaboration of microbiolo­gists, medical researchers and genomicists from the University and USDA's National Animal Disease Center at Ames, Iowa. This is the first step toward the development of a new gener­ation of rapid diagnostic rests and eventually a vaccine.


Vaccinating Against Avian Pneumovirus

Avian pneumovirus (APV) is a highly contagious disease that appeared in Colorado turkey flocks in 1996, and in Minnesota in 1997, causing losses of over $ 15 million here. University veterinary medicine investigators determined that the disease organism is airborne, they identified the causal virus, and then developed rapid diagnostic tests in 1999.

Over the next two-and­ a-half years Sagar Goyal of the University's Veterinary Diagnostic Lab developed an effective vaccine, approved by USDA in 2002. Creating a vaccine-whether for poul­try or people-is not a sim­ple process. First the virus was concentrated and intro­duced into cell culture to reproduce another genera­tion of the virus. That process was repeated through 63 generations until­ through natural genetic vari­ation-the virus mutated and lost its ability to cause the disease. This weakened virus was used to make the vaccine, which was patented and licensed to a vaccine company. It costs but a few cents per dose and is administered to a few birds by nostril or mouth via drinking water. Vaccinated birds then spread the pro­tection to the rest of the flock the same way the disease was spread, by contact with nasal discharges.



  • 1924 J.B. Fitch begins national drive to standardize testing for brucellosis, a dis­ease that ravaged U.S. cattle and swine. The outcome of standardized testing was a decline of infected cattle, from millions in the 1930s to less than 100 in 1995.
  • 1904 Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory established, now a joint venture of the University and State of Minnesota.
  • 1934 Ben Pomeroy begins research at U of M, specializing in turkey diseases. Found that 40 percent of tested turkeys were infect­ed with pullorum disease, and by 1956 erad­icates it from Minnesota.
  • 1972 Cytogenetics Diagnostic Laboratory is founded by Alvin Weber, the only public lab in the country for analysis of livestock chromosomes to detect genetic defects. Closed in 2005.
  • 1970s University group to improve swine health is formed and develops "Supervet" concept, with veterinarian edu­cated and serving as primary source of information on all aspects of swine management. Litter size grows from 6 to 12 in following decades, a result of improved nutrition, health, and housing. The model becomes known worldwide.
  • 1985 Pomeroy endowed chair estab­lished-the only one in the country dedicat­ed to avian health.
  • 1985 First molecular scientist is hired in U of M Veterinary Medicine.
  • 1986 A highly contagious swine "Mystery Disease'' discovered in the U.S., soon to become epidemic.
  • 1989 "Mystery" swine disease experimentally reproduced in lab.
  • 1990s Johne's disease costs dairy indus­try over $200 million per year; University begins research effort.
  • 1991 "Mystery'' swine disease virus is isolated by a multi-state team.
  • 1992 Swine "Mystery Disease" is named Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) by Experiment Station researchers.
  • 1994 North American PRRS virus genetic code is sequenced at the U of M by Michael Murtaugh and shown to be differ­ent from European type of PRRS virus.
  • 1994 PRRS vaccine approved by USDA. Now licensed in over 14 countries and marketed worldwide.
  • 1997 Avian pneumovirus (APV) discov­ered in Minnesota, losses of $15 million per year.
  • 2004 Kay Faaberg develops rapid diag­nostic test for Johne's disease. Test uses poly­merase chain reaction (PCR) and a very small amount of fecal material, takes two days for results compared with previous wait-time of 16 weeks.
  • 2002 USDA approves an inex­pensive vaccine for avian pneumovirus (APV), developed by University researchers.
  • 2002 Develop DNA database of almost 2000 variances of PRRS virus.
  • 2003 Same-day, DNA-based diagnostic test developed to identify PRRS infection.
  • 2004 USDA awards its first interdisci­plinary grants, to fight PRRS and Johne's diseases. Molecular techniques will help identify PRRS strains and search for a method of genetic prevention of PRRS. U of M is lead institution of both projects.
  • 2005 Veterinary scientist Vivek Kapur and others complete genomic sequencing of the organism causing Johne's disease. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 102 (35): 12334-12349.
  • 2005 Kay Faaberg develops a PCR test to simultaneously detect European or North American strains of the PRRS virus.
  • Future - Veterinary scientists are mapping die APV genetic code, which could lead to identifying and removing the disease-causing gene, eliminating APV.
  • Future - ldentify animal genes that affect growth and development, reproductive per­formance, lactation, and disease resistance.

