IFAS News

University of Florida

UF/IFAS entomologist gets $200,000 to help develop rapid Zika detection

Topic(s): Announcements, Entomology and Nematology, Environment, Extension, Families and Consumers, IFAS, New Technology, Pests, RECs, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences entomologist will use a $200,000 grant from the Florida Department of Health to improve tests for the detection of Zika virus.

In 2016, Florida saw 1,272 cases of Zika, which is usually associated with mild symptoms, although severe symptoms may also occur, including Guillain-Barré syndrome and birth defects in babies, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 256 were locally acquired. So far this year, four more cases have been reported, all travel-related.

Barry Alto, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of medical entomology, said scientists need better diagnostic tools to detect Zika virus to meet challenges to public health. He is working with collaborator Steven Benner at Firebird Biomolecular Sciences LLC to develop methods they hope should take about an hour – far less time than current testing methods. Existing methods require specialized equipment and highly trained personnel, so samples must be transported to specialized laboratory facilities to perform the tests.

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UF/IFAS researchers to launch new plants-in-space mission

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

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — People put on sweaters when they’re cold.  Plants on the other hand, have to essentially knit one on the fly. Plants “knit” with their genes, and when University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers launch their Feb. 14 space experiment, they want to know more about how gene expression helps plants to adapt themselves to outer space.

To knit that new sweater, a plant will need to find a new pattern for an environment to which it has never been exposed, said UF/IFAS horticultural sciences research professor Anna-Lisa Paul. This is what a plant faces when it grows in space. It’s a novel environment, outside the evolutionary experience of any plant, so the plant needs to experiment with new patterns.

The space launch from the Kennedy Space Center is the latest in a series of experiments performed by Paul and UF/IFAS horticultural sciences professor Robert Ferl as they seek to understand how to grow plants in space.

Plants on the SpaceX CRS-10 mission will end up at the International Space Station.

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UF/IFAS Citrus REC starts centennial celebration

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, Citrus, Crops, Cultivars, Economics, Extension, IFAS, New Technology, Pests, RECs, Research

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Nearly a century ago, a group of Polk County citrus growers raised about $14,000 to buy land for a research station. Now, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center.

In 1917, UF/IFAS established the Citrus REC. Originally, only a few UF/IFAS scientists worked at the Lake Alfred site, then called the Citrus Experiment Station.

Today, the research center employs 250 people and is also home to the scientific research staff of the Florida Department of Citrus. It is the largest facility in the world devoted to a single commodity, citrus.

“The UF/IFAS Citrus REC has a long, proud tradition of outstanding science and outreach, and the faculty there show every day why the quality of work performed for the next 100 years will be as good or better than the first century at the facility,” said Jack Payne, senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources.

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UF/IFAS model delivers growers severe weather data specific to their farms

Topic(s): Agriculture, Extension, IFAS, New Technology, Research, Weather

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Farmers can now learn about the probability of extreme weather events on their farm before the growing season so they can more appropriately plan agricultural practices such as when to fertilize and irrigate, thanks to new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences research.

UF/IFAS experts, led by Caroline Staub and Diego Pequeno, are conducting a study in which they hope to give growers tools to anticipate extreme weather such as severe heat or dry spells during the various phases of crop development. If severe weather strikes during flowering, for example, it can severely impact crops. Their motivation is to better integrate weather information with the decision set at the farmer’s disposal, so that weather-related risk can be reduced in time, Staub said.

“Growers kept asking us, ‘What is the probability of getting an extreme weather event on my farm when my crop is ready to harvest,’” said Staub, a post-doctoral researcher in the UF/IFAS agricultural and biological engineering department.

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Learn more about Florida’s water resources with new UF/IFAS website

Topic(s): Environment, Extension, Lawn & Garden, New Technology, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Are you concerned about how your water tastes? Do you want to know how much you use, or whether we’ll have enough water for the next generation? A new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences website links users with UF/IFAS programs on how to preserve and, perhaps improve the quantity and quality of water in Florida.

Click on http://water.ifas.ufl.edu and find educational resources provided by UF/IFAS, said Kati Migliaccio, a UF/IFAS professor of agricultural and biological engineering, who’s among the people who created the site.

“I think our greatest achievement is providing a website for Florida resident to quickly access answers to their questions or solve their problems concerning water,” Migliaccio said.

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UF/IFAS imaging system can detect citrus greening before symptoms show

Topic(s): Agriculture, Citrus, Extension, New Technology, Research

Small lopsided fruit from greening-infected citrus tree.  Spring 2008 Impact Magazine image.  UF/IFAS File Photo.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A time-lapse polarized imaging system may help citrus growers detect greening before the plant’s leaves show symptoms, which should help growers as they try to fend off the deadly disease, a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences study shows.

