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University of Florida

UF/IFAS researchers to testify before Congress about GMOs

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, Crops, Cultivars, Environment, IFAS, New Technology

Kevin Folta.  UF/IFAS File Photo.

Kevin Folta

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Two UF/IFAS graduate students will advise a congressional committee as lawmakers question them about biotechnology and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Chris Barbey and Alejandra Abril Guevara, doctoral students in Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology, will head to Washington D.C. with UF/IFAS horticultural sciences Professor Kevin Folta to answer questions from the U.S. House Science Committee at a June 25 hearing. Folta said there is no set agenda for the discussions, but he expects the researchers to field many questions relating to the GMO regulatory processes, food labeling and product safety.

“It is great that this committee is consulting with scientists that understand the evidence, and hopefully evidence will help them devise new policy,” Folta said.

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UF/IFAS study shows how much water is needed to grow castor

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

Castor - Rowland - 060815

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida scientists have discovered how much water castor needs in order to grow in North Florida, a key finding in their efforts to determine the feasibility of producing castor in Florida for the first time since 1972.

Castor, grown in Florida during World War II and currently being considered as a component for military jet fuel, contains the toxin ricin. So scientists next must develop a ricin-free cultivar, said Diane Rowland, a professor in agronomy and advisor for the lead author, graduate student David Campbell.

Scientists measure what’s known as “evapotranspiration” – or how much water leaves the plant and its surrounding soil – to get what’s called a “crop coefficient.” A crop coefficient tells scientists and growers the relative water use of the crop in comparison to what’s called a “standard crop evapotranspiration.” That standard comes often comes in the form of grass grown under optimal conditions. Florida growers can obtain site-specific standard evapotranspiration from the Florida Automated Weather Network, or FAWN (http://fawn.ifas.ufl.edu/).

“FAWN provides standard evapotranspiration data for more than 40 locations in the state of Florida already. Thus, one thing we need to provide to prospective castor growers is a crop coefficient for castor,” said Chaein Na, a postdoctoral scientist on the study. A grower can determine crop water use by multiplying the appropriate crop coefficient with the standard evapotranspiration to estimate daily, weekly, monthly or seasonal water requirements for the crop.

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Barn owls threatened by Africanized bees in South Florida

Topic(s): Agriculture, Biocontrols, Entomology and Nematology, Environment, IFAS, Invasive Species, Pests, RECs
Richard Raid and a barn owl in Belle Glade. Keywords: sugar cane, bio pest control, South Florida, agriculture, bird, wildlife. Photo by Eric Zamora UF/IFAS

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Belle Glade, Fla. — Throughout the past two decades, University of Florida researcher Richard Raid has seen barn owl populations in the Everglades Agricultural Area, centered around Belle Glade, expand from mere dozens to more than 400 nesting pairs.

But these beneficial raptors, currently listed as a threatened species, are now being threatened by Africanized honey bees.  Swarming as frequently as eight times per year, the invasive bees have been taking over nesting boxes Raid and students have built for the owls, using them as hives, and displacing or even killing the desired raptors. (more …)

Need to know what to spray on citrus trees to keep bugs at bay? There’s an app for that.

Topic(s): Agriculture, Citrus, IFAS, New Technology, RECs


GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida has nearly 70 million citrus trees on more than 531,500 acres. Now imagine trying to figure out what pesticide to spray on each of those trees to keep them safe from citrus greening.

University of Florida researcher James Tansey says the answer is as close as your Android smartphone with a new app developed with ZedX, an information technologies company based in Pennsylvania.  The free phone program allows citrus farmers to enter in about a dozen variables — like the type of crop, insect pressure, harvest date, previous spray history, and whether the crop will be for fresh fruit or juice and for export or domestic markets — to determine the best pesticide to use. There are also record-keeping options, and the app keeps track of sites with gps. (more …)

UF/IFAS scientists study how, why butterflies survive fires

Topic(s): Conservation, Entomology and Nematology, Environment, Forestry, IFAS, Research

Butterfliefs - adult frosted elfin 061215Butterflies - adult atala 061215Butterflies - burn experiment 061215

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Deciding how often and when to use prescribed fire can be tricky, especially when managing for rare butterflies, University of Florida scientists say.

