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IFAS News

University of Florida

UF/IFAS scientists find potential biological control for avocado-ravaging disease

Topic(s): Agriculture, Biocontrols, Crops, Economics, Pests, RECs

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida scientists believe they’ve found what could be the first biological control strategy against laurel wilt, a disease that threatens the state’s $54 million-a-year avocado industry.

Red ambrosia beetles bore holes into healthy avocado trees, bringing with them the pathogen that causes laurel wilt. Growers control the beetles that carry and spread laurel wilt by spraying insecticides on the trees, said Daniel Carrillo, an entomology research assistant professor at the Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead.

But a team of researchers from the Tropical REC and the Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce have identified a potential biological control to use against redbay ambrosia beetles that could help growers use less insecticide.

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Range Cattle Research and Education Center dedicates new education building

Topic(s): Announcements, Extension, IFAS, Livestock, RECs

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Cattlemen, Extension agents and other stakeholders soon can attend educational events at a new University of Florida facility dedicated to teaching how to manage the state’s grazing lands.

Officials dedicated and opened the Grazinglands Education Building Nov. 20 at UF’s Range Cattle Research and Education Center in Ona. At the same time, they recognized major donors and highlighted their “Campaign for Ona.”

About 6 million acres in Florida are used for grazing, said Range Cattle REC Director John Arthington.

The Grazinglands Education Building was made possible by more than $380,000 in private donations, state and federal money, Arthington said. The initial gift, a $150,000 grant awarded by the Mosaic Company Foundation, started the building’s construction. Most of the remaining funds came from the Florida Cattlemen’s Foundation, said Arthington, an Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences faculty member.

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UF/IFAS mosquito-feeding study may help stem dangerous viruses

Topic(s): Entomology and Nematology, RECs, Research, Safety

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Mosquitoes bite male birds nearly twice as often as they bite females, a finding that may help scientists understand how to stem some viruses from spreading to humans, new University of Florida research shows.

In findings published online today in Royal Society Open Science, UF entomology assistant professor Nathan Burkett-Cadena found mosquitoes bite male birds 64 percent of the time, compared to 36 percent for females.

This marks the first step for scientists to try to determine why mosquitoes bite men more often than women in some parts of the world and vice versa in other areas, said Burkett-Cadena, who is based at the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory in Vero Beach.

“Understanding why mosquitoes bite males more often than females may lead to novel strategies for interrupting disease transmission,” said Burkett-Cadena, an Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences faculty member.

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Rogers named interim head of UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, Citrus, IFAS, RECs

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University Florida today named Michael Rogers interim director of the Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred. The CREC is part of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Rogers has a doctorate in entomology from the University of Kentucky and specializes in citrus integrated pest management.  His research has focused on the Asian citrus psyllid, the insect that carries the bacterium that causes citrus greening.

Citrus greening disease starves the tree of nutrients and produces fruits that are green and misshapen — unsuitable for sale as fresh fruit or juice. Most infected trees die within a few years. The disease has affected millions of citrus trees in North America.

“Currently, the survival of the Florida citrus industry is threatened by citrus greening disease, and time is something many growers don’t have,” Rogers said. “The Florida citrus industry is looking to the research and extension programs of the University of Florida, IFAS, to develop and deliver the solutions needed to continue production of Florida’s iconic crop.”

Although current methods to control the spread of citrus greening are limited to the removal and destruction of infected trees, UF/IFAS researchers are working to defeat it on a number of fronts, including trying to eradicate the insect that carries the bacteria, breeding citrus rootstock that shows better greening resistance, testing laboratory treatments that could be used on trees and harnessing steam to treat trees.

Rogers takes the place of Jackie Burns, who becomes UF/IFAS’ dean for research. Both start their new jobs Nov. 1.

“While Dr. Burns leaves the leadership role of CREC director, she will continue to serve the Florida citrus industry, and UF/IFAS as a whole, in an even more important role as dean for research,” Rogers said.  “On behalf of the faculty and staff of the CREC, I thank Dr. Burns for her years of dedicated service to the CREC.”

