University of Florida

Ag’s next frontier? Growing plants in space

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

Anna-Lisa Paul.  Research Associate Scientist PhD.  Plant Molecular Genetics, Horticulture Sciences.  Photo by UF/IFAS Photographer Tyler Jones.

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Rob Ferl, a professor of molecular biology at the University of Florida, holds a dish, Monday DEC 22, 2003,  containing different specimens of the Arabidopsis plant an alpine weed commonly used in botanical and genetic research. Ferl and other researchers at UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences hope to grow seeds of the plant in a greenhouse on a future unmanned space mission to the surface of Mars. (AP photo/University of Florida/IFAS/Thomas Wright)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Space may not be the final frontier for Anna-Lisa Paul and Robert Ferl; they want to grow plants there. Because, who knows, we may one day try to live on Mars, and to survive, we’ll have to grow our own food.

Thus far, experiments by the two pioneering scientists have proven so successful that, earlier this month, NASA recognized their research with one of its three awards in the category of the Most Compelling Results. Paul and Ferl have been conducting plants-in-space research for 20 years.

“It was indeed nice to receive the recognition from NASA,” said Paul, a research professor in the UF/IFAS Department of Horticultural Sciences. “The award recognizes our research approaches of using transgenic plants to serve as biological sensors of the space flight environment. This research is another step in moving our science forward in our exploration of how plants respond to this novel environment.”

Paul explained how all this research helps us on planet Earth.

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Citrus greening research gets $1 million in state budget funding

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, Citrus, IFAS, New Technology, Pests, RECs
Citrus groves at the Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, Florida. Oranges, fruit, trees.   UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A $1 million University of Florida research project to fight citrus greening got the green light in the state’s budget.

Nian Wang, a researcher with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, is working with a team to develop a microbial-based product, infused with patented plant-defense inducers and beneficial bacteria strains, that he hopes will cure citrus greening. (more …)

UF/IFAS scientists adapt household products to dupe and trap deadly disease-carrying insects in Africa

Topic(s): Entomology and Nematology, Environment, IFAS, New Technology, Pests, Research

Bug Bait 070215

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Crushed seashells and vinegar could be the key ingredients in an inexpensive and readily available way to lure and trap disease-carrying insects in developing nations, according to a new UF/IFAS study.

By using these simple ingredients, insect experts can find easier ways to trap and monitor disease-carrying insects, said Nathan Burkett-Cadena, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of entomology, who led the recent study.

Mosquitoes transmit malaria, West Nile virus and chikungunya virus.  Monitoring these insects is critical to understanding when and where to control them and lessen the risk of human disease. Insect experts the world over use carbon dioxide, the same gas that humans exhale, to attract blood-feeding bugs to traps, so they can measure their abundance, test them for diseases and make decisions about whether or not to control them.

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UF/IFAS researchers to testify before Congress about GMOs

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

Kevin Folta.  UF/IFAS File Photo.

Kevin Folta

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Two UF/IFAS graduate students will advise a congressional committee as lawmakers question them about biotechnology and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Chris Barbey and Alejandra Abril Guevara, doctoral students in Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology, will head to Washington D.C. with UF/IFAS horticultural sciences Professor Kevin Folta to answer questions from the U.S. House Science Committee at a June 25 hearing. Folta said there is no set agenda for the discussions, but he expects the researchers to field many questions relating to the GMO regulatory processes, food labeling and product safety.

“It is great that this committee is consulting with scientists that understand the evidence, and hopefully evidence will help them devise new policy,” Folta said.

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Need to know what to spray on citrus trees to keep bugs at bay? There’s an app for that.

Topic(s): Agriculture, Citrus, IFAS, New Technology, RECs


GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida has nearly 70 million citrus trees on more than 531,500 acres. Now imagine trying to figure out what pesticide to spray on each of those trees to keep them safe from citrus greening.

University of Florida researcher James Tansey says the answer is as close as your Android smartphone with a new app developed with ZedX, an information technologies company based in Pennsylvania.  The free phone program allows citrus farmers to enter in about a dozen variables — like the type of crop, insect pressure, harvest date, previous spray history, and whether the crop will be for fresh fruit or juice and for export or domestic markets — to determine the best pesticide to use. There are also record-keeping options, and the app keeps track of sites with gps. (more …)

UF/IFAS forest genetics expert Kirst leads team receiving four-year, $2 million grant

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


Matias Kirst.  Assistant Professor, PhD.  Quantitative Genetics.  School of Forest Resources and Conservation.  UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

Matias Kirst. Associate Professor, PhD. Quantitative Genetics. School of Forest Resources and Conservation. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Agricultural science could make huge leaps forward if scientists had reliable ways to examine seeds and accurately predict the physical characteristics of the fully grown plants that would result.

