IFAS News

University of Florida

UF/IFAS researchers work to solve mystery of rare Florida tree

Topic(s): Conservation, Environment, IFAS, RECs, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — An endangered species of magnolia that only grows in the Florida Panhandle has been named the 2017 plant of the year by the Garden Club of America.

The timing couldn’t be better, says Gary Knox, professor of environmental horticulture with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

For the last three years, Knox and a team of researchers at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy, Florida, have been studying the Ashe magnolia to try to figure out why it’s so rare and how it may be conserved.

Ashe magnolias are grown commercially as landscaping plants, and their large flowers and leaves make them popular among gardeners. The white and purple blossoms are the size of dinner plates, and the leaves grow up to two feet long. “This is what we call a ‘charismatic’ plant,” Knox said.

Knox hopes the Garden Club of America’s declaration will help spread awareness about the plight of Ashe magnolias in the wild. According to the Garden Club of America’s web site, “the award is given to an outstanding native plant which is underutilized but possesses superior ornamental and ecological attributes. The goal is to encourage the propagation and planting of these plants in our gardens and the landscape.”

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Repellant could keep dangerous beetles away from avocado trees

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Economics, Entomology and Nematology, Environment, Extension, IFAS, Pests, RECs, Research

Redbay ambrosia beetles.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Using some pleasant-smelling chemicals, avocado growers may soon be able to repel beetles that inject a potentially deadly fungus into their trees, saving fruit and money, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers say.

When they’re infected with the laurel wilt fungus, redbay trees – a close cousin to the avocado — emit methyl salicylate to repel redbay ambrosia beetles, the very beetles that gave the trees the fungus in the first place, scientists say in a newly published study.

Florida avocados bring a $100 million-a-year impact to Florida’s economy, UF/IFAS economists say. They grow almost entirely in southern Miami-Dade County, but growers have battled the laurel wilt fungus, which can kill redbay and avocado trees, since it arrived in Georgia in 2003.

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UF/IFAS researchers find potential bugs to eat invasive cogongrass

Topic(s): Biocontrols, Entomology and Nematology, Environment, Forestry, Invasive Species, Pests, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A few bugs may be able to chew up some cogongrass, a noxious weed that elbows out pasture grass, golf course greens and valuable ecosystems, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher says.

A worldwide research team led by UF/IFAS entomology professor James Cuda and retired entomology professor Bill Overholt found species in Japan, East Africa and Indonesia that might help in the battle against cogongrass.

Among the arthropods they found, Cuda and his team discovered a midge from Indonesia that attacks cogongrass. Cuda and his team are focusing on the Orseolia javanica midge that causes cogongrass to produce linear galls at the expense of leaves. However, when scientists brought the arthropods back to the quarantine facility at the UF/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce, Florida, they did not mate and increase in population.

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UF/IFAS entomologist gets $200,000 to help develop rapid Zika detection

Topic(s): Announcements, Entomology and Nematology, Environment, Extension, Families and Consumers, IFAS, New Technology, Pests, RECs, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences entomologist will use a $200,000 grant from the Florida Department of Health to improve tests for the detection of Zika virus.

In 2016, Florida saw 1,272 cases of Zika, which is usually associated with mild symptoms, although severe symptoms may also occur, including Guillain-Barré syndrome and birth defects in babies, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 256 were locally acquired. So far this year, four more cases have been reported, all travel-related.

Barry Alto, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of medical entomology, said scientists need better diagnostic tools to detect Zika virus to meet challenges to public health. He is working with collaborator Steven Benner at Firebird Biomolecular Sciences LLC to develop methods they hope should take about an hour – far less time than current testing methods. Existing methods require specialized equipment and highly trained personnel, so samples must be transported to specialized laboratory facilities to perform the tests.

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How about another sweet, juicy strawberry, courtesy of UF/IFAS?

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Cultivars, Economics, Extension, IFAS, Nutrition, RECs, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When you bite into a Florida strawberry for Valentine’s Day or National Strawberry Day on Feb. 27, you savor sweetness and juice. That’s what you’ll find in all varieties bred by University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers. The latest, ‘Florida Beauty,’ (U.S. PPAF) lives up to the UF/IFAS tradition.

As National Strawberry Day approaches on Feb. 27, we can look forward to even better-tasting fruit from UF/IFAS breeder Vance Whitaker as he tries to help Florida’s $360-million-a-year industry.