Of Fingerprints and Fingerlings

Fish culture and fisheries research at the University of Minnesota began in the mid-1940s with a comprehensive study of the com­mercial fisheries of Red Lake. Lloyd Smith reported results of the 17-year study: the number of adult fish harvested each year had no influence on maintaining future stocks. Natural occurrences such as annual and seasonal changes in weather and reproduction were far more important than fishing pressure. These results helped shape scare and federal policy, a role of natural resources research that continues today.

By the 1970s Minnesota interest in aquaculture-introduced in China 2,000 years ago-prompted research on growing fish in water warmed with waste heat from a large power plant. In the 1980s Minnesota geneticists began to develop transgenic fish to improve production on fish farms. They sought genes from other species to improve growth under cold conditions, or genes that control growth hormones and stimulate fish to grow faster.

In the early 1990s an Experiment Station research team of ani­mal scientists and fisheries biologists produced transgenic fish that exhibited enhanced growth. Along the way two researchers, Anne Kapuscinski and Eric Hallerman, began to realize and question the risks posed by genetic engineering. A specific concern was the pos­sible consequences to native fish populations if transgenic farm fish escaped. They shifted their research from development of generical­ly engineered fish to identify issues governing transgenic fish research. This fish genetic engineering project ended in 1991.

During the next decade Kapuscinski surfaced the question of the ecological impact of genetically engineered fish, now addressed by the National Academy of Sciences, USDA, and committees of the United Nations. She became an internationally recognized expert on the risks of biotechnology and a national leader of the science and policy of biosafety.

Kapuscinski leads a program fostering education and profes­sional training, research, and outreach on biosafety science, gover­nance, and policy. The long-term goal of "Safety First" is co bring together and strengthen the roles of government, industry, and the public in governance of genetically modified marine organisms.

Molecular genetic technologies have many more applications than breeding. Minnesota scientists use DNA markers co trace hatchery produced offspring released in lakes and screams. For example, does rainbow trout stocking affect fitness of steelhead trout? DNA markers can identify if the stocked rainbow and native steelhead are interbreeding and, if so, whether the hybrids are less fit than the native trout.

Another use of genetic technologies in research is to DNA "fingerprint" hatchery fish to learn if populations from different hatcheries have different survival races. Fisheries geneticist Loren Miller developed the first microsatellite DNA markers for north­ern pike and walleye. Miller and Kapuscinski teamed with fish­eries biologist Ira Adelman to track walleye families by identifying the genes in the microscopic bit of skin that is attached to each fish scale.

Another project uses DNA markers to evaluate the origins of the walleye population in Red Lake, where the Ojibwe's commer­cial fishing business closed in 1997 because of a declining harvest. Using molecular markers, investigators showed that over 80 per­cent of young walleye came from stocked fish. DNA analysis pro­vides a permanent and non-injurious way to track survival of stocked fish and their success in spawning the next generation.

Molecular technologies are also being used to control nui­sance species. Fish rely on highly developed chemical signaling sys­tems, known as "pheromones," to find each other and reproduce. Peter Sorensen is studying pheromone signaling at the molecular level. One pheromone can repel an invasive species from favorable spawning habitat, while a different one attracts fish to a location where their eggs have no chance of survival. Pheromones are new environmentally safe tools to manage sea lamprey in the Great Lakes. This class of pheromones stimulates the greatest behavioral response ever attributed to a fish odor.



  • 1957 Study of Red Lake fish popula­tion over 17-year period shows nature con­trols population more than human fishing.
  • 1970s U of M aquaculture research.
  • 1980s Animal scientist E.F. Graham adapts techniques used with livestock for successful cryopreservation of fish eggs and sperm. Facilitates selective breeding and fish management for developing aquaculture industry.
  • 1989 Transgenic fish successfully pro­duced in laboratory.
  • 1991 U of M scientist Peter Sorensen begins sea lamprey pheromone research.
  • 1992 U of M ends generic engineer­ing of fish for production traits; focus shifts to ecological risks of releasing trans­genic fish.
  • 1996 First microsatellite DNA mark­ers developed for northern pike by fisheries geneticist Loren Miller, used worldwide.
  • 1999 lntense fishing pressure on Red Lake overwhelms natural population con­trol; commercial and sport fisheries are closed. DNA fingerprinting is used to track success of hatchery fish stocked in Minnesota DNR restoration program.
  • 1999 First microsatellite DNA mark­ers developed for walleye.
  • 2002 Loren Miller and graduate student Bill Ardren assemble DNA markers for fathead minnows.
  • 2002 DNA fingerprinting used to track survival of walleye from two distinctive northern Minnesota populations intro­duced in southern lakes.
  • 2004 The three components of sea lamprey pheromone identified, the first reported identification of a vertebrate migratory pheromone. Synthesis of the pri­mary component in spring, 2005.
  • 2005 Sorensen is part of a ream that publishes "A field test verifies the pheromones can be useful for sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) control in the Great Lakes," Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 63: 475-479.
  • 2005 Genetic studies reveal that many southwestern MN brook trout are remnants of native populations, despite decades of stocking Eastern strains.
  • 2006 Walleye fishing re-opened on Red Lake.

