IFAS News

University of Florida

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.”

(more …)

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.”

(more …)

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 …)

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