‘Florida Beauty,’ a collaboration between UF/IFAS and an Australian scientist, is in its early stages, said Whitaker, an associate professor of horticultural sciences at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm, Florida.

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UF/IFAS researcher: Cats, dogs teaming up is best way to keep rodents away

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

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Cats and dogs may be longtime enemies, but when teamed up, they keep rodents away, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher says.

That’s good news for farmers trying to keep rodents from eating their crops and for homeowners trying to keep the nuisances at bay and from spoiling food and potentially spreading disease, said Robert McCleery, a UF/IFAS associate professor of wildlife ecology and conservation.

McCleery, working as part of an international team of researchers found that the combination of dogs and cats reduced rodents from foraging in and around homes and storage buildings. However, dogs or cats by themselves usually won’t help rid your farm or dwelling of pest rodents.

Not all rodents are pests, McCleery said. For example, scientists consider squirrels, beavers and cotton rats helpful to generally be helpful to the environment. In this study, scientists studied the pest rodent, which lives in your house or eats your crops and is usually not native to the area where it is found, he said.

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UF/IFAS researchers to launch new plants-in-space mission

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

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — People put on sweaters when they’re cold.  Plants on the other hand, have to essentially knit one on the fly. Plants “knit” with their genes, and when University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers launch their Feb. 14 space experiment, they want to know more about how gene expression helps plants to adapt themselves to outer space.

To knit that new sweater, a plant will need to find a new pattern for an environment to which it has never been exposed, said UF/IFAS horticultural sciences research professor Anna-Lisa Paul. This is what a plant faces when it grows in space. It’s a novel environment, outside the evolutionary experience of any plant, so the plant needs to experiment with new patterns.

The space launch from the Kennedy Space Center is the latest in a series of experiments performed by Paul and UF/IFAS horticultural sciences professor Robert Ferl as they seek to understand how to grow plants in space.

Plants on the SpaceX CRS-10 mission will end up at the International Space Station.

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Valentine’s Day means more than roses; UF/IFAS breeds, suggests other plants to give

Topic(s): Cultivars, Extension, Families and Consumers, IFAS, Lawn & Garden, RECs, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A plant always makes for a nice gesture on Valentine’s Day, and University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers are breeding flora that may emit alluring aromas to your sweetheart.

Zhanao Deng, a professor of environmental horticulture at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm, Florida, breeds gerbera daisy cultivars that are resistant to powdery mildew, the most destructive fungal disease for this type of flower.

Deng and his team have released several gerbera daisy cultivars, and some of them performed well in industry trials in Georgia, Ohio and Texas.

The research doesn’t stop there as Deng and his lab are breeding more lines for the future. Meanwhile, they are sequencing the gerbera daisy’s genes, developing DNA-based molecular markers, and trying to find and engineer the gene or genes that control resistance to the powdery mildew.

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UF/IFAS Citrus REC starts centennial celebration

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, Citrus, Crops, Cultivars, Economics, Extension, IFAS, New Technology, Pests, RECs, Research

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Nearly a century ago, a group of Polk County citrus growers raised about $14,000 to buy land for a research station. Now, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center.

In 1917, UF/IFAS established the Citrus REC. Originally, only a few UF/IFAS scientists worked at the Lake Alfred site, then called the Citrus Experiment Station.

Today, the research center employs 250 people and is also home to the scientific research staff of the Florida Department of Citrus. It is the largest facility in the world devoted to a single commodity, citrus.

“The UF/IFAS Citrus REC has a long, proud tradition of outstanding science and outreach, and the faculty there show every day why the quality of work performed for the next 100 years will be as good or better than the first century at the facility,” said Jack Payne, senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources.

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UF/IFAS breeder develops genetic path to tastier tomatoes

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

 

Harry Klee

Video available here: http://bit.ly/2jAXzTi

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Some consumers crave tastier tomatoes than those they buy at the supermarket, so a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher led a global team of scientists that found chemical combinations for better flavor.

In a study published today in the journal Science, Harry Klee, a UF/IFAS professor of horticultural sciences, led an international research team that included scientists from China, Israel and Spain. Researchers identified chemicals that contribute to tomato flavor.

Step one was to find out which of the hundreds of chemicals in a tomato contribute the most to taste.

Then, Klee said, they asked, “what’s wrong with the modern tomatoes?” They lack sufficient sugars and volatile chemicals critical to better flavor. Those traits have been lost during the past 50 years because breeders have not had the tools to routinely screen for flavor, Klee said.

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