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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A common toxin used to kill yellow fever mosquito larvae – the most prevalent transmitter of dengue, chikungunya and zika viruses – is highly effective. While there are some fitness advantages to surviving adults, this is still an effective way to control the damaging health impacts of these mosquito-borne diseases, a new University of Florida study shows.
Scientists and mosquito control officials want to kill mosquitoes during the larval, or juvenile stage, before they grow into adulthood and transmit these dangerous diseases. Dengue and chikungunya viruses are regarded as two of the most important mosquito-borne viral illnesses, said Barry Alto, a UF/IFAS assistant professor in entomology at the UF/IFAS Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory in Vero Beach, Florida.
The few mosquitos that do survive after exposure to the toxin gain a fitness advantage in adulthood, but their numbers are so small that their trait improvements, including enhanced size and ability to reproduce, are unlikely to outweigh the benefit of the rest of the mosquitoes that die from the pesticide Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti), Alto said.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Although the Zika virus is spreading, even into Florida, it does not appear to have been transmitted from mosquito to person or person to person in Florida. But that could happen any time, University of Florida scientists say. Thus, they urge everyone to stay alert.
“We should remain vigilant and informed,” said Jorge Rey, entomology professor and interim director of the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory (FMEL) in Vero Beach, Florida, part of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Public concerns about Zika triggered UF/IFAS scientists to write a new Extension document to explain the virus. The paper can be found at http://bit.ly/1QTLDqO. FMEL scientists also have crafted a new question-and-answer document for their website, http://bit.ly/1O0eLbi.
DAVIE, Fla. — William Kern, an associate professor with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, gently pumped smoke into a beehive to calm the insects before he lifted the lid off the white box to gather wildflower honey.
“Beekeeping has many of the attributes that lead people into gardening: outdoor activity, intellectually interesting, relaxing – if you are doing it right – helpful to the environment by providing pollinators in areas where native bees have been lost or reduced in population,” said Kern. “And you can produce desirable commodities like honey, beeswax, pollen and propolis – or bee glue.”
Kern is one of UF’s most vocal bee enthusiasts and encourages everyone interested to get involved with beekeeping. One way is to take classes at this year’s annual UF/IFAS Bee College, being held March 4th and 5th at the Whitney Marine Laboratory in Marineland, Fla. (more …)
DELEON SPRINGS, Fla. – Richard Williams unfurls his long, sturdy frame from a tractor and begins a stroll through 20 acres of olive groves at his farm in Volusia County, Florida. His in-laws, the Ford/Veech family, has spent six generations farming in Florida, and has a more than 50-year-old citrus grove.
Williams checks the leaf structure to see which of the 11,160 olive trees are giving fruit. He has a lot riding on the Florida Olive Systems, Inc., project that is being funded by the Ford/Veech family.
“Planting olives is not for the faint of heart by any stretch of the imagination. This is so new that we are learning every day,” said Williams, whose wife Lisa helps run Florida Olive Systems, Inc. “But it’s a new opportunity to reinvent ourselves after catastrophic losses to citrus greening.”
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A few simple products, such as hand sanitizer and antifreeze, can preserve DNA in samples collected by lay people for scientific research, a new University of Florida study shows.
“This is great news because unlike high-concentration chemicals, such as 95 percent ethanol or pure propylene glycol – which are expensive and hard to access — these products are inexpensive and are commonly sold at grocery stores,” said Andrea Lucky, an assistant research scientist at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, and supervisor of Sedonia Steininger, the masters student who led this study.
This finding is key as UF/IFAS and other agencies conduct studies involving citizen scientists, said Lucky, who runs two citizen science projects. Citizen science projects are collaborations of scientists and non-specialists. Lay people participate in studies by collecting samples or examining data to help answer research questions while learning about the science.
