University of Florida

Scaling back kids’ holiday gift expectations a sensitive subject, IFAS experts say

Topic(s): Families and Consumers, Finances

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — To say this year’s economy has been less than robust would be an understatement.

But with the forces of peer pressure and marketing as strong as ever, many parents find themselves trying to trim children’s lengthy wish lists without dampening their enthusiasm — or putting the family finances in jeopardy, and University of Florida experts have plenty of helpful tips.

First and foremost, says Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences extension agent Alicia Betancourt: It’s not about the presents.

“What kids really want, in all honesty, what they remember from year to year, is the time that’s spent together,” said Betancourt, based in Monroe County. “Focus more on family traditions, or creating new ones — whether it’s making cookies, going caroling or taking in a play.”

Betancourt suggests taking children to browse the toy store, so that they see for themselves that toys are often much smaller and less exciting than TV ads make them seem.

Kids of all ages can be asked, if not to shorten a wish list, to point to the two or three gifts they’re most excited about, she said.
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UF researchers find lone culprit behind greening

Topic(s): Agriculture, Citrus, New Technology, RECs, Research


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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida researchers have shown that the disease that threatens to devastate the world’s citrus crop is almost certainly the result of a lone species of bacteria, and not that of a combination of bacterial or viral pathogens as some have feared.

Using three types of next-generation genetic analysis, researchers from UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences examined inner bark from Florida citrus trees infected with citrus greening.

While the team conclusively found the genetic fingerprint of the bacteria commonly suspected to be behind the disease, Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus, the analysis showed no other DNA of suspect viral or bacterial pathogens.

The research, published in the December issue of the journal Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions, is important because the disease has been especially difficult to analyze, said Eric Triplett, chairman of UF’s department of microbiology and cell sciences and lead researcher on the study.

Normally, researchers would prove that the bacteria is behind the disease by capturing a sample of the bacteria, growing it in a petri dish, and then inserting it into a healthy tree to see if it causes the disease.

However, scientists have not yet found a way to get the bacteria to grow in a petri dish. This means that scientists are having trouble using their normal approaches to researching the pathogen.
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Computer model reveals where food pathogens grow

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Food Safety, New Technology


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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — An outbreak of food-related illness, such as E. coli-tainted spinach, often leaves food safety experts scratching their heads over the source of the contamination.

Thanks to a new computer model developed by researchers at the University of Florida, Wageningen University and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, food safety experts may have a better chance of predicting where contamination risks lie and what can be done to minimize those risks.

The program, dubbed COLIWAVE, can predict the growth and death of pathogenic bacteria in substances like compost, soil and water. The program uses variables such as oxygen availability, temperature and substance characteristics to predict how much bacteria is present at different periods of time.

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Dengue virus returns to Florida after more than 50 years, UF researchers say

Topic(s): Entomology and Nematology, Pests, Research

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida mosquito researchers are watching with a wary eye as dengue virus returns to the state after more than 50 years.

By late last week, 20 cases of locally transmitted dengue had been confirmed in Key West. Monroe County officials have issued a health alert and launched an education campaign urging residents to eliminate water sources in and around their homes where mosquitoes can breed.

“We haven’t seen dengue in Florida in a long time, but this does give us evidence that we can have it again,” said Roxanne Connelly, an associate professor of medical entomology with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Dengue fever, also known as break-bone fever or bonecrusher disease, is a rarely fatal but widespread disease transmitted to humans via the bite of an infected mosquito. There are an estimated 100 million cases of dengue worldwide each year. (more …)

UF experts launch Web page to gather Cuban tree frog reports from citizens

Topic(s): Conservation, Environment, Invasive Species


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 GAINESVILLE, Fla. — If Cuban tree frogs have invaded your neighborhood, University of Florida experts want to know-so they’ve launched a Web page encouraging residents to report the super-sized amphibians.

By observing and removing Cuban tree frogs, residents can help protect native tree frog species, said Monica McGarrity, a biological scientist with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

The page, http://ufwildlife.ifas.ufl.edu/citizen_sci.shtml, is one of the first attempts to recruit “citizen scientists” in control efforts, McGarrity said. It was developed by McGarrity and Steve Johnson, an assistant professor of wildlife ecology, who study the frogs at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Plant City.

“People e-mail us constantly, wanting to know what they can do about these frogs,” McGarrity said. “So we launched a pilot project to get them involved.”

