IFAS News

University of Florida

Michael Dukes receives John Deere Gold Medal award

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, Honors and Appointments, IFAS, Research, Soil and Water Science

Michael Dukes

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Michael Dukes, director of the Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, has been honored with the 2016 John Deere Gold Medal award. Dukes is nationally recognized as an expert in irrigation and water conservation.

The American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers gives the award to recognize distinguished achievement in the application of science and art to the soil.

“It is a great honor to be selected by my peers for this prestigious award,” Dukes said. “I look forward to continuing my work in helping create sustainable landscape practices that will impact not only Florida, but the world.”

As a professor and UF/IFAS Extension irrigation specialist, Dukes conducts research on water conservation and efficient irrigation with a focus on landscape irrigation. His research is used to inform irrigation professionals, decision makers and other stakeholders on how to implement changes and manage landscape irrigation systems to maximize efficiency while maintaining aesthetically pleasing landscapes. His work is invaluable, said Wendy Graham, director of the UF Water Institute.

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UF survey shows most Floridians want to know more about genetically modified foods

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Families and Consumers, Food Safety, IFAS, New Technology, Nutrition, Research

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — While almost half of Floridians acknowledge buying genetically modified foods, a recent survey by the Center for Public Issues Education in Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Florida reveals that most people want to know much more about those foods.

“The study shows that Floridians believe they don’t know much about genetically modified foods and their benefits,” said Joy Rumble, assistant professor in agricultural education and communication at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “Many people are favorable to supporting research, and they think it’s essential that government support it. Floridians see a place for GM foods, but they do have hesitations.”

The PIE Center surveyed 500 Floridians on their perceptions of genetically modified foods. Respondents were largely unsure about the potential benefits of genetically modified food, with more than 40 percent neither agreeing nor disagreeing that food technology such as GMOs allows people to live longer or better lives.

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UF/IFAS researchers to study how to reduce carbon dioxide in ranch soil

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, Conservation, Environment, Green Living, IFAS, Livestock, Research, Soil and Water Science

A herd of beef cattle on a Florida ranch, trees, cows, grass. UF/IFAS Photo: Thomas Wright.

Please see caption below story.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers hope to reduce possible pollutants emanating from soils in Florida cattle ranches by using a $710,000 federal grant to study soil microbes.

In the new study, UF/IFAS researchers will use lab and field studies to investigate how pasture management and factors such as temperature and rainfall affect soil microbes. They’ll also look for genetic markers to get a glimpse into microbial identity. Genetic markers are genes or short sequences of DNA scientists use to find other genes on a genetic map.

“The goal is to put together a model that can predict the release of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide from soils under a climate that is expected to be warmer and experience more extreme dry and wet periods across the Southeast,” said Stefan Gerber, a UF/IFAS assistant professor in soil and water sciences and one of the investigators on the new study.

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Science teachers to explore what makes plants sick, healthy at UF/IFAS workshops

Topic(s): Agriculture, IFAS, Pests, RECs, Research

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The work of a plant pathologist, or plant doctor, is much like that of a regular doctor—you have sick patients who need treatment, said Monica Elliott, professor of plant pathology at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, who has organized a free plant pathology workshop for middle and high school teachers.

However, there is one crucial difference between curing plants and curing people that should put the more squeamish of the attendees at ease, Elliott said. “There’s no blood!”

Over the next few weeks, educators will spend the day at one of several UF/IFAS Research and Education Centers across the state learning the basics of plant pathology and the role it plays in growing healthy crops. The workshops are designed to give teachers material they can bring back to their classrooms.

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New test can detect plant viruses faster, cheaper

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

A virus that could devastate the Florida and southern U.S. tomato crop has been detected for the first time in the U.S. by University of Florida researchers. Here, Jane Polston, UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences associate professor of pathology, examines a plant infected with tomato yellow leaf curl virus. Regulators are working to pull all infected plants from retailer shelves.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new test could save time and money diagnosing plant viruses, some of which can destroy millions of dollars in crops each year in Florida, says a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher.

In a newly published study, Jane Polston, a UF/IFAS plant pathology professor, examined several ways to detect the DNA genome of begomoviruses. These viruses have emerged over the last 30 years to become plant pathogens that threaten crop production in tropical and sub-tropical regions globally.

Polston and her research colleagues found that a certain test called “recombinase polymerase amplification” identified the cause of a disease faster and cheaper than the commonly used polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test – or “assay,” as scientists call them.

UF/IFAS scientists learned of this new type of test that’s fast, sensitive and cheaper than some other methods, and they adapted the new technology and modified it to test for several whitefly-transmitted viruses found in Florida, Polston said.

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Mysterious enzyme does damage control, can help with health, environment

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

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A previously mysterious family of enzymes removes abnormal versions of some very common chemicals found in all life forms, opening many possibilities for health and agricultural applications, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher says.

