Too Much Time on Their Hands

Article excerpt

Have you ever wondered why tortilla chips don't stay crisp longer or imagined yourself inventing a magnificent new mulch or genetically engineering the perfect blackberry? Do you lay awake at night wondering whether a wall of sunflowers also can serve as a snow fence, worrying about the water-spinach invasion of the Florida Everglades or wanting to unlock the secret of brewing a better-than-Bavarian beer?

If so, a career with the U.S. Agricultural Research Service, or ARS, is for you! As an ARS researcher, you'll not only be discovering new and ingenious ways to protect American farmers from plagues of Rhizoctonia root rot, Mediterranean fruit flies and Aspergillus flavus fungi, you'll also be pushing back the frontiers of frivolous science, pursuing whatever wacky science-fair projects pop into your hyperactive cerebellum. And when you have made that once-in-a-lifetime breakthrough, at long last breeding the world's most succulent cranberry, ARS will sign over the licensing rights to Ocean Spray or some other commercial interest for a song, allowing them to cash in -- all for the greater good of the nation!

Always a hoot and holler to read, the latest of ARS' Quarterly Reports includes the following scientific breakthroughs bankrolled by taxpayers:

* The folks at ARS' Beltsville, Md., fruit lab are bursting with pride about their new "triple-crown" blackberry breed, which yields an impressive 30 pounds of "large, sweet, aromatic" berries per plant -- keeping the United States on the cutting edge, blackberry-wise.

* After more than a decade of tests, scientists from Oregon's Horticultural Crops Research Lab are preparing to add two new breeds of strawberry to the U.S. agricultural arsenal. "Firecracker" will be medium-sized berries "best eaten fresh," according to ARS scientists, while the other new strawberry, "Independence," stands up well in field tests against insects and weather. …