Category Archives: Food & Health

Tracking and stopping human and agricultural viruses

Viruses are molecular thieves that take from their hosts under the cloak of darkness. But now a Virginia Tech scientist has found a way to not only track viral hijackers, but also to potentially stop them from replicating.

Xiaofeng Wang, assistant professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science

Xiaofeng Wang, assistant professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science

The discovery has broad-ranging applications in stopping viral outbreaks such as hepatitis C in humans and a number of viruses in plants and animals because it applies to many viruses in the largest category of viral classes — positive-strand RNA viruses.

“Even though these viruses infect very different hosts, they all replicate similarly across the board, so what we learn from one virus can potentially be translated to control viruses in agricultural production as well as human health,” said Xiaofeng Wang, an assistant professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Wang’s findings could target any number of plant viruses by developing sprays to halt the virus, which would save the agricultural sectors millions of dollars.

Wang used the brome mosaic virus to study how viral infections start. He found that by inhibiting host lipid cell synthesis, the viral replication stopped.

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Looking for clues about disease affecting cattle and people

A Virginia Tech researcher is hoping to better understand a bacterium responsible for both spontaneous abortions in cattle and an inconsistent and sometimes fatal fever in humans.

Clay Caswell (left), assistant professor of bacteriology, seeks to better understand brucellosis with Ph.D. students James Budnick and Lauren Sheehan.

Clay Caswell (left), assistant professor of bacteriology, seeks to better understand brucellosis with Ph.D. students James Budnick and Lauren Sheehan.

Clay Caswell, assistant professor of bacteriology at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine and an affiliate of the Fralin Life Science Institute, has focused his attention on Brucella. While his colleagues at the veterinary college have spent years developing more-effective vaccines, Caswell is taking a different approach to better understand the molecular basis for Brucella infection.

Brucella lives inside a host immune cell called a ‘macrophage,’ “ said Caswell, who is studying how two small regulatory RNAs allow the bacterium to survive there. “The paradox is that it’s living inside the very cell that’s trying to destroy it.”

Caswell has received funding from the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station to characterize a novel genetic pathway linked to the bacterium’s virulence. He has also been awarded recent grants from the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health to develop the basic science needed to develop treatments in humans who are exposed through unpasteurized milk and other means.

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Prince William County residents learn about living healthy with diabetes

Diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death in Virginia. In Prince William County, an estimated 50,000 people are living with the incurable and expensive disease.

Diabetes can be hard to manage for the afflicted and their families, but Virginia Cooperative Extension created a class to help diabetes patients in Prince William County lead healthier, easier lives.

Thirty-four people, including those living with diabetes and a few supportive family members, enrolled in the “Living Well with Diabetes” class in recent years. Throughout four sessions and a follow-up session, the enrollees learned about helpful lifestyle changes through nutrition, physical activity, medication compliance, and stress management.

“It was enjoyable while still learning about taking care of yourself without being judged,” said one attendee.

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‘Proactive’ programming in Loudoun County tackles foodborne illness from the ground up

Each year in the U.S., there are approximately 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths linked to foodborne illness. Twenty foodborne illness outbreaks were reported in 2013 in Virginia alone, with an average of 18 Virginia residents sickened per outbreak.

In Loudoun County, Virginia Cooperative Extension has spent the past two years delivering food safety education programming to locals. In 2015, this included a farmer’s market “Vendor Tuneup” workshop, a presentation on safe food preparation at a farmer’s market annual meeting, a pH testing workshop, two ServSafe Manager courses, on-site evaluations of farms and kitchen operations, and consulting.

In 2016, Extension added onto the program list with food safety and direct marketing workshops for growers, farmers market food safety workshops, ServSafe, a drinking water clinic, and more.

Two greenhouse operations in the area were trained on Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification and food safety practices, and have implemented changes as a result of this effort.

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Symposium addresses growing crisis of food insecurity in Richmond

In the City of Richmond, Virginia, 40,020 residents are food insecure and lack access to enough food for an active healthy lifestyle — roughly 20 percent of the total city population.

In July 2011, Richmond’s mayor established The Food Policy Task Force to “ensure all residents have access to healthy foods and an understanding of the impact this has on both an individual’s health and the health of the community at large.”

Virginia Cooperative Extension agents served on the task force and found that 20 to 60 percent of Richmond’s population – or between 40,000 to more than 120,000 of total residents – are going hungry or are at risk of food insecurity due to lack of healthy food access or consumption.

In 2014, the Richmond Extension office hosted the Urban Food Desert Symposium at Fifth Street Baptist Church, a church located in one of the 25 food deserts across the City. The First Lady of Virginia, Dorothy McAuliffe, gave opening remarks.

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