Known to scientists as DUF89, the enzymes are found in the cells of bacteria, fungi, plants and animals. Now that researchers know what the DUF89 enzymes do, they can work with these enzymes to help biomedicine and crop science, said UF/IFAS eminent scholar Andrew Hanson. For example, researchers could engineer more efficient production of biofuels, feedstocks and pharmaceuticals, he said.

On the health front, scientists can better understand how to treat hereditary diseases and perhaps some cancers, Hanson said. As for agriculture, Hanson said scientists can equip crops with enzymes like DUF89 to deal with damaged chemicals formed during the production of novel biofuels.

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Blueberries’ health benefits better than many perceive

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Extension, Families and Consumers, Nutrition, Research

Blueberry bush.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Consumers know some of the benefits blueberries provide, but they’re less aware of the advantages of reverting aging, improving vision and memory, a new University of Florida study shows.

Shuyang Qu, a doctoral student in agricultural education and communication at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, led the study. Joining Qu were Joy Rumble, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of agricultural education and communication, and Tori Bradley, a master’s student in the UF/IFAS food and resource economics department. Rumble’s Florida Specialty Crop grant gave the opportunity to examine consumers’ knowledge of blueberry health benefits.

Qu and her colleagues wanted to determine how much consumers know about blueberry health benefits and see if there’s a knowledge gap with blueberry health benefits among demographic groups. Using their findings, they will identify promotional opportunities for Florida blueberries.

Researchers surveyed more than 2,000 people in 31 states – mostly on the East Coast and in the Midwest – to see what they know about the health benefits of blueberries. Most were aware of the benefits of blueberries in warding off cancer and lowering the risk of heart disease. The UF/IFAS study also found that low-income populations tend to know less about blueberry health benefits.

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UF/IFAS joins 12 public, private universities calling for increased federal investment in agricultural research

Topic(s): Agriculture, Honors and Appointments, IFAS, Research

Carrie Harmon in the lab

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — The University of Florida and 12 other prominent research institutions in the United States joined the SoAR Foundation today in calling for a surge in federal support of food and agricultural science. “Retaking the Field,” the report released by this coalition, highlights recent scientific innovations and illustrates how U.S. agricultural production is losing ground to China and other global competitors.

“Agricultural and food science research has had a profound impact on our country’s population and quality of life,” said Jackie Burns, UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences dean for research and director of the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station. “Continued investment in university research resources will ensure that today’s investments translate into innovation and food security for future generations. The SoAR Foundation publication highlights success stories in agricultural research that will improve the future lives of our citizens.”

“Retaking the Field” examines the importance of agriculture and its related industries to the U.S. economy. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this sector was responsible for nearly one in 10 jobs in 2014 and contributed $835 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product. Even though every public dollar invested in agricultural research provides $20 in economic returns, the federal budget for agricultural research has remained flat for decades. Today, the U.S. trails China in both agricultural production and public research funding.

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UF/IFAS expert: Whitefly species likely to cause growers problems

Topic(s): Agriculture, Economics, Environment, Extension, IFAS, Pests, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences expert predicts the Q-biotype whitefly discovered in April in Palm Beach County will likely cause problems for growers.

The Q-biotype whitefly – not to be confused with the B-biotype, which came to Florida in the mid-1980s – is now being seen outside greenhouses and nurseries and poses a threat to ornamental plants and agricultural crops. After the B-biotype was found in Florida in the 1980s, scientists saw big increases in the diversity and frequency of whitefly-transmitted viruses in many Florida crops, said Jane Polston, a UF/IFAS plant pathology professor. Crops like beans, tomato, watermelon and squash were hit hard by these viruses after the appearance of the B biotype.

“This Q-biotype is a pest that damages crops and resists many of the insecticides that are effective on the B-biotype, the whitefly that is common in many ornamental and vegetable crops,” Polston said. “And like other whiteflies, it is capable of transmitting viruses from one plant to another.”

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Survey: Most Floridians concerned about food waste, safety

Topic(s): Families and Consumers, Food Safety, IFAS, Nutrition, Research

Displays of fresh vegetables and produce. Photo taken 10-01-15.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Often without much thought, Americans throw out more than one-third of all food grown in the United States each year. However, a majority of Floridians acknowledge food waste is a major concern.

­­­Sixty percent of Floridians agreed or strongly agreed that they are concerned about food waste in their household, according to a recent food waste survey of 500 Florida residents conducted by the Center for Public Issues Education in Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Florida. The PIE Center is part of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

It was also discovered through the survey that fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products most often go to waste. Oppositely, beverages, spices and seafood are the food items that go to waste least.

The survey also captured public perceptions on food safety.

Results from the survey revealed that 42 percent of Floridians feel that food safety is a major concern and 68 percent feel responsible for their own food safety.

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