That realization stems from a UF Institute of Food and Agricultural study in which researchers experimented with pupae — insects in their immature form between larvae and adults — of butterflies known to frequent fire-prone habitats of Florida.

Prescribed burns and wildfires can damage animals and plants in their paths. But they can also promote species and create habitat, maintaining the ecological balance of the forest and the region’s most frequent natural disturbance over the long term. Immature butterflies may die immediately following controlled burns, but populations can recover over time, with the amount of time depending on the species.

Scientists are concerned that butterflies with small, isolated populations may be in severe peril if their habitats are burned too frequently and in large blocks at a time, which can mean that butterfly refugia – unburned areas that provide refuge — are limited.

In the UF/IFAS study, scientists wanted to know how and why some butterflies survive wildfires and prescribed burns, particularly where the insect feeds and lays eggs on fire-adapted plants.

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UF/IFAS Researcher: Americas May be Hit by Catastrophic Banana Disease

Topic(s): Uncategorized

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher warned that a disease that has decimated Cavendish bananas in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia could be headed for the Western Hemisphere.

Tropical Race 4 (TR4) of Fusarium wilt (aka Panama disease), attacks Cavendish varieties, which comprises 45 percent of the bananas that are produced in the world, said Randy Ploetz, a professor of plant pathology at UF/FAS Tropical Research and Education Center. The disease kills plants and is very difficult to control, he said.

“Fusarium wilt has been a destructive problem for well over a century. Race 1 was responsible for the demise of the first export trades of bananas,” Ploetz said. “Recently, TR4 moved from Southeast Asia to the Middle East and Africa.”

Cavendish bananas are very resistant to race 1 but not TR4, Ploetz said. There is no other cultivar of banana to replace Cavendish if TR4 hits the Americas, Ploetz said. In 2011, combined global production of bananas was 145 million tons worldwide, with a gross production value of $44 billion, he said.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, in 2007 the United States imported 4,003,801 tons of bananas, or 25 percent of the world total. “The banana is arguably the world’s most important fruit crop,” Ploetz said.

Reports of TR4 have been documented in Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan and Mozambique, Ploetz said. “It’s not in the Americas yet, but if it moved  from Southeast Asia to Africa and the Middle East, then a jump from these areas to the Americas is certainly possible,” he said.

Researchers speculate that TR4 spread via Southeast Asian workers who helped establish banana plantations in other parts of the world, Ploetz said.  “We are not sure how, but we believe that these workers transported the pathogen with them.”

The only way to manage TR4 is to develop resistant bananas, Ploetz said. “Meanwhile, there is no cultural, physical, or biological treatments to manage TR4.”




USAID Awards UF/IFAS Global $13.7 Million Grant to Improve Food Security in Haiti

Topic(s): Uncategorized

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida will help tackle food insecurity in one of the poorest countries in the world, thanks to a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Global office was awarded a $13.7 million grant by USAID as part of the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future. The five-year grant will be used to strengthen the human and institutional capacity in Haiti to help farmers and agribusiness gain access to better information, technologies, and services. UF/IFAS will be involved in student and professional training, technical assistance and identifying innovative research and Extension models that work for the diverse agriculture landscape in Haiti.

“High population growth rates, degraded environmental resources, the recent earthquake and limited research in agriculture have created formidable challenges to food production and food security in Haiti,” said UF/IFAS Global Director Walter Bowen. “Investment and support of the public institutions, private organizations and businesses that serve small holder farmers and represent Haiti’s diverse agriculture sector is essential to jumpstart economic recovery, and increase economic and food security.”

UF/IFAS Global has partnered with the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Louisiana State University and Partners of the Americas to help develop and strengthen an agricultural innovation system that will provide real solutions in Haiti. Partners of the Americas is an agency that is implementing the USAID Nutrition Security Project in Haiti.

Michael Wyzan, a USAID Haiti official directing economic growth programs noted: “This Feed the Future initiative grant will advance our partnering with the Government of Haiti and other Haitian institutions to improve agricultural performance in the country. We look forward to working with the University of Florida to support Haitian-led development and adoption of agricultural technologies, as well as innovative, community-based extension models”.

