Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of California
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

News stories

Biofuel research may keep tobacco industry from going up in smoke


Peggy Lemaux in a greenhouse with tobacco plants.
The troubled tobacco industry may be getting some good news for a change. UC scientists are engineering the tobacco plant to produce oils that, when extracted, can serve as drop-in biofuels to power airplanes, cars and other machines.

Research success would allow farmers who have been growing tobacco for generations to continue the tradition for a different purpose, while taking advantage of an infrastructure established to serve the diminishing cigarette, cigar and snuff markets.

Peggy G. Lemaux, UC Cooperative Extension specialist, and Anastasios Melis and Krishna Niyogi, Agricultural Experiment Station faculty in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology at UC Berkeley, are lead researchers in the project.

“There are several reasons we are modifying tobacco to produce biofuel,” Lemaux said, “It is a high biomass crop. If you want to extract oil, then the more biomass you have, the more oil you get. And, since tobacco is not a food source, tobacco production for biofuel would not have an impact on global food markets or find its way into the food supply. Finally, tobacco farmers are anxious to produce a product that is more acceptable to the public."

However, there are no tobacco varieties that produce oil at high levels. Scientists know that certain algae do turn sunlight energy into oil, and that sparked an idea.

A research consortium that includes Lemaux, Melis and Niyogi and researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Kentucky is taking genes, primarily from algae, that produce oil and inserting them into tobacco plants to make oils in leaves.

To do that, the consortium scientists are using very small pieces of tobacco leaves to introduce the desired algal genes, where they become a heritable trait of the tobacco plant. The small pieces of leaf tissue are then placed in a Petri dish, the tissues that contain the introduced genes identified, and then the tissues grow into a new plant, every cell of which contains the algal genes.

“We hope the new plant will make the same kind of oils that algae do,” Lemaux said. “We can then use organic solvents to extract the oils out of the leaves.”

Much more research is required before tobacco plants that produce biofuel at commercial levels will be available to growers, but Lemaux is encouraged by the preliminary results.

The research is funded with a three-year $4.8 million grant from a U.S. Department of Energy,  Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy program termed PETRO, Plants Engineered to Replace Oil. ARPA-E funds high-risk, high-reward research projects to find potential alternatives to fossil fuels.

See a video about this research below:

Posted on Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 8:20 AM
Tags: biofuel (12), tobacco (3)

Controlling a deadly citrus disease


Huanglongbing is probably the most devastating citrus disease threatening the global citrus industry.
Citrus greening, also named Huanglongbing (HLB), is probably the most devastating citrus disease threatening the global citrus industry. To prevent its further spread, early diagnosis before the appearance of the dreaded symptoms is particularly important. But the unculturable nature of the bacteria, their low concentration and uneven distribution in their hosts make it extremely difficult to detect HLB infection.

Hailing Jin, an associate professor of plant pathology and microbiology at the University of California, Riverside, recently published a paper in the journal Molecular Plant in which she reports having profiled small ribonucleic acid (sRNA) from citrus plants, some of which were affected by HLB.

Her research showed that several sRNAs were found to have been induced specifically by HLB, meaning they could potentially be developed into early diagnosis markers for the disease.

The study also showed that in a three-year field trial in southwest Florida diseased trees suffered from severe phosphorus deficiency and that application of phosphorus solutions to the diseased trees significantly alleviated HLB symptoms, improving fruit yield.

In the trial, 19 healthy sweet orange trees were grafted with HLB-positive bark or leaf pieces. As controls, five trees were mock-inoculated with pathogen-free healthy tissue. Phosphorus solutions were applied to the 19 HLB-positive trees three times a year. After two years of treatment, the diseased trees displayed significantly reduced HLB symptoms.

“Compared with the mock-treated plants, the phosphorus-treated trees had a greener appearance and more vigorous growth,” Jin said. “Fruit yield increased approximately two-fold compared with the mock-treated plants.”

She cautioned that the application of phosphorus solutions did not cure the trees.  Her research suggests, however, that additional phosphorus application may help diseased trees look healthier and improve fruit yield.

Jin was joined in the research by Hongwei Zhao, Ruobai Sun, Chellappan Padmanabhan, Airong Wang, Michael D. Coffey, Thomas Girke, Timothy J. Close, Mikeal Roose and Georgios Vidalakis at UC Riverside; and researchers at Nanjing Agricultural University, China; the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University, China; and the University of Florida.

The research was supported by a grant to Jin from California Citrus Research Board.

Posted on Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 4:40 PM

UC CalFresh gets kids to try healthy fruits and veggies


UC CalFresh educators took part in a field trip for fourth-graders in Fresno where the children tasted a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, reported Dale Yurong on ABC 30 Action News.