Potential Landmarks

For more than a century, University of Minnesota graduates and faculty have earned worldwide renown for advances in science, most often from collaborative research. As society depends increasingly on science and technology, and problems become ever more complex, the need for such collaborative efforts has increased. Innovative researchers now cross lines between departments, colleges, institutions, nations, and industry. At the University, a bee researcher contributes to medical research on AIDS, a soy­bean breeder assists a human nutritionist, and an agricultural engineer and public health scientist work together to prevent contamination of our food supply by terrorists. Following are examples of beginning investigations that bridge genetics and genomics and should impact our future quality of life. 

Analyzing a Legume

Genomics is an approach to biology where all the genes and gene products in an organism are analyzed system-wide. It is a fast-growing, exciting field made possible by the coming together of molecular biology and computing power. Using genomics, sci­entists develop "parts lists" and "operating manuals" for living things. With this information, they can understand when, where, and how genes are expressed to predict their functions with greater detail and accuracy than is possible with traditional generic research.

The genomes of rice and Arabidopsis thaliana, a widely studied plant model in the mustard family, were the first two plants in the world to be sequenced. At the University, Nevin Young is lead investigator in an international effort to sequence the genome of Medicago truncatula, a legume. It has eight chromosomes, six being sequenced in the U.S. with funding from the National Science Foundation, and two by partners in Europe. These generic instructions will serve as a biological guide for the world's major legume crops-soybeans, lentils, beans, chickpeas, and alfalfa.

M. truncatula is an outstanding candidate for genomic research. Unlike other legumes, it has a compact genome, simple genetics, short generation time, and a broad array of natural vari­ants. Its genome, though half the size of alfalfa, is highly similar in gene content and order with important crops including soy­bean. 

With more than 20,000 species, legumes are second only to grasses in economic importance in world agriculture. Legumes naturally produce more nitrogen fertilizer each year than coral worldwide industrial production. The legume family is the lead­ing source of nutritional protein in animal diets. Legumes also produce special compounds, such as isoflavins and phyroestro­gens, which benefit human health by fighting cancer and heart disease. Future uses of legumes could be as homegrown alterna­tives to petrochemicals including biofuels, enzymes, medicines, and plastics.

As an example, the University's alfalfa breeding will benefit from knowing the truncatula genome sequence. Using traditional breeding techniques over the last two decades, alfalfa breeders have developed varieties with unique root systems for pollution cleanup, plants with fibrous stems for use as biofuel, and leaves with higher protein content. Information from the sequencing project will provide information about candidate genes that breeders and biotechnologists can use to improve these impor­tant traits or even discover new ones.

The University's half-century of soybean breeding has pro­duced varieties with higher protein and large colorless seeds to make tofu, improved seeds to produce oils with lower saturated
fat, and smaller seeds for sprouts. Future soybeans, using this genome as a guide, will help lead to anti-tumeric nutrients, healthier oils, and biofuels.

As each segment of the genomic sequence is completed, the information is made available in a public data base at Minnesota (hrrp:// so that plant scientists worldwide can use the information to customize crops. 

Healthy Foods for Healthy Lives

The University encourages specialists in horticulture, medi­cine, pharmacy, food science, biochemistry, and other fields to collaborate. A current initiative is the identification of plant products with the power to prevent or cure disease. The U of M has a unique benefit in its metropolitan location rich in both agricultural and medical research that is also home to several of the world's largest food companies. Here, public and private researchers readily interact in addressing common goals, and benefit from collaboration.