By Kimberly Moore Wilmoth, 352-294-3302, k.moore.wilmoth@ufl.edu

Sources:      Michael Rogers, 863-956-8801, mrgrs@ufl.edu

North Florida REC to unveil new cattle fence and gates at Beef/Forage Day

Topic(s): Announcements, Livestock, RECs

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — North Florida ranchers are being prodded to attend this year’s annual Beef and Forage Day at the University of Florida’s North Florida Research and Education Center in Marianna on Friday, Oct. 3.

All things bull and cow, along with what to feed them, will be discussed.  In addition, REC leaders will be showing off a new $275,000 cattle fence and gate. The Florida Cattlemen’s Association helped secure the project’s funding from state legislators.

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Climate, genetics can affect how long virus-carrying mosquitoes live

Topic(s): Entomology and Nematology, Pests, RECs, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It’s just math: The longer a mosquito lives, the better its odds of transmitting disease to humans or animals.

But as it turns out, factors such as the mosquito’s own genetics and the climate it lives in have a big – albeit complicated and not wholly understood – role to play in its lifespan.

University of Florida researchers, hoping to better understand how West Nile virus affects mosquitoes, set up an experiment they outline in the Journal of Vector Ecology’s current issue.

Mosquitoes can transmit any number of pathogens to humans, including protozoan malaria, West Nile, dengue and chikungunya viruses. Malaria cases range between 350 million and 500 million each year, with 1 million to 3 million deaths every year.

In the experiment, UF researchers examined survival rates for mosquitoes from two laboratory-reared colonies, one from Gainesville and one from Vero Beach.

Half of each of the mosquito colonies was fed West Nile virus-infected blood, the other half kept as a control population, and fed blood without the virus.

They divided the groups once more, this time keeping the mosquitoes at two temperatures, one group at 80.6 degrees, the other at 87.8 degrees Fahrenheit – a rather large difference in temperature for cold-blooded insects.

Their findings were both unexpected and illuminating, said Barry Alto, a UF assistant professor of arbovirology based at the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory in Vero Beach.

“Our results indicate that interactions between mosquitoes and arboviruses are really complex … these things that haven’t really been taken into account previously might make a difference,” said Alto, part of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

The researchers found that warmer temperature shortened survival.  Also, for the most part, the Vero Beach mosquitoes lived longer than those from Gainesville, indicating that some groups, or strains, of mosquitoes might just be genetically hardier than others.

They found that in general, the mosquitoes fared better at cooler temperatures.

But they also found that the West Nile virus-carrying mosquitoes from Gainesville fared worse than their counterparts at the hotter temperatures, and to their surprise, that the Vero Beach-bred mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus lived longer than all other groups at the cooler temperature, including control-group mosquitoes not exposed to the virus.

Ingesting virus-infected blood may take a toll on the mosquito’s health, Alto said, but it’s clear that other factors: immune response, genetics and the environment, are also at play and need more study.

“It’s quite complex, there’s a lot of stuff going on here,” Alto said. “But I think the take-home  message is that these viruses, when they’re in mosquitoes, not only can they alter parameters like survivorship that are really important to disease transmission, but they can alter them in non-intuitive ways — sometimes enhancing, sometimes decreasing survivorship, and that those situations arise when you start considering other factors of the environment, like temperature.”

Adding to scientists’ knowledge base of how disease affects insects is key to finding the best ways to limit its spread, Alto said.

“In the most general sense, in order for humans to control disease, we really need to know how the mosquito interacts with these viruses,” he said. “In the absence of a human vaccine, the best way to control any sort of mosquito-borne virus is to control the mosquito. Simply put, if the mosquito doesn’t bite you, you’re not going to get the pathogen.”

Besides Alto, the research team included Stephanie Richards, an assistant professor at East Carolina University; Sheri Anderson, a former graduate student at the Florida Medical Entomology Lab and Cynthia Lord, an associate professor in modeling of vector-borne disease transmission, also of the FMEL. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and UF/IFAS.

