NIFA, NSF Announce $14.5 Million in Available Funding for Plant-Biotic Research

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) joined with the National Science Foundation (NSF) today to announce the availability of $14.5 million in funding for the NIFA-NSF Joint Plant-Biotics Interactions (PBI) program.

PBI supports research on the processes that mediate beneficial and antagonistic interactions between plants and their viral, bacterial, oomycete, fungal, plant, and invertebrate symbionts, pathogens and pests. This joint program supports projects focused on current and emerging model and non-model systems, as well as agriculturally relevant plants. Continue reading

UK part of international consortium investigating environmental impacts of nanotechnology-based agrochemicals

Two University of Kentucky scientists are part of a newly established international consortium investigating the environmental impacts of nanotechnology-based agrochemicals.

The three-year $1.2 million grant entitled Fate and Effects of Agriculturally Relevant Materials (NanoFARM) was funded by the European Union and the U.S. National Science Foundation through the European Area Research Networks (ERA-NET). Typically this is a program for scientists in E.U. member states, but this year the U.S. participated in the program by providing funding through various agencies, enabling participation of U.S. researchers. Continue reading

UK, Iowa State to lead new arthropod management research center

The National Science Foundation has funded an Industry-University Cooperative Research Center that will explore new strategies for managing insect pests that devastate crops and harm human health.

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UK researcher receives grant to study biological control’s effectiveness

For many decades, non-native, predatory insects have been released in the United States to decrease or eliminate the impacts of exotic insect pests in crops and gardens. Due to their high population densities and widespread distributions in the United States, some of these predators are now considered invasive species.

A University of Kentucky College of Agriculture scientist is beginning a study to examine the environmental and economic costs of introducing non-native, predatory insects into sustainable agricultural systems with the ultimate goal of making biological control more effective and economical.

The National Science Foundation named Yukie Kajita, research scientist in UK’s Department of Entomology, as a Fellow in their Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability program. The research award provides her with more than $424,500 for the three-year study. Kajita is the only UK researcher to receive this award, and she is one of 20 individuals in the U.S. to be recognized as a Fellow in 2012.

“Despite a long history, classical biological control has not developed as a predictive science, frequently resulting in unexpected ecological and economic costs,” she said.

Kajita’s study specifically focuses on Coccinella septempunctata, more commonly known as the seven-spotted lady beetle. Since the 1950’s, the beetle, native to Europe and Asia, has been released periodically in the United States to control aphids. This beetle is now in all 50 states and considered an invasive species. There are several reports that the densities of native predatory lady beetles have declined and been displaced in North America by the seven-spotted lady beetles.

Since the seven-spotted lady beetles are from several foreign countries, she will work with UK biologist David Weisrock and biology post-doctoral scholar Eric O’Neill to use genetic markers to identify the origin of the beetles that continue to thrive and some of the factors that help them easily adapt to their new environment.

She is partnering with UK agricultural economist Roger Brown to develop a cost-benefit analysis to determine the economic and environmental costs of releasing the seven-spotted lady beetles and to compare these costs to the benefits of reducing the use of insecticides.

Kajita will use the results of the research to develop a course for UK graduate students.  Additionally, in cooperation with Carol Hanley, director of UK’s Environmental and Natural Resource Issues Task Force, she will develop curriculum and teach middle school students at Lexington’s Carter G. Woodson Academy how to conduct hands-on research on this topic.

John Obrycki, chair of the UK Department of Entomology, is Kajita’s mentor for the project.

Contact: Yukie Kajita, 859-257-7450

Writer: Katie Pratt, 859-257-8774