"We encourage them to try it and then they try it and wind up liking it," said UC CalFresh nutrition educator Kristi Sharp. "That's a saying that we say - you can't judge it unless you try it."

Fresno Unified School District is the state's largest recipient of funds from the fruit and vegetable program, Yurong reported. In addition to including fruits and vegetables at meals, the district is serving grab-and-go fruits and vegetables everyday at recess at 45 elementary schools.

The UC CalFresh Youth Nutrition Education Program, part of UC Cooperative Extension, provides support and resources to pre-school through high school teachers in low-income schools to deliver nutrition and physical activity education in their classrooms.

Local kids learn benefits of eating healthy
Brook Borba, Turlock Journal

The City of Turlock has launched an After School Education Safety program with the Turlock Unified School District and in conjunction with the UC Cooperative Extension and AgLink.com to provide a farmers’ market opportunity for local students.

Turlock students learn where food comes from, what types of fruits and vegetables are grown locally and interesting facts associated with food. At the end of the presentation, students are provided with shopping bags to pick out an assorted selection of fresh fruits and vegetables to eat or take home for their families.

Attached Files
fruit and vegetables
Posted on Monday, April 22, 2013 at 10:20 AM
Tags: fruit (32), UC CalFresno (2), vegetables (42)

Newspaper localizes Texas blast news with info from UCCE advisor


Franz Niederhozler
After the extraordinary explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas this week, people living in rural agricultural areas are looking around warily to see whether a similar facility might be in their own backyards. The Redding Appeal-Democrat asked Franz Niederholzer, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Sutter and Yuba counties, whether such danger lurks in their community.

Niederholzer said ammonium nitrate fertilizer was popular and prevalent until 1995.

"It was phased out after the bombing in Oklahoma City," he said. "I don't know anyone using or recommending it. Most growers in the area use urea."

Ammonium nitrate fertilizer was used in a bomb that exploding outside a federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995.

Attached Files
Franz Niederhozler
Posted on Friday, April 19, 2013 at 10:10 AM

Oak preservation education comes to the foothills


Adult acorn woodpeckers perched in an oak tree.
Oaks (Quercus ssp.) are one of the signature trees of California landscapes and are among the most favored by wildlife, according to the UC publication Wildlife among the Oaks.

In addition, several studies have found that open space and residential properties containing oak trees have higher property values than those areas without oak trees. Ecosystem services provided by oak forests and savannahs include recreational opportunities, shade and shelter, increased property values, aesthetic values, erosion control, air and water filtration, and food and fuel.

However, the threats to oaks are many:

  • Construction removes entire trees or damages the root zone resulting in oak tree death

  • Subdivision of property and fragmentation in land use reduces open space for oak savannah and forest, threatening seedling recruitment in some oak species

  • Inappropriate landscaping practices, designed to support exotic landscape species, threaten oak health

To ease the impacts of these threats, UC Cooperative Extension Central Sierra will bring oak education to five counties in the Sierra Nevada foothills – Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Mariposa, and Tuolumne. Public meetings and multiple-session training seminars will help educate land owners, policy makers and Master Gardeners in ways to protect, enhance and regenerate natural oak woodlands. Training will also provide information that Master Gardeners can disseminate to their clientele to help home owners protect landscape oaks.

The program is funded with a grant from Renewable Resources Extension Act (RREA), a USDA-administered program that serves to sustain the nation's forest and rangeland resources for future generations. According to the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture website, “RREA serves a broad array of forest and rangeland stakeholders, including landowners and managers, natural resource professionals, forest products industry, range-based cattle industry, and non-consumptive.” Recognizing that, as the website notes, “the sustainability of the nation's forest and rangeland resources is largely dependent on the actions of millions of private forest owners, farmers, ranchers, and land managers,” this series of educational workshops will focus on providing information to a broad audience.

In Tuolumne County on May 13, the Biological Resources Review Guide Ad Hoc Committee of the Board of Supervisors will meet to discuss various county policy options regarding oak mitigation. Richard Standiford, UCCE specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley, will address the committee, presenting his research related to oaks and property values. He will also provide information regarding mitigation policies.

On May 9, the Calaveras County Master Gardeners will receive the first session of an oak ecology, identification and landscaping practices workshop. They will identify oaks in the field, inspect trees damaged by construction and look for evidence of insect and other wildlife interactions. This will be followed by an interactive discussion exercise about how (or why not) to landscape around oaks. Standiford will visit the foothills at a later date to present oak ecology information to Master Gardeners.

Posted on Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 9:28 AM

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