IFAS News

University of Florida

UF team finds ‘alligator tree’ bacteria might improve cellulosic ethanol production

Topic(s): Agriculture, Biofuels, New Technology

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Most would identify the tree by its often troublesome, spiky “gumballs,” but what many call the sweetgum tree also goes by another name, thanks to its distinctive, reptilian bark: the alligator tree.

So it may be fitting that researchers from the University of Florida, home of the Gators, have found that bacteria growing in its wood may improve the process of making the fuel that might help solve the nation’s energy crisis.

Cellulosic ethanol fuel is derived from plant material often thrown away as trash. Typically, the processes use genetically engineered bacteria or tricky chemical reactions to break down complex compounds in plant cell walls to produce simple sugar molecules that can be fermented into fuel-grade alcohol.

A February report by the Sandia National Laboratories predicted that cellulosic ethanol could replace 30 percent of the nation’s gasoline by 2030 if the price can be brought down. A big part of reducing the price is making production more efficient. (more …)

UF researchers receive $643,000 federal grant to study wood-quality gene for fuel production

Topic(s): Agriculture, Biofuels, Environment, New Technology

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A newly discovered gene may be the key to producing fuel ethanol more efficiently from trees, and the University of Florida researchers who identified it have received a prestigious federal grant to investigate further.

The gene, which helps regulate wood growth and the composition of wood fiber, could also lead to improved tree varieties for pulp and paper.

Matias Kirst and Gary Peter, plant geneticists with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, lead the team. They received one of seven 2009 Plant Feedstock Genomics for Bioenergy grants-a program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The grants, totaling $6.32 million, were announced this week. The UF team’s three-year, $643,000 grant will fund research on how the gene helps regulate cell wall chemistry and structure. The scientists will also investigate where and when its effects occur.

(more …)

Cold weather may reduce Cuban tree frogs’ impact as they move north, UF researchers say

Topic(s): Agriculture, Invasive Species, Pests, Weather

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 GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Invasive Cuban tree frogs are spreading through Florida, but a new University of Florida study suggests their impact could weaken as they move farther north, because colder weather seems to reduce their average size.

Smaller Cuban tree frogs would lay fewer eggs and be less likely to eat native frogs, said Steve Johnson, an assistant professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Cold weather may also shorten the frogs’ breeding season and life span.

The study, authored by Johnson and Monica McGarrity, a UF biological scientist, was published in the June issue of the journal Biological Invasions.

“This is a hint of a silver lining,” Johnson said. “We usually don’t discover things about invasive species where we say ‘hey, there’s a little bit of hope here.’ Usually it’s the other way around.”

(more …)

UF researchers turn up the heat on bedbugs with new low-tech treatment method

Topic(s): Agriculture, Entomology and Nematology, Household Pests, New Technology, Pests, Safety

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Multimedia available: http://news.ufl.edu/2009/07/07/bed-bugs-multimedia/

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Bedbug infestations are notoriously hard to eliminate, but University of Florida researchers have developed a low-cost, low-tech method to kill the bloodsucking insects in furniture and bedding, using heat.

With less than $400 in equipment they created a portable chamber big enough for a bed or dresser. Heaters inside the chamber gently raise its air temperature to a minimum of 113 degrees Fahrenheit – enough to destroy the insects but not damage the items.

Treatment takes from two to seven hours, said urban entomologist Phil Koehler, a professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. In a study, the method killed 100 percent of bedbugs in nine out of 11 trials conducted in dormitories and apartments.

The study appears in the current issue of Journal of Economic Entomology.

“You’re very limited in what you can do to fight bedbugs,” said Koehler, an author of the study. “This is a good way to relieve infestations in bedding and other items people have close contact with, and it controls all life stages of bedbugs.” (more …)

Mosquitoes aplenty this July Fourth bring disease concerns for North Florida

Topic(s): Entomology and Nematology, Environment, Household Pests, Lawn & Garden, Pests, Safety, Weather

 

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Recent weeks of heavy rain have left conditions statewide ripe for a Fourth of July rife with mosquitoes. For some North Florida areas, however, the pests are more than a holiday annoyance — they bring the threat of the eastern equine encephalitis virus, known as EEEV.

“This year doesn’t look like it’s going to be tremendously unusual in terms of overall cases of mosquito-borne diseases,” said Jonathan Day, a professor of medical entomology with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “But transmission of [EEEV] tends to be very focal, and there are some areas that are looking risky.”

EEEV is best known for being deadly in horses, but humans can contract the virus as well.

According to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus can cause a severe infection of the central nervous system in humans, and is fatal for nearly a third of those afflicted.

So far this year, 26 horses have been found to be infected in North Florida, with five more in the state’s Panhandle.

(more …)

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