University of Florida

UF/IFAS study shows banker plants can protect greenhouse crops from whiteflies, thrips

Topic(s): Agriculture, Biocontrols, Crops, Environment, New Technology, Pests


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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Keeping valuable greenhouse crops safe from whiteflies and thrips may become easier for producers, thanks to a new study on banker plants from the University of Florida and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A trend in biological pest control, banker plants provide food and shelter to natural enemies of target pests, giving the enemies a home base so they can provide continuous pest control.

 In a study posted online this week by the journal Biological Control, researchers tested three ornamental pepper varieties as host plants for the well-known predatory mite Amblyseius swirskii. The mite dramatically reduced silverleaf whitefly populations, as well as chilli thrips and Western flower thrips, on greenhouse-raised green bean plants and pepper plants.

 This approach could work for other greenhouse-grown vegetables, fruits, herbs and ornamentals, said Lance Osborne, an entomology professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

(more …)

UF/IFAS research into bacterial disease could lead to natural herbicide

Topic(s): Agriculture, Environment, Green Living, IFAS, New Technology, Research


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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida scientists are researching a natural herbicide that could be used in traditional and organic farming.

The herbicide, a chemical called thaxtomin, occurs naturally in Streptomyces bacteria that cause potato scab, a major disease of potatoes worldwide.

A study describing a key step in the process that could lead to its commercial production is published in the current issue of the journal Nature Chemical Biology. (more …)

Farmers’ market phonies raise ire of some customers — but not all, UF researchers say

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Economics, Families and Consumers, Nutrition

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Doing business with a farmers’ market phony selling non-local food might bother some shoppers, but not all, according to a new University of Florida study.

 Shoppers often assume farmers’ markets sell only the freshest crops from small, local operations, said Mickie Swisher, an associate professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. But with the number of U.S. farmers’ markets more than quadrupled since 1994, big-volume produce dealers sometimes use them to sell items shipped from other states or countries.

 When that happens, customers may feel outraged or indifferent, depending on whether they’re committed to eating local or just want a pleasant excursion, said Swisher, one of the study’s authors.

 The findings, published in the current issue of the journal HortScience, suggest that farmers’ market managers can keep serious and casual shoppers happy by requiring honest labeling and creating opportunities for patrons to mingle, she said.

(more …)

Sea-level rise threatens endangered rabbit far more than development, UF research finds

Topic(s): Environment, Research, Weather
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When University of Florida researcher Robert McCleery and a graduate student began looking at why an endangered marsh rabbit’s habitat was disappearing in the Florida Keys, they fully expected the blame would fall on development.

Instead, they were stunned to find that nearly half of the rabbit’s habitat loss was due to rising sea levels.

“We kind of look at sea level rise as this problem that’s just starting, something that is going to be a real problem for conservation in the future. But what we’re showing here is that it’s already a problem,” McCleery said. “We’re not saying that development doesn’t have an impact, but sea level rise is undoubtedly the main culprit and development helps exacerbate it.”

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UF/IFAS experts offer wild game processing workshop for hunters

Topic(s): Announcements, Families and Consumers, Food Safety, IFAS

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Hunting can put meat on the family table, and a University of Florida workshop is helping area men and women learn the fine points of bringing that meat home safe and ready to cook or store.

It’s called Wild Game Processing: From Field to Table, a six-hour workshop held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29 at the UF animal sciences department, part of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

“Proper handling and processing minimizes the risk of foodborne illness and improves the quality and storage life of wild game products for your family,” said Chad Carr, a UF meat science assistant professor. He organizes and leads the workshop, now in its second year.

(more …)

Laurel wilt disease not spread by fruit, seeds from infected avocado trees, UF researchers say

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Environment, Invasive Species, Pests


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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Though laurel wilt remains a top concern for Florida avocado growers, a new University of Florida study is cause for some relief – the disease is unlikely to be spread via fruit or seeds from infected trees.

 Researchers found that the pathogen, a fungus with the scientific name Raffaelea lauricola, does not colonize avocado fruit, said Randy Ploetz, a plant pathology professor at UF’s Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, part of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

 Furthermore, the insect responsible for transmitting the pathogen doesn’t infest avocado fruit, either. Known as the redbay ambrosia beetle, the pest dwells only in the xylem of the avocado tree trunk, he said.

 The findings mean avocado fruit and seeds produced in Florida are unlikely to pose a threat of laurel wilt transmission when shipped to other U.S. states or foreign countries.

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UF forms task force to address Apalachicola Bay oyster fishery collapse

Topic(s): Announcements, Aquaculture, Conservation, Economics, Environment, Extension, IFAS, Research

Photo cutlines at bottom of page. Click here for high-resolution Karl Havens photo and here for high-res oyster bed photo.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Responding to the oyster fishery collapse in Apalachicola Bay, experts with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and Florida Sea Grant will join forces with local seafood producers to find ways of restoring sustainable populations of the area’s world-famous oysters.

