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No browning, maybe less oil with Florida’s Elkton potato

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Economics, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A new potato variety grown for use as a chip should be more marketable because it averts a process that causes the crop to brown, and may be less oily than current tubers, a University of Florida researcher says.

The Elkton potato does not succumb to internal heat necrosis, said Lincoln Zotarelli, a UF assistant horticultural sciences professor and faculty member at the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. The disorder is caused by high temperature and changes to soil moisture and nutrients and leaves the potato brown inside.

UF/IFAS and U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists put Elkton potatoes through 19 trials, from 2003-2013, in Florida.  Numerous trials were also conducted in Maine, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The trials tested Elkton’s adaptability to soils in the those states and showed the variety exhibits characteristics growers want, said Kathleen Haynes, a research geneticist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Maryland.

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Kids’ ‘community’ knowledge from Internet leaves UF/IFAS researcher hopeful

Topic(s): Families and Consumers, IFAS, Research

GAINESVILLE ─ Parents sometimes link the Internet to negative social behavior, but some children use the Web to learn about their communities, a new University of Florida study shows.

While most research on young people’s media use focuses on negative effects, UF Professor Rosemary Barnett sees it as a good thing.

“Two key factors to consider are the nature of the content and how it is used,” said Barnett, who teaches in the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, part of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “The ability to tap into a phenomenal amount of information so easily and quickly on a variety of topics has allowed the Internet to enhance education for children.”

After a 12-year-old Lakeland girl who endured cyber-bullying committed suicide in September 2013, the American Academy of Pediatrics changed its media exposure policy. The group now recommends children use media for entertainment no more than two hours each night. They make an exception for online homework.

While the UF/IFAS study gave clues to children’s general Internet use, it focused on how students use the Internet to learn about their communities.

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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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New videos from UF/IFAS Communications

Topic(s): Announcements, Finances, Food Safety, Landscaping, Research, Uncategorized

UF/IFAS Communications has a slew of new videos that can be used for Extension or other educational purposes. Here is a roundup:

Vacation on a Budget -  (3:31) A fun family vacation does not have to break the bank – University of Florida/IFAS Financial Expert Dr. Michael Gutter explains how to have fun in the sun without going in the red.

Scallop Harvesting 101 (3:00)  Scallop season is underway in Florida. Betty Staugler with UF/IFAS Sea Grant Extension, has some tips to help get you started.

Operation: Protect Our Pets – When Fleas Attack - (5:11) In this installment, UF/IFAS Entomologist Faith Oi addresses the different stages of the flea life cycle while UF Veterinarian Dunbar Gram demonstrates using a flea comb to look for fleas. (more …)

Perennial corn crops? It could happen with new plant-breeding tool developed at UF/IFAS  

Topic(s): Crops, Research

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Since the first plant genome sequence was obtained for the plant Arabidopsis in 2000, scientists have gene-sequenced everything from cannabis to castor bean.

University of Florida scientists were part of a research team that this week unveiled a new tool that will help all plant scientists label (“annotate” in researcher parlance) genes far more quickly and accurately and is expected to give a big boost to traditional and nontraditional plant breeders.

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Retracing citrus’ earliest roots to find clues for healthier future

Topic(s): Agriculture, Citrus, IFAS, Research
UF/IFAS Researcher Fred Gmitter holds citrus fruit.  He helped to trace the origins of citrus to two wild species.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – That orange you’re enjoying may have been grown in Florida, but its deepest ancestral roots stretch back more than 5 million years, all the way to two wild citrus species from Southeast Asia.

University of Florida scientists led an international research team that analyzed the genome sequences of 10 diverse citrus varieties for the first time. (more …)

UF/IFAS researchers find chemicals that treat citrus greening in the lab

Topic(s): Agriculture, Citrus, IFAS, Pests, Research
A citrus tree sapling hosts the Asian citrus pyllid, which spreads citrus greening disease through a bacteria it carries.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A University of Florida research team is cautiously optimistic after finding a possible treatment in the lab for citrus greening, a disease devastating Florida’s $9 billion citrus industry. It is the first step in a years-long process to bring a treatment to market.

Claudio Gonzalez and Graciela Lorca led the research team at UF that examined three biochemical treatments: phloretin, hexestrol and benzbromarone.

The team sprayed greenhouse tree shoots separately with one of the three biochemicals and were successful in stopping the bacteria’s spread, particularly with benzbromarone, which halted the bacteria in 80 percent of the infected trees’ shoots. They expect to begin field experiments with this treatment later this year. Their research was published in late April by the online open access journal PLOS Pathogens. (more …)

Floridians remain conflicted on immigration; oppose eligibility for federal education grants

Topic(s): Research, Uncategorized

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Floridians support the children of people who illegally entered the U.S. attending public colleges in their home state at lower, in-state tuition rates.

But that support fades fast when asked whether those students should be eligible for federal education grants, according to a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ survey of Floridians’ attitudes about immigration.

The survey of 503 Florida residents found that 43 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with allowing children of those who entered the U.S. illegally to pay in-state tuition for college, but just 29 percent supported them being eligible for federal grants to help pay for college. And only 35 percent felt those students should be able to compete for public university scholarships.

The UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education, or PIE Center, led the study.

“It’s interesting … the results show Florida residents are interested in children of undocumented immigrants being treated fairly, but not sure they want their children to have to compete with them for grants and scholarships,” said Alexa Lamm, the PIE Center’s associate director. “I wouldn’t say the results were unexpected, but it’s telling.”

Florida legislators this spring approved a bill allowing the children of immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally to pay in-state tuition. Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign the bill.

Much like last year’s immigration survey, Florida residents’ awareness of the E-Verify system remains low, with only 28 percent of respondents able to identify the system now being used by all agencies under the governor’s direction, including the state’s public universities. E-Verify is used to see if potential employees are authorized to work in the United States.

Georgia began requiring businesses to use E-Verify in 2011, and a University of Georgia study later estimated some $75 million in losses to agricultural producers due to shortages in harvesting help. A similar economic loss is projected for Florida should E-Verify use be required of businesses.

After being told of some of the potential challenges E-Verify could pose for the agricultural sector, 62 percent of respondents said Florida should still require agricultural producers to use the system.

The PIE Center’s survey of Floridians’ perceptions on immigration was conducted online in March, said Lamm, an assistant professor in agricultural education and communication.

As in last year’s survey, respondents assigned importance to a number of topics, and immigration came in ninth on a list of 10.  While 89 percent of respondents rated the economy as highly or extremely important, only 62 percent felt as strongly about immigration.

Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources, said the results suggest to him that UF/IFAS may need to do more to help raise awareness about immigration issues and how they can affect the state’s agricultural sector and the economy.

“Immigration is a key issue, but it’s especially so in Florida because of its close ties to agriculture,” he said. “And if we’re going to have effective immigration policies, it’s imperative that our state’s residents are well informed on the issue.”

The PIE Center will host a free webinar on public perceptions and knowledge gaps about immigration at 2 p.m. May 21. Register at www.piecenter.com/easy-as-pie/. The survey findings are available at www.piecenter.com/immigration.

Contacts

Writer: Mickie Anderson, mickiea@ufl.edu

Sources: Alexa Lamm, alamm@ufl.edu

Jack Payne, jackpayne@ufl.edu

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