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Tech Tuesday

Gene Find Offers Biofuel Potential

Purdue researchers discover key to unlock production of key amino acid in plants; and some Black Friday - and beyond - ideas.

Phenylalanine is an amino acid that humans can't make themselves, so they turn to plants for this key protein building block. This same amino acid is a key for plant protein synthesis and the creation of lignin in plant sell walls. Purdue researchers announced this week they've found the last undiscovered gene responsible for phenylalanine production.

Unlocking key genes opens doors to new ways to push plant development. Knowing how plants synthesize phenylalanine offers two key benefits - the potential to create more nutritious foods; and ways to boost biofuel potential from plant material.

First, that amino acid is a key protein building block humans need for proper nutrition and it only comes from plants. With this final gene discovery it would be possible someday to have plants with boosted phenylalanine levels for enhanced. health.

Second, this protein building block is a key part of lignin in plant cell walls. Lignin is the part of the wall that helps plants stand upright, but it's also a barrier to producing cellulosic ethanol. Knowing all these genetic pieces, it would be possible to develop lower-lignin plants that would process more efficiently for biofuel.

Of course, this is early stage research, but a key development in plant science. Results of the research were published in the early online version of the journal Nature Chemical Biology.

Gift shopping begins

I know most farmers find shopping as much fun as paying taxes - and that's saying something. But in three days, the doors will open to most retailers for the official start of the holiday shopping season. And this year there are few high-tech gadgets that might warrant a review for the farm.

Time for a smart phone? If you've been using a traditional cell phone to keep in touch, it might be time for to move up to a more advanced smart phone. Keeping track of e-mail, market prices and weather from the palm of your hand may be the right investment. All major cell carriers offer some form of smart phone from Blackberry to Androids to iPhones (OK still only AT&T here, but rumors are rampant that Verizon Wireless will get that phone sometime in early 2011.

And you'll be hearing about a new service this season too - 4G. The folks at T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon are going to be touting this super-fast way to the Web from a smart phone. But read the fine print carefully, that service is only available in limited - urban - areas and while that's growing remember how long it took for 3G to reach most areas.

There are other more local or regional carriers you'll want to check too - but this might be a good time for a phone upgrade. Remember the key farm rule about buying a smart phone - pick the carrier first then the phone.

Laptop upgrade? Looking for a new computer this winter. There are a lot of deals around the holidays and near year end that offer you plenty of options. As usual buy the fastest computer you can afford (a dual core Intel i5 or i7 is great - for Windows or Apple computers), add the most on-board memory for that brain, and then consider how big a hard drive you need. And consider a laptop if you ever need to have your records with you outside the office.

Tablet future? In the recent issue of Farm Futures I explore tablet computing. The market is heating up - and yes you can blame Apple for that too. You can't hardly turn on a television without seeing some character using an iPad, but look out world the tablet computers are marching forward. The Samsung Galaxy Tab is being offered by several phone companies too. And even Verizon and Target are selling the iPad.

You'll find tablet computers from Blackberry and Hewlett-Packard soon too. This is an interesting form factor for computing with longer battery life, easy Web access (in some form or another) and a host of applications you can use. While it'll be awhile before the tablet computer will replace other forms of computing, it might be worth a look.

Questions about computers or other tech on your farm? Just drop an e-mail to and we'll get you an answer. Happy shopping!

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