Some examples:

  • Propolis, which bees collect from birch, poplar, and some conifers and use to seal their hives, is known for its antimicrobial properties. A group of University scientists is exploring its use in developing a new AIDS medicine. Medical researchers found that propolis inhibits HN expression in cell cultures, and are determining the causal agents. The strongest anti-HN activity was found in samples collected by horticultural scientists in China and Minnesota. Bee researchers are now studying how propolis is collected by bees and its role in bee health.
  • Soy products, a mainstay of Asian diets for centuries, have become popular U.S. health foods. Recent nutrition and cancer research focuses on the role of soy chemical components in lowering cholesterol levels and reducing tumors. Soybean breeders have developed specific varieties with a range of poten­tially useful chemicals—including isoflavones—for nutritional or pharmaceutical use.
  • Glucosinolates were identified as a cancer-preventing chemical by University medical researchers in the 1970s. This early collaboration between medical and vegetable scientists awakened the world to the role of cole crops, such as broccoli, in managing cancer tumors. Current studies compare levels of glu­cosinolates in many varieties of cabbage and cauliflower, with the goal of increasing quantity. Researchers have also raised water­cress with high levels of these glucosinolates.
  • Antioxidants Another project identified variables affecting production of antioxidants in blueberries, and showed that darker skinned fruit had higher levels, though all blueberries were found to have high concentra­tions. Antioxidants—from foods high in Vitamin C, E, Beta Carotene, and Coenzyme Q­—have been found to reduce choles­terol, lower blood pressure, decrease risk of heart disease, combat lung damage from smok­ing, and strengthen the immune system. 
  • Mushrooms are being studied by medical school investiga­tors as a source of novel chemical compounds that may help the body's immune system fight cancer. Plant biologists are mapping the genetics of the porcini group of mushrooms, some of which grow wild in Minnesota. The medical researchers study how extracts affect cancer cell division and how cancer invades sur­rounding tissue. 

Bioenergy and Bioproducts

Over a century ago, when genetic research at the University began, crop plants were harvested and used with minimal pro­cessing. Crops were viewed as commodities and harvested for direct consumption by livestock or humans, and trees were cut and used only for lumber. Subsequent research of the University's Agricultural Experiment Station has propelled Minnesota and its natural resources far beyond those traditional, whole-plant applications.

Scientists now view crops as providers of an infinite and renewable source of energy, materials, and chemicals. "Biorefining”—the equivalent of petroleum refining-promises co yield a wide range of products that can replace non—renewable fossil fuels. 

University researchers in several departments have become leaders in alternative energy research. For several decades, U of M experts have explored biomass for alternative energy including the burning of cattails and corn kernels and cobs, and more recently converting alfalfa stems co methane for energy. One of the state's first successful ethanol plants—from corn—was at the West Central Research & Outreach Center at Morris in 1981. In 2004 the University began the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment. It supports interdisciplinary research in biorefining, biocacalysis, and hydrogen production from plant biomass.

Process and chemical engineers, enzymologists, plant pathol­ogists, ecologists, agronomists, and microbiologists are using genomics and molecular techniques co investigate the produc­tion, conversion, and utilization of agricultural, forest, and native plant materials.

That research will help to better utilize agricultural crop residues—such as corn cobs, wood chips, sawdust, and alfalfa stems—to produce biodegradable products, fuels, power, plastics, adhesives, dyes and inks, detergents, as well as food for humans and feed for animals. The work involves the breakdown of complex plant materials into usable raw materials by heat, enzymes, or mechanical means. Biochemists are investigating the metabolic breakdown processes of bacteria and fungi to exploit them for biocatalytic purposes. The 2005 State Legislature funded a new biomass research and demonstration facility on the University’s Morris campus. The biomass plant will be used to explore the gasification technology to convert plant-based fuel stocks, such as corn stover, into gas. Research there also includes a hybrid hydrogen demonstration system that will use biogas or methane mixed with hydrogen in a short pipeline system to fuel demon­stration furnaces. 

Minnesota's wood products industry is also changing. Biochemists at the University seek cleaner and more efficient ways to turn wood into pulp. Experts in fungi identify superior generic strains for use in the paper production process. These microbes—which in nature cause wood to rot—could provide a natural method for biopulping, biobleaching, and depitching of wood chips. The objective is to reduce the amount of caustic chemicals now used in commercial paper production and break down lignin, the most resistant element to disintegration. Wood chemists seek a clearer understanding of the biodegradation process, with the goal of finding a lignin-degrading enzyme that can be used to replace the strong chemicals used now to convert wood into pulp.

Research is also focused on converting lignin into new ther­moplastics and easily biodegradable plastics. Polylactic acid is one type-now made from agricultural crop residues-used to make many disposable plastic products. In 1991, U of M wood chemists were the first to produce durable and flexible plastics from 100% alkylated kraft lignin.

New facilities, such as the Cargill Building for Microbial and Plant Genomics and Biodale, provide state-of-the-art research support to investigators in agriculture, biomedical sci­ences, and veterinary medicine. Services include digital imaging and analysis, protein purification and identification, genetic sequencing and analysis, high speed networks for bioinformatic research, and proteomic analysis. The instrumentation and spe­cialized staff help scientists from different, specialized projects share expensive technologies to solve problems.