Contacts:

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Beloved crape myrtle in nurseries now susceptible to bacterial leaf spot, researchers say

Topic(s): Landscaping, Pests, RECs, Research, Uncategorized

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It’s enough to send gardeners into conniptions.

Crape myrtle, a tree adored for its bright flowers that scream summer, care-free maintenance and even its colorful bark, now has a disease problem – although so far, only in the commercial nursery setting.

University of Florida researchers had been getting sporadic reports from nursery owners over the last five years of a leaf spot problem, and those reports have only increased in frequency. Through genetic testing, scientists identified the disorder as being caused by the bacterium Xanthomonas axonopodis. The disease is most likely spread by wind-driven rain or overhead irrigation, and some crape myrtle varieties are more susceptible than others.

“I’ve been working with crape myrtles for a long time, and they’ve been such a disease-resistant plant for such a long time, so it’s pretty significant when their susceptibility to disease is increased,” said Gary Knox, an environmental horticulture professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

The U.S. crape myrtle crop had a value of nearly $43 million in 2010, and Florida is its second-biggest producer, behind Texas. Florida has more companies producing crape myrtle, however, with 130 compared with 72 in Texas.

In the June issue of the journal Plant Disease, the UF/IFAS team outlined the first report of the disease and the work they did to identify it. They believe it is the first report of the bacterium causing leaf spot in crape myrtle.

Bacterial leaf spot doesn’t kill the ornamental tree, but creates spots on its leaves that eventually turn yellow and drop.

The researchers say, for now, the disease affects only crape myrtle commercial producers and is spread by factors such as overhead irrigation systems and large numbers of plants kept in close quarters.

The bad news is that the bacterium is widespread.

“I think you can safely say that nearly every crape myrtle producer would have the disease at this point,” Knox said.

While the disease appears contained in the commercial sector, that could change.

“Most bacterial diseases can be spread in wind-driven rain, and in Florida, we know there’s no shortage of that,” said Mathews Paret, an assistant professor of plant pathology who led the study.

Paret and Knox are based at the North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy.

Scientists suggest an integrated management approach to the problem, rather than a silver bullet that only stops the problem temporarily.

Choosing resistant varieties, moving from overhead irrigation to drip irrigation and the limited use of bactericides would be part of such an integrated strategy, the researchers said.

The varieties Natchez, Osage, Fantasy, Basham’s Party Pink and Miami have proven highly resistant to bacterial leaf spot while Carolina Beauty, Arapaho, Tuscarora, White Chocolate, Red Rocket and Rhapsody in Pink were more susceptible in field trials funded by the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association.

Steve Bender, a senior writer at Southern Living magazine, “The Grumpy Gardener” blogger and well-known gardening author, says it would be a huge disappointment if the disease ever makes the leap from nurseries to home gardens.

Crape myrtle is so close to Southern gardeners’ hearts that they endlessly debate such topics as how to spell its name (variants include crepe myrtle, crape myrtle and even crapemyrtle),  and the annual rite Bender calls  “crape murder” – an unceremonious lopping of its limbs.

It’s an iconic tree, he said, mostly because it’s little work for a big payoff.

“It’s ideally suited to the southern climate, it blooms for a long time, it comes in lots of different colors and you even get nice color in the fall,” Bender said. “It’s kind of hard to kill, and pretty much any idiot can grow one. And up until now, it’s had very few problems.”

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Citrus industry set to welcome state-of-the-art greenhouse at Mid-Florida REC in Apopka

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, Citrus, IFAS, RECs

 

The UF/IFAS Mid-Florida REC in Apopka is home to a new $200,000 citrus nursery greenhouse.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The citrus industry has just gotten its own state-of-the-art greenhouse, dedicated solely to citrus nursery research as the state continues its fight against citrus greening – and industry and research officials are set to celebrate the gift March 25.

The $200,000 facility is located at the University of Florida’s Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka.  Officials say it was built there to shield the young plants from greening in the state’s main citrus-crowing areas of Central and South Florida, as federal guidelines suggest. (more …)

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