University of Florida

UF researchers develop first method to accurately measure zinc in humans

Topic(s): Announcements, IFAS, New Technology, Nutrition, Research


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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Zinc is an essential nutrient, but until now, there has not been an effective way to measure it in our bodies, say University of Florida researchers.

The researchers have uncovered biomarkers that, for the first time, allow for accurate measurement of human zinc nutritional status. Biomarkers are quantifiable substances in organisms that can indicate body irregularities such as nutrient deficiencies or disease.

The biomarkers can be measured from blood samples or from mouth swabs and allow for even marginal zinc deficiencies to be detected, which is something current zinc tests can’t do.

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Statistical models inspired from Facebook could help endangered animals, UF researchers say

Topic(s): Conservation, Environment, IFAS, Invasive Species, New Technology, Research

Robert Fletcher. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Some endangered animals may live in smaller habitats than scientists realize, leading to inflated estimates of their ability to survive, according to a new University of Florida study.

However, by predicting the animals’ habitat movement using models employed to analyze human interactions on social networks such as Facebook, scientists with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences find the animals’ predicament could be better understood.

Conservationists can use this improved approach to better prioritize habitat restoration efforts for endangered species, said author Robert Fletcher, a UF wildlife ecology and conservation assistant professor.

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Under lab conditions, Salmonella can reach tomato fruits through leaves, IFAS study shows

Topic(s): Crops, Food Safety, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Food-safety experts have long believed that Salmonella bacteria could only enter tomatoes through wounds in the stem or fruit — but a new University of Florida laboratory study shows it can also happen another way.

Plant pathologist Ariena van Bruggen, a professor in UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, published a paper today in the online journal PLoS One, with research findings that show — for the first time — that Salmonella can enter tomato plants through intact leaves, travel through the plant and end up in the fruit itself. (more …)

New IFAS study shows corn plants help control major mite pest

Topic(s): Agriculture, Biocontrols, Crops, Entomology and Nematology, Environment, IFAS, New Technology, Pests, RECs, Research


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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Add one more entry to corn’s list of abilities: helping to biologically control pests.

Already a source of food and biofuel, University of Florida researchers report in a new study that corn plants can help sustain populations of small, flying insects known as gall midges in order to control twospotted spider mites.

Spider mites are hard-to-manage, major pests of hundreds of ornamental and vegetable crops.

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UF researchers say they can create grapefruit hybrid that won’t interfere with medicine

Topic(s): Citrus, Cultivars, RECs

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — For years, doctors and pharmacists have warned people to steer clear of fresh grapefruit or grapefruit juice when taking certain medicines.

But University of Florida researchers now believe within the next few years, they’ll be able to release a grapefruit-pummelo hybrid that those who enjoy the zingy fruit can consume, without risking adverse side effects from their medicine.

The researchers’ findings are presented in the current issue of the Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science. (more …)

Blue light discourages molds that spoil citrus fruit, UF researcher says

Topic(s): Agriculture, Citrus, New Technology

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — One species of Penicillium fungus gave humanity the miracle drug penicillin; some of its cousins give the citrus industry headaches.

Commonly known as green mold and blue mold, respectively, the fungi Penicillium digitatum and Penicillium italicum spoil recently harvested fruit. But researchers with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences have found an environmentally friendly way to address the problem—using blue light to activate natural defenses within the fruit.

A study published in the current issue of the journal Postharvest Biology and Technology showed that tangerines inoculated with P. digitatum spores had a 100 percent infection rate when kept in constant darkness or constant white light for six days. When kept in constant blue light the rate was 50 percent. And when kept on a schedule that alternated 12 hours of blue light exposure with 12 hours of darkness, the infection rate was only 25 percent.

These preliminary findings suggest that certain light wavelengths activate an enzyme called phospholipase, which kick-starts the tangerine’s immune response, said Jackie Burns, director of UF’s Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred and one of the study authors.

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UF scientists collaborate with Monsanto to develop improved computer model for corn production

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Cultivars, Economics, Weather

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — To boost world corn production, scientists with the University of Florida and the agriculture company Monsanto are collaborating on an improved computer model designed to more accurately predict corn growth by making projections to show how the interactions between corn varieties, environmental conditions and management practices influence grain yield.

When completed in two to three years, the model will be placed in the public domain to help researchers conduct studies and provide information to policy makers, industry personnel and extension agents who deal directly with farmers, said Jim Jones, a distinguished service professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and a leader in the collaboration.

Jones and colleague Ken Boote, an agronomy professor, will lead the effort at UF.

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Beneficial bacteria can help keep Florida coral healthy, UF researchers report

Topic(s): Environment, IFAS, Pollution, Research


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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Bacteria that could potentially help corals resist the devastating disease white pox have been found by researchers at the University of Florida and Mote Marine Laboratory.

The findings could help maintain the health of Florida’s coral reefs, which bring in billions of dollars to the state annually and are important for tourism, fisheries, shoreline protection and pharmaceutical research.

“Coral reefs are a major attraction for tourists in Florida,” said Max Teplitski, a microbiologist and an associate professor at UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “They support the economies of South Florida, and they’re also important for fisheries and, in general, healthy ecosystems.”

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UF technique to help pine forests adapt to climate change, bioenergy use

Topic(s): Announcements, Biofuels, Conservation, Crops, Economics, Environment, IFAS, New Technology, Research


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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A breakthrough in pine tree breeding will lead to forests better adapted to climate change and bioenergy use, University of Florida researchers report.

The improved forests will stem from a genetic technique the researchers have developed that can create new tree varieties in half the time it takes current breeding methods.

The technique, detailed in a study published online Wednesday by the journal New Phytologist, is expected to increase the security and competitiveness of the U.S. forestry industry.

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To develop pine-based biofuels, UF research team receives $6.3 million federal grant

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Cultivars, Environment, Green Living, New Technology

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A University of Florida-led research team has won a three-year, $6.3 million grant to develop genetically improved loblolly pine trees that yield greater amounts of terpene biofuels for transportation fuels.

The grant, announced yesterday, was awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Project Agency – Energy, or ARPA-E. It’s part of a $156 million funding package dedicated to 60 innovative clean-energy projects.

The researchers hope to bring about a five-fold increase in the amount of terpene produced by loblolly, making it cost-competitive with petroleum-based fuels.

Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources, said the grant award demonstrates the university’s leadership in biofuel research.

“Loblolly pine is economically important throughout the Southeast because it’s widely used for lumber and wood pulp,” Payne said. “By developing loblolly’s potential as a sustainable biofuel source, we can add a new dimension to its value. That has long-term benefits to the entire region and will provide greater economic security for our residents.”

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