For the new study, Won Suk “Daniel” Lee and Alireza Pourreza wanted to know how early citrus leaves with greening can be detected while they are pre-symptomatic. So they inoculated plants with the greening disease and put those leaves through a time-lapse imaging system.

There, they found starch in the leaves, an early sign of greening, said Pourreza, a former post-doctoral researcher in the UF/IFAS agricultural and biological engineering department. In their study, UF/IFAS researchers detected greening about one month after they infected the trees, he said.

Timely detection and removal of greening-infected trees are necessary to manage the disease, said Lee, a UF/IFAS agricultural and biological engineering professor and an author on the study.

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UF/IFAS FAWN system helps growers save water, money

Topic(s): Agriculture, Citrus, Crops, Departments, Economics, Extension, IFAS, New Technology, RECs, Research, Weather
Rick Lusher, standing, and George Braun, field site supervisor for FAWN, install a temperature sensor at a monitoring station located at UF's Plant Science Research and Education Unit in Citra, Fla.  Spring 2008 Impact Magazine image.  UF/IFAS File Photo.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Citrus grower James Shinn remembers days when he and his workers would rush out as early as 5 p.m. to turn water pumps on to irrigate his crops. “We had no idea when the temperature would drop, so we had to get out there early and get the water going.”

Now, researchers with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences are helping state growers save millions of dollars via a tool to gauge weather in agricultural areas.

The Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN), was started in 1998 to provide weather decision-making data in agricultural regions, said Rick Lusher, director of FAWN. While all National Weather Service tools are located at airports, FAWN stations are located in agricultural areas, he said.

“We estimate that if farmers use FAWN tools to determine when to irrigate their crops, they can save millions of dollars and millions of gallons of water,” Lusher said.

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UF/IFAS avocado irrigation app should save money, water

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

Kati Miggliacio at a research turfgrass plot on UF's campus.  Photographed for the 2015 Research Discoveries report.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Avocado growers now know that a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences mobile irrigation app works well to save money while maintaining crop yields. This data, reported in a new study, is critical for an industry that has a $100 million a year economic impact on Florida.

It’s also important because agriculture uses about 70 percent of the world’s water, the study’s authors say. Feeding the world’s population may require 50 percent more water than was needed in 2012, according to the World Water Assessment Program’s report to the United Nations. Thus, scientists are concerned about meeting the world’s food demand. Conserving agricultural water use through efficient irrigation scheduling would alleviate some of the burden of the increased demand.

To get the best irrigation results, many scientists use a combination of weather data and rates of evapotranspiration, a measure of how much water leaves the plant and its surrounding soil. UF/IFAS scientists tested data for average evapotranspiration for different periods of days. They also compared wet seasons versus dry seasons, said Kati Migliaccio, a UF/IFAS professor of agricultural and biological engineering and lead author on the study.

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UF/IFAS-led team finds faster, better way to detect salmonella in meat, chicken

Topic(s): Extension, Families and Consumers, Food Safety, IFAS, New Technology, Research, Safety

2013 Small Farms Conference on Friday, August 2nd.  UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A team of scientists led by University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers has found a faster and more precise way to detect salmonella in beef and chicken, a finding that could help prevent major illnesses.

Salmonella is the lauding cause of bacteria-associated foodborne illnesses in the United States, according to the study. Thus, early detection of the pathogen, by a rapid and sensitive test is important to prevent the illness.

In a newly published study, researchers artificially contaminated food with salmonella. They then tested the food samples using Salmonella-specific antibodies combined with a unique signal amplification technique. Their test found salmonella present after 15 hours and removed other microorganisms that sometimes clutter laboratory results. This is shorter than the two to three days it takes to detect salmonella in a culture, the study shows.

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UF/IFAS Extension provides Suwannee farmers with valuable water-saving tool

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Extension, IFAS, New Technology

Citra, Pivot irrigation watering fields. UF/IFAS Photo: Josh Wickham

LIVE OAK, Fla. — During most of this last year, Suwannee County farmer Sammy Starling never had to guess when he did—or didn’t—need to water his corn. With a new smart-agriculture technology, he could access soil moisture readings right from his phone, with updates every three hours.

This information helped Starling determine when to turn on the irrigation system and when to skip a cycle. “It’s a window to the underground world,” he said.

Thanks to a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension experimental trial, Starling was one of three farmers in the Suwannee River Valley who got the chance to test drive this water-saving technology.

By showing farmers how to use and benefit from these sensors, the trial encouraged producers to adopt best management practices (BMPs) set out by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said Patrick Troy, regional specialized agent in row crops who has spearheaded the initiative.

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