“We’re extremely concerned and want to help however we can,” said Jack Payne, UF’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “An estimated 2,500 people work in Franklin County’s oyster industry and businesses closely allied with it. Many of them are now wondering how to put food on the table.”

In August, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services issued a report with bleak projections for the 2012-13 oyster harvest.

When Florida’s oyster season opened Sept. 1, Apalachicola Bay oystermen found few harvestable oysters. Since then, Gov. Rick Scott has requested federal aid for the community and reports of oyster declines have come in from Dixie, Levy and Wakulla counties.

In recent years, Apalachicola Bay has produced about 10 percent of the U.S. oyster supply, and accounted for 90 percent of Florida’s harvest. The dockside value of Franklin County’s 2011 oyster harvest was $6.6 million.

On Friday, Payne announced formation of the UF Oyster Recovery Task Force and named Karl Havens to lead it. Havens is director of Florida Sea Grant.

The task force has multiple priorities, including: learning why oyster populations declined, finding ways to help them bounce back, and identifying solutions for social and economic impacts, Havens said.

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Sept. 18 Science Cafe talk will focus on UF/IFAS space biology research

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, Crops, IFAS, New Technology, Research

Rob Ferl

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Two University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences faculty will lead the first Science Café of the fall, titled “Going Boldly: Astrobiology, Space Biology and Seeking the Meaning of Life off Earth,” on Sept. 18.

Science Café is a discussion series hosted by UF’s Florida Museum of Natural History that features a variety of science topics. Tuesday’s talk will be held at The Warehouse Restaurant and Lounge located at 502 S. Main St. in Gainesville from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

The talk will be free and attendees can purchase food and beverages.

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UF’s Teri Balser appointed to elite group rethinking undergraduate biology education

Topic(s): Announcements, CALS, Uncategorized

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Teri Balser, dean of the University of Florida’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, has been named to a group of 40 elite scholars tasked with re-imagining biology education for U.S. college undergraduates.

Balser was named a Vision and Change Leadership Fellow by the Partnership for Undergraduate Life Sciences Education, or PULSE. This collaborative effort is funded by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

PULSE formally announced its selection of Balser and the other fellows on Friday, Sept. 7; Balser was the only UF faculty member among the 40.

The fellows were selected from a group of 250 applicants, evaluated on the basis of their experience in catalyzing reform of undergraduate biology education at the level of a division, department or institution.

“Biology and the life sciences, more so than almost any other discipline, has changed in the past few decades,” she said. “But not a whole lot has changed in the way we approach teaching these subjects. We’re trying to align the science we teach in the classroom with the science we do in the lab.”

The fellows will promote modernized biology instruction methods and encourage their adoption by community colleges, liberal arts colleges, universities and other institutions offering college-level courses.

Among other things, the fellows will develop ways to implement findings contained in a 2011 Vision and Change report that Balser helped produce; she became involved in the effort several years ago while at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she was director of the Institute for Biology Education.

“I got involved because I wanted to change things,” she said. “This is an opportunity to make things happen at the level it needs to happen.”

That level involves not only faculty members but also department chairs, deans, provosts and vice presidents.

Balser said she used to be less optimistic about the chances of convincing higher-ed administrators to make systemic changes in their biology programs. Not anymore. She said there’s now “almost a perfect storm” of conditions that make it easier. Among the conditions are the rising popularity of distance education, advances in the science of genomics and the ongoing debate about the value and accessibility of public education.

“I think people are open to new ideas now,” she said.

Forward thinking was one of the qualities that led Jack Payne, UF’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources, to offer Balser the dean’s post. She began work at UF in July 2011. As dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Balser oversees all aspects of the college’s undergraduate and graduate education programs; she also is a professor in the soil and water science department.

Now that the group has been selected, Balser said, they’re expected to deliver recommendations in about one year.

“I hope we come up with something truly innovative and new,” she said.



Writer: Tom Nordlie, 352-273-3567, tnordlie@ufl.edu

Source: Teri Balser, 352-392-1961, tcbalser@ufl.edu



UF-led team wins $1.7 million grant to help minority students earn microbiology degrees

Topic(s): Announcements, Departments, IFAS

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A team of University of Florida and Miami Dade College faculty members has won a five-year, $1.7 million federal grant to expand a distance-education program enabling MDC students to earn a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from UF.

The grant was announced in August by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Undergraduate Education. The grant is part of an NSF effort to increase the number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates, known as the STEM Talent Expansion Program.

“We believe this program will allow students to become science graduates who otherwise would be unable to do so for financial or cultural reasons,” said Eric Triplett, principal investigator for the grant and chairman of UF’s microbiology and cell science department, part of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “This is one of the very few science degrees available by distance education anywhere in the U.S. from a top research university.”

Launched last fall, the program is aimed at students from minority groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM disciplines. It’s based at MDC’s North Campus, where 90 percent of students are Hispanic or African-American.

(more …)

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