Over the next five years, many of the proposed activities will create a stronger and resilient agriculture sector, said Rosalie Koenig, an associate director of UF/IFAS Global. “Our initial activities will address the short-term needs of Haiti through research and training activities,” she said. “We plan to make long-term investments aimed at modernizing and fostering partnerships among the Haitian institutions. The project will increase the efficiency of individuals and programs that focus on agricultural research, education and Extension.”

The team of researchers, including Extension educators, economists and evaluators, will look for ways to engage farming communities in adopting improved technologies, said Paul Monaghan, an assistant professor in the department of agricultural education and communication. “We will use an innovative approach of mapping social and institutional networks, comparing different Extension outreach methods already in use and creating a classification of farm types that will make technology adoption more effective,” Monaghan said.

The grant will allow researchers to create a project that includes all farmers, is customized to regional differences and promotes gender equality, Koenig said. “Most important is that the project will be a Haitian-driven partnership of public and private entities involved in agriculture, a consortium of three U.S. land-grant institutions with a long history of work in Haiti, and an agency that focuses on food security.”

UF/IFAS has a long history of work in Haiti with more than 50 years of research and outreach work with the community. Most recently, USAID funds supported eight students from Haiti to earn their master’s degrees in agriculture at UF in 2013.

UF/IFAS study cautions parents about arsenic from wet wood

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

Lena Ma

Lena Ma

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Wet wood treated with the pesticide chromated copper arsenate (CCA) loses arsenic three times more than dry wood; so if it rains, you can expect more arsenic on your wood deck surface, a new University of Florida study shows.

That may pose a potential danger to anyone who plays or walks on the deck, and that most often means children or pets, said Julia “Ky” Gress, a doctoral student in soil and water sciences at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Gress led an experiment in which she and her colleagues used standard wipe methods to collect arsenic from the surface of wood from a 25-year-old South Florida deck. Although the CCA-wood came from only one deck, it is representative of wood decks constructed before 2004, Gress said.

Before wiping the wood, researchers put water on it, then wiped it to see how much arsenic was present. They then cleaned different pieces of the decking with either tap water or a bleach-water solution, followed by pressure washing.

Results showed water alone caused three times more arsenic to form on the surface of wet wood than dry wood, and the use of bleach caused formation of chromate, another carcinogen. They also found that these chemicals remained on the wood surface for an hour after it was cleaned.

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UF/IFAS scientist finds protein critical to “iron overload”

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

Mitchell Knutson

Mitchell Knutson

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher has identified the protein that the liver uses to load iron, thereby opening the door to potential strategies to treat “iron overload” disorders.

One form of these genetic disorders is hereditary hemochromatosis. Not everyone who inherits the gene will get the disease, but those who do so inherit the defective gene from both parents. Hereditary hemochromatosis is found most often in people of Northern European descent.

Over several years, those with the disorder will see excess iron get into the liver, heart, pancreas, joints and pituitary gland, leading to health problems such as cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer, diabetes, heart disease and joint disease. People with the disease can get their blood drawn routinely to get rid of the excess iron.

“For 150 years, we did not know how iron got taken up by the liver — how it got in there,” said Mitchell Knutson, a UF associate professor in food science and human nutrition. “We knew there was a protein that took it up into to the liver. But nobody knew what that protein was. It’s such a fundamental question, and people just didn’t know the answer.”

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Light trap lures more mosquitoes, fewer bugs you don’t need to kill

Topic(s): Agriculture, Entomology and Nematology, Environment, Pests, Research

Mosquito light trap 060915

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida researchers have found a light trap that monitors mosquitoes more effectively, while ferreting out bugs no one wants or needs to kill.

The finding will help mosquito control districts more quickly identify mosquitoes before decisions are made to spray, said Phil Kaufman, an associate professor and veterinary entomologist with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Mosquito control districts can run 50 or more traps in a night during the mosquito season to keep track of mosquito populations.  But mosquito control officials do not want to capture insects unnecessarily, a practice that takes time and money, Kaufman said. Those unintended captures include moths, beetles and other flies.

“The traps are returned to the mosquito control district office, and people have to sort through all of the moths, beetles and more to find and remove the mosquitoes that have to be identified to see which species are a problem or to test them for West Nile and other viruses,” Kaufman said. “Having fewer non-target insects makes their job easier.”

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