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Predicting disease and improving crops through genetics

Topic(s): Uncategorized

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Can scientists accurately predict when an individual will develop a disease? What if we could predict how to increase drought resistance in plants? Or offer patients personalized medicine?

Researchers are looking for answers to these questions and more using a plant or animal’s obvious traits, called phenotype prediction, a field that will be discussed in a free workshop presented by the University of Florida Forest Genomics Lab, the Forage Breeding and Genomics Lab and Genetics Institute Aug. 11 from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Held in the UF Cancer & Genetics Research Complex auditorium, the event can be streamed live online. Faculty, students, researchers and breeders working with plant, animal or human genomic data locally or worldwide are invited to participate. In its first year, the workshop attracted participants from 64 countries.

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Panthers prey on ranchers’ calves, but amount varies, UF/IFAS research shows

Topic(s): Conservation, Environment, Research, Uncategorized

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A two-year panther study at two southwest Florida cattle ranches shows that the endangered cats attack and kill calves, but how often that happens can vary greatly by location and landscape.

Caitlin Jacobs, a University of Florida master’s student in wildlife ecology and conservation, conducted the study, in which radio-transmitter tags were put on the ears of 409 calves at two ranches, both near Immokalee.

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‘Little janitor’ merits attention in springs’ health debate, UF/IFAS research shows

Topic(s): Conservation, Environment, Research, Uncategorized

Elimia

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A small, slow moving resident who enjoys a vegetative diet and keeps things tidy may be the overlooked player in public debates over Florida’s ailing freshwater springs, University of Florida researchers say.

North Florida has the world’s highest concentration of large freshwater springs. For decades, crystal-clear water bubbling from the ground has driven tourism in the form of scuba divers, canoeists, boaters and swimmers, but today, many of those springs don’t bubble like they used to; green scum often obliterates the view.

Although the blame for algae-choked springs is often pinned on excess nitrate, the scientists say the absence of algae-eating native freshwater snails known as Elimia — which UF researcher Dina Liebowitz calls the “little janitor of the springs” — may be a key factor.

Nitrate, which has gotten the lion’s share of attention in springs-health discussions, enters the aquifer and emerges at the springs from municipal sewage treatment and disposal, agricultural and residential fertilizer use, livestock farms and residential septic systems.

Matthew Cohen, a UF associate professor and Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences faculty member who specializes in ecohydrology, says while controlling nitrate is a worthy goal, doing that alone “will not be enough to restore springs ecology.”

Cohen’s former doctoral student, Liebowitz, now a postdoctoral researcher at the California Ocean Science Trust, spent nearly six years studying the springs. She and colleagues collected samples at 11 springs with high and low levels of nitrates, oxygen and algae.

In all, they took hundreds of samples from three parts of each spring, at different times of the year, she said.

Among the study’s strongest findings, outlined in a paper posted online this month by the journal Freshwater Biology, was a strong negative correlation between snails and algae, Liebowitz said: Where they found more snails, in general, there was less algae.

And their later experiments found that the snails could keep algae from accumulating in the springs.

That doesn’t mean that other factors aren’t part of the equation, she said, “but it suggests pretty strongly that snails are an important factor in keeping algae levels down.”

The researchers say, however, the ecosystem may resist restoration if the amount of algae present is more than they can graze back to low levels.

That means even if snail populations bounce back, mature algae would need to be cleared for snails to keep the young algae in check, she said.

While snail population declines have been well-documented in the southeastern United States, there are only a few older studies Liebowitz could use as a baseline, but her study found far fewer snails than were reported before.

Studies suggest pesticides and herbicides could be partly to blame for the snails’ decline, she said.

The researchers also examined whether oxygen levels at locations in and near springs had any correlation with snail population and found a connection. Water oxygen levels can drop during drought or when humans are pumping out the “new” water at the top of the aquifer, she said.

Besides Cohen and Liebowitz, the research team included former UF postdoctoral researcher James Heffernan; Lawrence Korhnak, a UF senior biological scientist and Tom Frazer, director of the UF School of Natural Resources and Environment.

The National Science Foundation funded the study.

Contacts

       Writer: Mickie Anderson, mickiea@ufl.edu 

       Sources: Matthew Cohen, mjc@ufl.edu

Dina Liebowitz, dina.liebowitz@gmail.com

 

Photo: The Elimia snail is an unheralded player in the health of North Central Florida springs, UF/IFAS researchers have found. Photograph courtesy of Chris Lukhaup.

 

 

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 …)

Biotechnology Literacy Day links are available

Topic(s): Uncategorized
Corn is one of seven crops that are genetically engineered.

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On June 18, the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences presented Biotechnology Literacy Day, during which scientists and members of the public discussed genetic modification technology, its safety, and role in the world’s food supply. Links to the seven lectures can be found at:  http://research.ifas.ufl.edu/biotech.shtml.

Contact: Kevin Folta, 352-273-4812,  kfolta@ufl.edu

Photo caption: Corn is one of seven crops that is genetically engineered.

UF/IFAS to host public event to discuss genetically engineered foods

Topic(s): Uncategorized
Corn is one of seven crops that are genetically engineered.

See caption below

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Genetically engineered foods are a politically charged, often misunderstood subject, and University of Florida officials hope to help shed light on the issue by hosting a public seminar June 18.

Kevin Folta, chairman of UF’s horticultural sciences department, has organized the event, scheduled from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. in Emerson Alumni Hall. Several well-known experts will lecture and answer questions. All are welcome to attend. (more …)

Former UF/IFAS research dean has trail named in his honor

Topic(s): Uncategorized

Research Awards Ceremony held on May 15, 2014 , at the  Samuel P. Harn Museum.

John Hayes has left his role as the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ research dean, but he won’t be forgotten.

The conservation-minded Hayes was honored at the May 14 UF/IFAS research awards ceremony when local officials presented him with a sign for the “John P. Hayes Trail,” which will mark the new hiking, biking and equestrian trail will be installed at Little Orange Creek Preserve.

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