University of Florida

UF/IFAS researcher to defend biotechnology at Cato Institute

Topic(s): Uncategorized


WHAT: Kevin Folta, interim chairman of the University of Florida’s horticultural sciences department, will participate in a public forum hosted by the Washington, D.C.-based Cato Institute, called “Biotechnology: Feeding the World, or a Brave New World of Agriculture?”

WHEN: 2 p.m. Tuesday, June 4

BACKGROUND: The last few decades have seen traditional plant-breeding techniques begin to give way to a new era of agriculture in which DNA sequencing allows scientists to select for beneficial traits and vastly shortening the time it takes to create new cultivars. While many have concerns about these changes, Folta and science journalist and author Jon Entine have no such fears. During the forum, they will answer critics who say biotechnology may do long-term damage to the world’s food supply or result in inadvertent harm to consumers.

The event initially was to be  the first formal debate between biotechnology advocates and detractors, but those who had been set to argue that the technological changes pose a threat  — French professor Gilles-Eric Seralini of the University of Caen and Jeffrey Smith, the author of “Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods” — withdrew.

The Cato Institute is a public policy think tank, and according to its website, is “dedicated to principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace.”

WHERE: The Cato Institute, Hayek Auditorium, 1000 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. The event can be seen live online at www.cato.org/live or you can follow @CatoEvents on Twitter.

CONTACT: Kevin Folta, 352-392-1928, ext. 269, kfolta@ufl.edu or @kevinfolta. Folta is available for interviews before Tuesday’s forum.



UF/IFAS names new Wildlife Ecology and Conservation chair

Topic(s): Announcements, IFAS


GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Eric Hellgren, a zoologist best known for his work with black bears, has been named chairman of the University of Florida’s wildlife ecology and conservation department, said Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources.

Hellgren will start the UF job Sept. 1. He spent the last eight years as director of the Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory at Southern Illinois University. (more …)

UF/IFAS storm-preparation expert tailors planning guide for Floridians

Topic(s): Uncategorized

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When it comes to natural disasters, Florida — with hurricanes, tropical storms, tornadoes, wildfires and flooding — certainly has more than its share.

And a University of Florida storm-preparation expert says that’s good reason for Floridians to spend a bit of time planning for such emergencies. This being National Hurricane Preparedness Week, Mike Spranger says, there’s no time like today.

Spranger, a UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences professor in family, youth and community sciences, worked with colleagues in Florida to adapt a Gulf of Mexico states-oriented handbook for Floridians. Called the “Florida Homeowners Handbook to Prepare for Natural Hazards,” it’s free and available online at http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/disaster_prep/.

At a minimum, Spranger says, Florida residents ought to have a storm supply of three days’ worth of nonperishable food and a five-day water supply (one gallon per person per day). An even better goal, he suggests: a five- to seven-day supply of nonperishable food and a seven-day water supply of three gallons per person per day, which allows enough water for hand-washing, cooking and other needs.

“The very most important things people want after storms are water and ice — and that’s the very first thing that’s going to be in short supply,” Spranger said.

Hurricane season begins June 1 and ends Nov. 30, but the 140-page handbook reminds readers that hurricanes and tropical storms can and do form before and after the confines of hurricane season.

The handbook has tons of tips and suggestions for Floridians, covering details such as keeping spare cash handy in case ATMs aren’t working, hanging onto at least one hardwire telephone in case cellular service goes out, keeping your gas tank full, and specific ways to shore up your windows, doors and garage doors (fun fact: about 80 percent of wind damage to homes starts with wind entering the garage).

Also included are reminders to have a plan for pets since most emergency shelters won’t accept them; keep prescriptions filled and copies of them in a waterproof box or folder, along with one’s other important documents such as birth records, insurance policies, and descriptions and photos of home valuables; as well as suggestions for storing sentimental items like family photos, digitally, in case a home computer or other electronic gadgets are destroyed.

There are also suggestions for optional storm-related products one might buy, including roof clips and other home improvements; as well as items such as a portable toilet, a weather radio and a generator.

“Even if you get this handbook and only implement a few of the ideas, you’ll be ahead of most people,” Spranger said. “These are all relatively easy things that don’t cost you anything, except time.”



Mickie Anderson, mickiea@ufl.edu, 352-273-3566
Mike Spranger, spranger@ufl.edu, 352-273-3557

UF helping develop insecticide to target malaria-carrying mosquitoes

Topic(s): Environment, Families and Consumers, Household Pests, IFAS, Research


Cutline at bottom. Click here for high-res image.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — In malaria-ridden parts of Africa, mosquito netting protects people from being infected while they sleep; now, a University of Florida entomologist wants to improve the netting by coating it with insecticide toxic only to mosquitoes.

The insecticide would work by interfering with an enzyme found in the nervous systems of mosquitoes and many other organisms, called acetylcholinesterase. Existing insecticides target the enzyme but affect a broad range of species, said entomologist Jeff Bloomquist, a professor in UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute and its Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Acetylcholinesterase helps regulate nervous system activity by stopping electrical signaling in nerve cells. If the enzyme can’t do its job, the mosquito begins convulsing and dies. The research team’s goal is to develop compounds perfectly matched to the acetylcholinesterase molecules in malaria-transmitting mosquitoes, he said.

 “A simple analogy would be that we’re trying to make a key that fits perfectly into a lock,” Bloomquist said. “We want to shut down the enzyme, but only in target species.”

(more …)

Alachua County water conservation program wins national award

Topic(s): Extension, Honors and Appointments


GAINESVILLE — A horticulturist with Alachua County’s UF/IFAS Extension office will be recognized for her educational program by the National Association of County Agriculture Agents.

Wendy Wilber was selected as the national winner for the Search for Excellence Award in Landscape Horticulture for her development and implementation of the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ program in Alachua County.

