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  • Author or Editor: Kathryn Orvis x
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Advances in biotechnology are rapidly changing the way we work and live, but are often met with controversy or raise ethical questions. Approaches that enhance learning and awareness of biotechnology are essential to increasing citizen understanding of these topics. Educators, both formal and informal, need skills to understand the science associated with these technologies, as they may not have been previously exposed to the topics in their training, especially with the rapidly changing science. To address the need for unbiased agricultural biotechnology information, a graduate level internet-based course was developed entitled: “Introduction to Agricultural Biotechnology”. This course focuses on agricultural biotechnologies related to horticulture and plant science. Online courses are especially useful for students not able to travel due to various constraints, such as working full-time or being physically distant from campus. The goal is a population better able to understand the science behind rapidly advancing biotechnologies and that is better equipped to make informed decisions regarding those technologies. Course assignments are designed to help students as they teach others about topics associated with biotechnology in both formal and informal settings, such as a high school class or an Extension seminar. In the past 5 years, 54 students (teachers, college instructors, or Extension staff) from across the United States have taken the course. Course ratings have been consistently very good (avg. 4.45) on a 1–5 scale (1 = very poor, 5 = excellent). Former students have indicated that they have a better understanding of biotechnology and would be better able to relate it to others. Students also gained an improved awareness of the resources that are available for teaching agricultural biotechnology.

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Research has shown that hands-on, experiential learning is very effective in the classroom and school gardening utilizes this method of learning. Gardening has been shown to have many positive effects on children including in academic areas. Of the youth gardening programs that exist, little research has been done with the Junior Master Gardener® program to evaluate it for its use in the classroom. JMG® is a youth gardening program designed to teach aspects of horticulture and environmental science through hands-on activities in both informal and formal learning environments. A case study of one particular classroom evolved from a larger evaluation study of the JMG® program in Indiana third grade classrooms. Research with this classroom utilized a mixed approach to acquire quantitative and qualitative data of knowledge and attitudes toward science, horticulture, and the environment. Quantitative measurements were made pre, post, and post-post (after summer break) the program. Qualitative methods included weekly classroom observations during the study, student post and post-post program evaluations, and post program teacher evaluations. Results indicated that students had significant levels of knowledge and positive attitude gain from pre to post tests. Observations and evaluations supported the quantitative results showing that the students and teacher found the JMG® program to be valuable in the classroom, as well as enjoyable which may lead to more student interest in science. Through this case-study post-post program assessment showed that the students retained a significant amount of positive attitudes toward science, horticulture and the environment.

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Studies have shown gardening to have the potential to influence students in several positive ways. The hands-on and informal learning that occurs in these outdoor areas can be incorporated into all areas of the curriculum, fostering environmental awareness and increased interest in science. Junior Master Gardener (JMG) was chosen to be evaluated in 14 Indiana third grade classrooms as little formal classroom usage data exists for the program. It was hypothesized that the use of the program could help improve agriculture awareness and knowledge in youth. Quantitative and qualitative instruments and observations were utilized in a effort to evaluate knowledge gain and change of attitude towards the topics covered by the JMG curriculum; science, horticulture, and the environment. Student pre- and posttest results indicated overall significant gains in knowledge and attitudes. Performance was not attributed to student age, gender, race, or location of the school, although those schools with a garden achieved more positive gains in attitude and specific performance varied according to classroom. Qualitative data also indicated that the students enjoyed the program, shared what they learned with others, and wanted to participate in more JMG and gardening type activities. Teachers indicated that they were satisfied with the program in their classrooms and planned to reuse their JMG materials for future classes.

