We began this week by visiting the Cornell Agricultural Station. Why was this an important stop for a class such as ours? Well, if you, our astute and clever readers, have been keeping up with previous blog posts, you will have noticed that we discussed GMOs and specifically, a GMO papaya that saved Hawaiian papaya crops (at least, as much as a protested- and litigated-against GMO can save a crop). Well, that papaya was developed at the Cornell Agricultural Station.
At the Ag. Station, specifically Barton Laboratory, they study two fields: Entomology and plant pathogens. We focused on plant pathogens during our tour. For those that may not know, plant pathogens are plant diseases caused by fungi, bacteria, and viruses, and this is an important area of study because diseases can have significant impacts on economies, such as with the papaya in Hawaii. There are many different environmental stressors that can increase a plants likelihood of infection, from climate change to cultural impacts, as well as extreme weather events. Studies are looking into understanding how these all effect plants.
It’s important to note that infections not only kill plants, they can give fruits produced off colors and flavors. Therefore, in order to maintain a fruit’s position in the market, these issues need to be remedied. Solutions for infection do exist, but some pose their own problems. Take, for instance, antibiotics. Antibiotics are one of the best ways to combat bacterial infections, but overuse leads to bacterial resistances, which make it harder to combat the infections. Barton Laboratory seeks to help with this. They recommend other solutions, based on their knowledge of the biology of the plants, to prevent against infections. These other solutions may take the form of what to do to prevent infections or strategic application of antibiotics, so that they are only used when absolutely necessary.
Given that plants don’t need to rely on humans to survive in the wild, how do they combat infections naturally? Well, much like humans have an immune system composed of antibodies developed through exposure to diseases, plants have an immune system composed of toxins developed through co-evolution with diseases. The differences are that humans’ immunities are based on proteins, while plants’ are based on nucleic acids, attacking diseases on the DNA level. This form of thinking is what gave rise to the first GMOs, as a form of vaccine for plants. Install resistances into their DNA, so that they can combat infections.
Yes, yes. The [in]famous GMO. The thought brings to mind images of mad scientists and syringes. But it is important to note that GMOs exist in nature (prime example is a sweet potato). As previous blog posts have discussed, GMOs have many benefits, so I don’t think that we need to get into them here.
Bread. What a simple food, usually associated with the most basic of meals. However, it’s no mystery why one of the largest bread manufacturers in the US is Wonder Bread; bread is a wonderful thing! An amalgam of flour, sugar, salt, water, yeast, and love, bread is a staple food in our species. I grew up in a house that loved freshly baked bread. My father was a baker for many years, and we would often have our own loaves baking at home. To me, this is one of the most wholesome foods to create, especially with other people.
Our bread began as 6 different versions of dough (Figure 2), with varying kinds of flour (whole wheat, all purpose, bread) and ratios between these three. The doughs were allowed to rise for several hours in the fridge. After coming out, the dough was stringy. This stringiness was caused by the gluten strands having bonded to each other (Figure 3).
After kneading the dough in order to stretch out the gluten strands and line them up even further, we added extra water and allowed the dough to rise before putting it into the oven. When it came out of the oven, our six loaves all had distinctive differences. The whole wheat doughs came out darker than the others, of course, but they also had a grainier texture and smaller air pockets. In the end, all of the bread was good, but I preferred the all-purpose bread, perhaps because that was what I was used to.
Along with our bread, we also made some sauces and a jam. These were pretty straightforward. The sauce, a Mornay, began as a roux, wherein we added flour to butter in order to make a paste, that would then have milk and cheese added to it in order to thicken it up (Figure 5). The jam was raspberry, and was an excellent example of how pectin can create a dispersion that can spread easily onto our freshly made bread (Figures 6, 7, and 8). Of course, the sweetness of the jam ensured that everyone enjoyed the outcome regardless of how successful the preparation was.