University of Florida forest genetics expert Matias Kirst leads a multi-institution academic team that recently obtained a four-year, $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop better methods of predicting the traits spawned by individual genes and groups of genes in plants, in this case the Eastern cottonwood tree, Populus deltoides.

“We’re thrilled that our previous work in this area has put us in a position to win this critical grant to help us bridge some important gaps in trait prediction,” said Kirst, an associate professor with the UF School of Forest Resources and Conservation, part of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, or UF/IFAS.

The grant award provides more proof that the UF/IFAS forest genetics program is among the best in the world, said Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources.

“Matias Kirst is one of our bright stars in the School of Forest Resources and Conservation,” Payne said. “This grant will support world-class scientific investigation that could make it much faster and easier to determine which new crop cultivars have commercial potential or other significant value.”

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Low-altitude aerial images allow early detection of devastating avocado disease

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Economics, IFAS, New Technology, Pests, RECs, Research

LAUREL WILT - CAMERA STUDY - 052015 (over Homestead) (2)

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Low-altitude aerial images can detect laurel wilt, a devastating avocado disease, giving growers an early way to identify diseased trees and perhaps help reduce losses to the $100 million-a-year economic impact avocados provide Florida.

Reza Ehsani, an associate professor in agricultural and biological engineering at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, used a multi-spectral camera that distinguishes between laurel wilt-affected trees and healthy ones.

Images taken with the camera from a helicopter have significant implications in the management of this important disease and for the commercial avocado industry in Florida. Ehsani said he expects the Federal Aviation Administration to open U.S. airspace for commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles, which could be equipped with such cameras, by 2017.

“Ultimately, we think that small UAVs, equipped with the right multi-band camera, can be used for scouting for this disease, which could potentially be very cost-effective,” Ehsani said. “The results of this study will enable growers or service companies that use UAVs to detect this disease at an early stage.”

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New UF/IFAS-developed avocado app helps guide irrigation

Topic(s): Agriculture, Conservation, Crops, Economics, IFAS, New Technology
In this photo released by the University of FloridaÕs Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, agricultural economist Edward ÒGillyÓ Evans, left, and tropical fruit expert Jonathan Crane examine avocados in a research grove at UFÕs Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead Ð Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009. The pair helped write a paper on the potential economic impact of laurel wilt, a disease threatening FloridaÕs avocado crop. If the disease reaches Miami-Dade County, it could destroy half the crop and cost the state $27 million. (AP photo/University of Florida/IFAS/Thomas Wright)


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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences faculty have developed a new app for avocado growers that provides an irrigation schedule so users save an estimated 20 to 50 percent on the water they apply to their orchards.

“Weather changes daily, and the app takes into account these changes in the irrigation schedule it provides,” said Kati Migliaccio, an associate professor in agricultural and biological engineering at UF’s Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, Florida.

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6 UF/IFAS faculty named as Research Foundation professors

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, Biofuels, Citrus, Crops, Economics, Environment, Food Safety, Forestry, Honors and Appointments, IFAS, Livestock, New Technology, RECs, Research

Robert Fletcher photographed for the 2011 FAES Awards.  UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler JonesRESEARCHFOUNDATION - Danyluk 041015Jim Jones (left), Bin Gao (seated), and Pratap Pullammanappallil.  Innovation Awards Portrait.  UF/IFAS File Photo.Zhenli He. Associate Professor, Soil and Water Science.Jose SantosRESEARCHFOUNDATION - Peter 041015
Pictured top (left to right) Robert Fletcher, Michelle Danyluk and Bin Gao; second row (left to right) Zhenli He, Jose Eduardo Santos and Gary Peter.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Six University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences faculty members, who are trying to solve global issues like food safety and environmental sustainability, have been named as UF Research Foundation Professors for 2015-18.

The recognition goes to faculty who demonstrate a distinguished record of research and a strong research agenda that’s likely to continue to distinguish them in their fields.

“When I look at the breadth of research exemplified by these talented scientists, I am reminded of the complexity and breadth of the IFAS mission, and how fortunate we are to have people of such high caliber working in a university that places such a high value on research and invests so heavily in the research enterprise,” said Doug Archer, UF/IFAS associate dean of research.

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