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Organosulfur compounds in onion extracts inhibit the aggregation of human blood platelets. Antiplatelet activity is important to human cardiovascular health. We hypothesized that modification of sulfur fertility may increase organosulfur compound concentration and thereby affect platelet inhibitory activity in onion. Four contrasting onion genotypes were grown at four sulfur levels in a hydroponic system in the greenhouse and in contrasting sulfur environments in seven field locations in Wisconsin, Oregon, and New York. The contrasting field sites were comprised of sandy soils with a mean sulfate level of 5.4 ppm and muck soils with a mean sulfate level of 20.3 ppm. Onions grown in field environments with increased soil sulfur concentrations had significantly higher antiplatelet activity (33% higher than sand-grown onions; P < 0.001). The greenhouse experiment was conducted in hydroponics with nutrient solutions containing four sulfur levels ranging from 0.8 mM to 15 mM sulfate. The 10-mM sulfur treatment resulted in onion bulbs with 10% higher antiplatelet activity over those grown in the 0.8-mM sulfur treatment (P < 0.06). These data suggest that sulfur concentration in nutrient solution and in soil may be directly responsible for the increased antiplatelet activity in onion extracts observed in this study.

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Heart attack and stroke, a leading cause of death in the United States, have been associated with blood platelet aggregation. Onion extract inhibits blood platelet aggregation both in vitro and in vivo. Current trends toward natural foods and health remedies may point to the importance of onion-induced antiplatelet activity (OIAA). The genetic control of OIAA has yet to be revealed. One-hundred-eighty-three F3 families were derived from a long-day mild inbred line crossed to a long-day pungent inbred line that differ by for OIAA by 67%. Families were grown in a RCB design with two replications in muck soil (Randolph, Wis.) in 1997. Extracts were made from crushing bulb tissue in a mechanical juicer. F3 families were evaluated for OIAA and soluble solids (SS). OIAA was measured by electrical impedance aggregometry using two human blood donors. Endpoint (ohms) and slope of the aggregation curve were recorded. SS were measured by refractometry. F3 families were significantly different for OIAA and SS (P < 0.0001) in the ANOVA. A strong positive correlation of 0.96 was revealed for slope of curve and endpoint across families, replications, and blood donors. This correlation has not been previously reported for onion and suggests that for these families, descriptions of OIAA based on either rate of aggregation or endpoint are functionally equivalent. Both SS and OIAA exhibit transgressive segregation in this group of F3 families. Twenty percent exhibit OIAA stronger than the pungent parent and 5% were less than the mild parent. The family with the highest OIAA was 4-fold higher than the pungent parent of the cross, which could be useful in future onion breeding efforts. In addition, transgressive segregation in these families aids in QTL investigations for OIAA, SS and other economically important traits.

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In the United States, more than 80 million households participate in some type of gardening activity, including lawn care, vegetable gardening, and flower gardening. This considerable interest in gardening has led to the demand for accurate information about horticultural topics, trends, and research. One credible source for this information is the Extension Master Gardener (MG) Program, of which volunteering is a foundational component. Descriptive characteristics of Purdue Master Gardener (PMG) and PMG interns, characteristics of program participation, and volunteer behaviors were measured through an online survey questionnaire. Demographics, attitudes, self-efficacy, participation in the PMG program, and prior volunteering experience were measured and relationships between predictive variables and total volunteer hours were explored. Overall, the data revealed participants (N = 673) had strong positive attitudes about volunteering. Participants also reported having increased self-efficacy through participation in the MG program, and attitudes and self-efficacy were highly correlated. Based on the results and theoretical framework, a model was developed that can be used to predict volunteering behaviors within MG programs. The predictive model for volunteering behavior revealed that the number of years as an MG and the participant’s level of self-efficacy were good predictors of the total number of volunteer hours.

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Eat Your Way to Better Health (EYWTBH) is a garden-based nutrition education program that was conducted and evaluated for 3 years in Indiana third-grade classrooms. Program participants started and maintained their own school gardens as a part of an authentic experiential learning curriculum designed to reconnect youth with where their food comes from and educate about healthy eating habits. Implementation lasted between 8 and 12 weeks and outcomes were evaluated using pre- and postprogram questionnaires. Results showed that upon completion of the EYWTBH program, youth reported a higher healthy food choice self-efficacy, as well as a higher variety of fruit and vegetable consumption. Relationships among the variables were identified and discussed in the context of improving future school garden nutrition programs.

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