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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 …)

With a little help, citizen scientists can be good proxies, research shows

Topic(s): Agriculture, Environment, Families and Consumers, Household Pests, Lawn & Garden, Pests

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See cutline and link to photo gallery below.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Anyone can collect ant data as accurately as experts, if they have a bit of guidance and the right tools: cookies, index cards and plastic zip-top bags.

In a joint project between the University of Florida and North Carolina State University called the School of Ants, participants collected the insects at their homes, work or school. Using cookies to lure the insects, they bagged them, froze them, then sent them to labs so that ant experts could identify them and incorporate them into a national ants map.

Researchers at UF and N.C. State examined participants’ errors against mistakes of researchers trained in an N.C. State lab. Data from the two groups were virtually the same. Scientists say the similar findings came because the lay people followed their system.

The finding boosts the field of what’s called citizen science, a rapidly expanding area of data collection, said Andrea Lucky, an assistant scientist in entomology and nematology at UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Lucky started the School of Ants in 2011, while a postdoctoral researcher at N.C. State, and brought the project with her to UF. The project is still going at both universities.

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UF/IFAS Florida-Friendly Landscaping program releases new mobile app

Topic(s): Florida Friendly, Landscaping

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — With home gardens in the “Land of Flowers” stretching from the panhandle to the keys, Florida gardeners have so many choices for beautiful landscaping plants that it can be a dilemma to know what to plant where.

Planting decisions are now easier with the release of a mobile web application from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.  The new app features more than 400 Florida-Friendly plants that can be selected by their type, shape, and sun tolerance.  Each plant is accompanied by a color photo.

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Veteran UF/IFAS faculty member wins global biology award

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, Conservation, Crops, Environment, IFAS

 Michael Kane award

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A 27-year University of Florida faculty member who recently received a global award for his life’s work in biology credits his colleagues and his students for his success.

Michael Kane, environmental horticulture professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences,was honored in May with the 2014 Society for In Vitro Biology Lifetime Achievement Award. The SIVB fosters information exchange of scientific research on the biology of cells, tissues and organs from both plants and animals.

“My mantra has always been: It’s all about the people,” said Kane, who specializes in micropropagation, the practice of rapidly multiplying stock plant material to produce offspring plants, using modern plant tissue culture methods. “If it wasn’t for several caring professor mentors, I wouldn’t have gone on in graduate school.”

The faculty member nugget could refer to many people, but in this case it pertains partly to Toshio Murashige, a now retired botany professor at the University of California-Riverside, who gave Kane keen advice while he was a young doctoral student at the University of Rhode Island.

Plenty of Kane’s students laud their mentor, years after studying under his tutelage. Ray Gillis, a former graduate student and now laboratory director at Oglesby Plants International, wrote a letter supporting Kane to win the SIVB award.

In some of his early work in the 1980s, Kane studied how tissue-cultured, native plant species could be useful for the ecosystem restoration of phosphate-mined lands, Gillis wrote. Later, he pioneered the development of micropropagation protocols of numerous wetland and dune species indigenous to the eastern United States.

“To his credit, just developing a lab protocol was not deemed sufficient,” Gillis wrote. “He and his graduate students have taken that material generated in the laboratory and conducted extensive field studies to prove that micropropagation research has real-world application.”

Kane’s latest projects, in collaboration with his students, include growing native wetland and coastal dune plants in the lab. Those sea oats are used to preserve dunes on the Florida coast. Some of the plants are also used to preserve wetlands.  He and his students also develop procedures to grow threatened and endangered native orchids.

Kane, who came to UF in 1985 as a postdoctoral researcher and eventually a faculty member, has won numerous accolades at UF and across the country. In 2009 alone, he won the IFAS Award of Excellence for Graduate Research: Best Master’s Thesis Major Adviser, University of Florida Blue Key Distinguished Faculty Award and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Excellence in College and University Teaching in the Food and Agricultural Sciences Award.

An SIVB member for 25 years, Kane accepts praise with a shrug.

“I didn’t even know I was nominated,” he said. Kane paraphrased the famous quote from the movie, “Wayne’s World,” saying, “‘I’m not worthy.’ Given the individual scientists who have received this honor in the past, I’m in rarefied air. My biggest pleasure is to see students and faculty become successful, to see the progress they’ve made.”

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Writer: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, bradbuck@ufl.edu

Source: Michael Kane, 273-4500, micropro@ufl.edu

Cutline: UF/IFAS environmental horticulture professor Michael Kane works in his lab. Kane was honored in May with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of In Vitro Biology. In Kane’s latest research, he and his staff and students are working on growing native wetland and coastal dune plants in the lab. Those sea oats are used to preserve dunes on the Florida coast. Some of the plants are also used to preserve wetlands. UF/IFAS file photo.

Offer kids whole grains; they’ll eat them, UF/IFAS study shows

Topic(s): Families and Consumers, Nutrition

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Many parents presume their children will shun whole grains because they think they don’t like them, a University of Florida researcher says, but a new UF study may start to debunk that idea.

If whole grains are offered, kids eat them, according to a new study by researchers at UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Specifically, former graduate student Allyson Radford and two faculty members found children ate whole- and refined-grain foods in equal amounts.

“We tried to choose foods we thought kids would enjoy, such as cereal bars, macaroni and cheese and SunChips and found that they ate the ready-to-eat snack foods the most,” said Radford, one of the study’s authors. “We were interested to see if they would eat the whole-grain foods as much as the refined-grain foods, and so we were pleasantly surprised that they would eat the same amount whether the food was whole or refined.”

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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.

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