(more …)

UF/IFAS survey reveals Floridians conflicted about immigrants, related policies

Topic(s): Research, Uncategorized
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Floridians have negative feelings about undocumented immigrants, but an overwhelming majority favor policy that would allow such immigrants a path to U.S. citizenship, a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences survey suggests.

The survey of 507 Floridians found that although many see undocumented immigrants as threats to their economic well-being and personal safety, they still had “pockets” of sympathetic views toward those trying to establish themselves as U.S. residents, said Tracy Irani, director of the UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education, or PIE Center, the research group that led the study.

(more …)

Two UF/IFAS faculty earn place on list of top women professors in Florida

Topic(s): Announcements, Honors and Appointments, IFAS

Samira DaroubAnn Wilkie

Captions at the bottom. Click here and here for high resolution versions.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Two University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences faculty members have been included in a list of the top 25 women professors in Florida.

Samira Daroub, a professor with the soil and water science department who’s based at the UF/IFAS Everglades Research and Education Center in Belle Glade, and Ann Wilkie, a research professor in the department who’s based in Gainesville, received the recognition on the list that appeared in April.

It can be viewed here: http://onlineschoolsflorida.com/top-college-professors-in-florida/women/.

(more …)

Auxins could help crops beat heat and high salinity, UF study suggests

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


Cutline at bottom. Click here for high-res photo.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The plant hormones called auxins are well-known for stimulating development of roots and other structures, and now University of Florida scientists have shown that auxins help plants cope with environmental stresses.

The findings could lead to crop varieties that better tolerate heat and salinity, said author Bala Rathinasabapathi, a professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

“Our findings show there’s a possibility of manipulating plant stress tolerance with auxins,” Rathinasabapathi said. It may be possible to administer auxins to crops at critical stages of growth, he said, or possibly engineer new varieties that respond to auxins more efficiently.

(more …)

UF older adults specialist awarded for research at national conference

Topic(s): Uncategorized


GAINESVILLE — A University of Florida specialist recently received an award from the American Council on Consumer Interests for her research on Social Security survivors benefits.

Presented at the annual conference in April, the ACCI awarded Martie Gillen, an assistant professor in the UF/IFAS Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, and co-author Jason Hans the Applied Consumer Economic Award. They were recognized for their identification of an important consumer issue, descriptions of practical solutions and strong communication of the findings’ immediate implications.

Gillen and Hans, an associate professor at the University of Kentucky, examined attitudes about the eligibility of posthumously born children for Social Security survivors benefits.

Five types of eligibility were examined: normal births, posthumous births, cryopreserved embryos, cryopreserved gametes and posthumous gamete retrieval. Their findings indicated broad support for the eligibility of normal and posthumous births for benefits, but significantly less favorable attitudes toward the other three.

Gillen, a family and consumer economics for older adults specialist, received her doctorate in family studies from the University of Kentucky. She came to UF in 2011, and divides her time between extension work and teaching.



Writer: Andrew Kays, 352-392-2411, apkays@ufl.edu

Source: Martie Gillen, 352-392-0404, mgillen@ufl.edu

UF to celebrate insects and other arthropods during Bug Week, May 20-24

Topic(s): Uncategorized
UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida’s seemingly endless supply of natural wonders includes insects, spiders and other arthropods that creep, crawl, burrow and fly, and the University of Florida will educate residents about these creatures during Bug Week, a multimedia event May 20-24.

Bug Week includes projects and programs from around campus and showcases the strength of the university’s entomology program, said Ruth Borger, assistant vice president for information and communication services with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

“We have one of the biggest and best entomology departments in the country, and we want people to know about it,” said Borger, who helped organize Bug Week. “With summer approaching and bugs becoming more active, we think this is an ideal time to show how our expertise can help average people understand the bugs they see around their homes, yards and communities.”

Much of Bug Week is geared toward helping residents avoid unpleasant encounters with species that pose a threat to health or property, said Chris Moran, UF director of communications.

“I’m a newly arrived resident myself,” said Moran, who came to UF from Texas this year. “So I can appreciate how people move to Florida, see an unfamiliar bug and wonder ‘Is this a problem?’ We tried to keep that idea in mind when we planned our activities.”

Bug Week includes outreach to local, state and national media, with stories on removing ticks safely, avoiding bed bugs while traveling, preventing bee stings, recognizing signs of Formosan termite colonies and discouraging mosquitoes. Another story focuses on UF/IFAS efforts to study invasive pests that haven’t yet reached Florida but pose a threat.

Those stories are posted on a website, http://bugs.ufl.edu, along with profiles of common Florida bugs, a question-and-answer column on pest management, bug-related news items from around the world, a list of bug resources at UF/IFAS, and even a recipe for those bold enough to try eating bugs. The Twitter hashtag is #UFBugs.

The website will be updated regularly after Bug Week ends, and will include seasonal material and audience-participation features, Borger said.

“The website is beginner-friendly, and it’s meant to be fun and colorful, as well as informative,” she said. “It’s going to be home to some incredible contests and public outreach activities, so we hope that our visitors will check back often.”

One theme running throughout the website: helping users understand the difference between beneficial and harmful bugs. Not every bug that’s ugly or fearsome is harmful, and not every bug that’s attractive is beneficial, said Bug Week technical adviser Jennifer Gillett-Kaufman, an assistant extension scientist with the UF/IFAS entomology department.

“We really want people to come away with the idea that they can live in harmony with bugs in many instances, and that there are environmentally friendly options to discourage bugs that you don’t want around the house,” Gillett-Kaufman said. “We want people to break away from the old thinking that you see a bug and the first thing you do is reach for a can of bug spray.”



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

Source: Ruth Borger, rborger@ufl.edu, 352-392-2411, ext. 293

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