Good entomological research often relies on collecting and preserving the genetic material in specimens, the study says. When lay people collect samples, they may not have access to materials used to preserve the DNA in their specimens. If the specimens collected by citizen scientists are to be used for genetic analyses, the specimens must be preserved for short-term storage and shipment of insects to labs.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher has won an $822,000 early-career award from the National Science Foundation recognizing her commitment to research and the integration of research into teaching undergraduate students.
The NSF honored Christine Miller, an assistant professor of entomology, with its CAREER award as part of a foundation-wide activity that supports faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars.
“It’s been a dream of mine for years to receive this award, and at some level I still can’t believe that it has actually happened,” Miller said. “I am very excited for the next five years. It will be great to involve so many undergraduate students in the cutting edge of science.”
During the five-year grant, Miller will investigate the evolution and diversification of elaborate animal weapons, such as antlers, horns and spurs, which males use to compete for females. Together with hundreds of students, Miller will determine how fighting behaviors have led to diversification of these weapons.
“This work will engage and train hundreds of students,” Miller said. “Undergraduates are often fascinated by animal behavior and weaponry, and these topics will be a fun way to engage and retain students in science.
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Asian tiger mosquito is attracted to flowering butterfly bushes, giving mosquito control officials another tool to monitor and trap the insect that can transmit pathogens, causing potentially deadly diseases, a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences study shows.
Asian tiger mosquitoes prefer to lay eggs in containers.
With that in mind, UF/IFAS researchers monitored several sized containers that they had placed indoors, in screen houses and in residential backyards. They also monitored containers placed next to butterfly bushes. They wanted to see where the Asian tiger mosquito laid more eggs. Scientists found significantly more eggs in the largest containers, and they found more eggs in containers next to flowering bushes than in containers next to bushes without flowers.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Lay people who participate in citizen science develop more interest in science after participating in such a project, a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences study shows.
“Participating in science does more than teach people about science,” said Andrea Lucky, an assistant research scientist in the UF/IFAS entomology department and co-author of the study. “It builds trust in science and helps people understand what scientific research is all about.”
Tyler Vitone, a master’s student in Lucky’s lab in the entomology and nematology department, and his co-authors wanted to understand what participants take away from the experience of being part of a citizen science research project. To do this, they looked at a group of people who had limited experience with scientific research: students in an introductory entomology course called The Insects. The course is for non-science majors and meets a biology general education requirement for students across campus, so it includes students with a diverse mix of interests, from art, English and history to finance, marketing and political science. The research team conducted assessments in the fall and spring semesters, from 2013 through 2015.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A predatory mite might feed on a pest of cucumbers, a $125 million-a-year crop in Florida, newly published University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences research shows.
This finding may help growers protect the environment because they could reduce pesticides to keep the pest – known as thrips — at bay. Growers may also save money because they may cut chemical use on their crop. In fact, because this thrips preys on many vegetable crops, the finding could save millions of dollars in pesticide use.
Armed with new data, it’s important for growers to use the mite to mitigate the pest, UF/IFAS researchers said.
“It will take some time for growers to be trained to use biological control agents in the field for maximum benefits,” said Garima Kakkar, who spearheaded the study as part of her master’s thesis when she was a graduate student at the UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, Florida.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Jumping spiders, voracious predators that eat pests around the world, can learn to distinguish the color red in their prey, thus allowing them to avoid toxicity in what they consume, according to new research led by a UF/IFAS scientist.
That means they can stay alive longer and eat pests ranging from caterpillars to beetles to flies, many of which damage agricultural products, said Lisa Taylor, an assistant research scientist in entomology at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Because jumping spiders consume most small agricultural pests, growers can avoid using some chemical treatments on their crops.
Jumping spiders are fairly ubiquitous: More than 5,000 species are found on every continent except Antarctica, Taylor said.
In a new study in the journal Behavioral Ecology, Taylor and her colleagues from the University of Pittsburgh found that Habronattus pyrrithrix, a species of jumping spiders, could be trained to prefer or avoid red. That’s important because many pests emit that color to signal toxicity, Taylor said.