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UF/IFAS research harnesses sun’s power to kill weeds

Topic(s): Agriculture, Conservation, Crops, Entomology and Nematology, New Technology, Pests


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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Sunshine helps flowers grow, and it can help rid soil of harmful organisms that hurt Florida’s $9 million cut flower industry, a University of Florida expert says.

In a process called soil solarization, farmers prepare planting beds by covering them with clear plastic sheets for several weeks during the summer, trapping heat that destroys weeds, nematodes and fungi. Popular in California and Israel, solarization is well-suited to Florida’s climate though the practice is seldom used here, said Bob McSorley, a nematology professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

A study published in the current issue of the International Journal of Pest Management showed solarization effectively prepared planting beds for snapdragons, in some cases as well as the soil fumigant methyl bromide.

“The big challenge is getting (growers) to adopt it,” said McSorley, an author of the study. “They never thought of doing without soil fumigants.”

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Termites’ gut reactions show how to improve renewable fuel, UF researchers say

Topic(s): Biofuels, Economics, Entomology and Nematology, Household Pests, New Technology, Pests, Research

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Termite damage costs the U.S. more than $1 billion each year, but that same destructive power might help solve one of the nation’s most pressing economic quandaries: sustainable fuel production.

After years of genetic sequencing, University of Florida researchers are beginning to harness the insects’ ability to churn wood into fuel. That ability involves a mixture of enzymes from symbiotic bacteria and other single-celled organisms living in termites’ guts, as well as enzymes from the termites themselves.

The team from UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences spent two years dissecting and analyzing gene sequences of more than 2,500 worker termite guts. In total, they identified 6,555 genes from the termites and associated gut fauna involved in the digestive process.

As the researchers reported Oct. 15 in the online journal Biotechnology for Biofuels, they’ve begun to identify which of these genes encode for enzymes that could significantly improve the production of cellulosic ethanol, a fuel made from inedible plant material that the U.S. Department of Energy estimates could replace half of our gasoline if the production process could be made more cost effective. (more …)

UF releases first citrus cultivar; Sugar Belle packs a tasty punch

Topic(s): Agriculture, Citrus, Cultivars, Extension, Nutrition, RECs


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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Sugar Belle-a bold mandarin orange hybrid that ripens in time for the winter holiday market-will be the first University of Florida-created citrus variety intended for commercial production.

The mandarin hybrid-a mix of the sweet Clementine and the colorful, bell-shaped Minneola-has a rich taste and strong aroma, said UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences plant breeder Fred Gmitter.

The new sweet-tart fruit may be best described as a mandarin with a tangy punch.

“Many old-timers in citrus have said this is the best-tasting citrus they’ve ever had,” Gmitter said.

The fruit, which has a patent pending and is also known as LB8-9, has been in the works since 1985.

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UF professor flies high in the small world of owl-pellet gathering

Topic(s): Conservation, Environment, Extension, Household Pests


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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Dissecting owl pellets and reconstructing animal skeletons inside can be a gruesomely great educational experience for youngsters – so much so, that demand for owl pellets has spawned a cottage industry.

In Florida, one of the main suppliers is Richard Raid, a professor with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Owls can’t chew, so they rip prey apart with their beaks and swallow it in big chunks. The pellets are blobs of undigested fur and bones the birds regurgitate after a meal.

Raid gathers 3,000 to 5,000 pellets each year from farms in the Everglades Agricultural Area. He leads workshops at schools, clubs and museums where he shows children how to carefully pick apart the pellets, identify the creatures inside, and arrange the bones into complete skeletons.

The experience may sound cringe-inducing, but it teaches children about biology and predator-prey relationships, says Raid, a plant pathologist at UF’s Everglades Research and Education Center in Belle Glade. (more …)

Goodbye “R” rule? Oyster pathogen test may help make shellfish safer

Topic(s): Aquaculture, Food Safety, New Technology, Research, Uncategorized

Oyster Research

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The oyster lover’s axiom of edibility — that this shellfish is safest to eat in any month with an “r” in it — may soon become somewhat of a culinary anachronism, thanks to a new food-safety test developed with help from the University of Florida.

Oysters are typically considered safest to eat in cooler months (September through April) because the shellfish-infecting bacteria in the genus Vibrio flourish best in warm temperatures.

Even in the “r” months, slurping an oyster opens some people to infection from these bacteria, which can cause fever, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea and has even led to finger amputation when it’s given a chance to penetrate a cut or skin lesion.

However, a new quick and inexpensive diagnostic test developed by DuPont Qualicon and refined by UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences could make weeding out pathogen-loaded oysters much more practical and efficient. Oysters are a $14 million industry in the Sunshine State, according to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

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