Research News

  • Center for Food Safety
  • College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
  • Griffin Campus
  • Research
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Consumers have long been warned against the hazards of eating raw cookie dough. As more cases of foodborne illness are linked to contaminated wheat flour, University of Georgia food safety experts are touting the risk in a louder, more forceful voice, while searching for ways to eliminate foodborne pathogens on wheat products.

In wheat-related cases, the common carriers of the pathogens are cookie dough, cake batter and raw wheat flour. The most recent outbreak started in May and was linked to wheat flour contaminated with E. coli 026 bacteria. Three brands of contaminated all-purpose flour were found at grocery stores in eight states, to date. So far, 21 cases of E. coli 026 infections have been reported.

In 2005, 26 cases in the U.S. were linked to cake-batter ice cream and in 2008 a cluster of cases in New Zealand were connected to an uncooked baking mixture. In all of these cases, the pathogen was Salmonella. In 2009, an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak resulted from consumption of raw cookie dough.

“In the past, the reason we warned people not to eat cookie dough was not because of the flour, but because of the raw eggs,” said Francisco Diez, director of the UGA Center for Food Safety located on the university’s campus in Griffin, Georgia. “The two main pathogens linked to wheat products are Salmonella and E. coli.”

Diez says these cases could have been prevented if the flour had not been consumed raw.

  • Center for Food Safety
  • College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
  • Griffin Campus
  • Research
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Two University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences food scientists have been presented awards of excellence from the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP). Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus Larry Beuchat and Professor Francisco Diez were recognized at the association’s annual meeting held July 21–24 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Beuchat received the Maurice Weber Laboratorian Award in recognition of his outstanding contributions in the laboratory. The award also honors his commitment to the development of innovative and practical analytical approaches in support of food safety.

He joined the Department of Food Science and Technology on the UGA Griffin campus in 1972 and has since published five books and 530 refereed scientific journal articles.

Beuchat is a world authority on the microbiology of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes; methods for detecting yeasts, molds and pathogenic bacteria in foods; metabolic injury of bacteria and fungi; relationships of water activity to microbial growth; antimicrobial compounds in foods; fermented foods; thermal resistance of mold ascospores; and food preservatives.

Most of Beuchat’s research at the UGA Center for Food Safety in Griffin focuses on how food safety issues relate to foods of plant origin.

  • College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
  • Griffin Campus
  • Horticulture
  • Research
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University of Georgia horticulturists Rachel Itle and Dario Chavez recently traveled to Australia to collect seeds from wild raspberries and peaches to bring back to the UGA Griffin campus. As scientists in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Itle and Chavez research Georgia-grown fruit.

  • Research
  • Horticulture
  • USDA
  • College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
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Landscapers can soon add a bit of Georgia’s historical Piedmont and native prairies to their designs thanks to the creation of three new little bluestem perennial grasses, released through a University of Georgia and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) partnership.

Little bluestem grasses are native to North America and are a major component of the tallgrass prairie. They typically produce green to blue-green foliage. With names that conjure up thoughts of the ‘70s, the new little bluestem varieties are much more colorful than their traditional parents. ‘Cinnamon Girl’ has a red-burgundy glow, ‘Seasons in the Sun’ has a lavender glow and ‘Good Vibrations’ is a mix of colors: red-purple with green-yellow foliage.

The idea to breed the colorful grasses came from USDA scientist Melanie Harrison. Harrison curates more than 500 different species of grasses and safely cold stores them in the USDA Plant Genetic Resources Conservation Unit facility on the UGA campus in Griffin, Georgia. Most of these grasses will never be grown in home landscapes, but their genes may be used to breed specific characteristics into new grass varieties.

Looking at little bluestems day after day, Harrison began to notice ornamental characteristics.

“My job is to conserve close to 500 different species of grasses, so there’s a lot of variety,” she said. “I thought they were pretty, but I’m not a plant breeder, so I asked Carol (Robacker) what she thought.”

  • Research
  • Turfgrass and Weed Science
  • Griffin Campus
  • Crop and Soil Sciences
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Like most college students, David Jespersen was unsure of what he wanted to study. At first, he was intrigued by psychology, but the required biology and science classes drew him to plant sciences. As a result, he's now the newest member of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences' turfgrass research team.

"Something about the plant sciences grabbed my interest as being practical and underappreciated," said Jespersen, who now conducts research on the UGA campus in Griffin.

Jespersen earned a doctorate in plant biology with an emphasis in turfgrass physiology from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

A native of New Jersey, Jespersen is adjusting to life in the South and the relentlessly intense heat of Georgia summers.

"Summers (in New Jersey) are kind of hot. It hits the 90s (degrees Fahrenheit) and there's an occasional heat wave hitting 100 (F)," he said, just a few days after sharing his research results in humid, near-100-degree weather at the outdoor UGA Turfgrass Field Day, a research event held biennially in August.

He is also adjusting to working on a smaller extended university campus.

"Everyone on the Griffin campus is very friendly, but it's not as lively as a large campus," he said. "It's definitely a lot easier not to get distracted and to focus on research."

  • College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
  • Entomology
  • Research
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Georgia farmers are never surprised to see fall armyworms munching on their precious corn, sorghum and forage hay crops. They just hope for a low number of armyworms. This year’s population of the tiny destroyers, described as an “Armageddon-type outbreak” by University of Georgia entomologist David Buntin, is far from low.

A small grains pest expert with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Buntin spends his days tracking insects that can destroy Georgia row crops and working to determine the best methods of controlling them and establishing pesticide thresholds, or the number of insects that need to be present before a farmer should apply a pesticide.

“This year, the fall armyworms are way, way above the treatment threshold. They are here in much, much higher numbers,” he said. “As of the end of August, almost every pasture in central and north Georgia has been sprayed at least once and, for many of them, twice.”

Each year, the worms migrate up from the Caribbean and Florida. This year, they showed up early in corn and sorghum fields. Now they are in pastures earlier than normal.

  • College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
  • Research
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Researchers at the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences broke records in fiscal year 2016 with $69 million in external funding to fuel college projects.

From research plots across Georgia to state-of-the-art laboratories in Athens, Tifton and Griffin, CAES faculty members use this funding for research to support Georgia’s $74.3 billion agricultural industry and improve the food security and health of people around the world.

“This (achievement) was only possible because of the extraordinary efforts of our dedicated faculty, staff and graduate students,” said Sam Pardue, dean and director of CAES. “We’re proud of their creativity, their hard work and their commitment to identifying solutions to the challenges that face Georgia, our nation and the world.”

CAES’s external research funding totals helped contribute to a record-breaking year for research funding across the university.

In fiscal year 2016, research expenditures at UGA increased by 14 percent to reach $175.3 million. UGA's dramatic increase in fiscal year 2016 comes on the heels of a 7 percent increase in fiscal year 2015 for a 21 percent rise over the past two years.

  • College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
  • Research
  • Turfgrass and Weed Science
  • Griffin Campus
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More than 800 people braved the hot August temperatures for a firsthand glimpse of the latest research by University of Georgia scientists at the Turfgrass Research Field Day held Thursday, Aug. 4, on the UGA campus in Griffin, Georgia.

“UGA serves as the research and education arm for the green industry in this state,” said Clint Waltz, UGA Cooperative Extension turfgrass specialist and one of the organizers of the field day event. “This field day keeps those in the green industry current and provides the continued education they need to remain profitable and able to provide the best quality products for golf courses, commercial lawns, homeowners’ lawns, parks, recreational sports fields and professional sports fields.”

In the morning, green industry professionals rotated through a series of 12-minute talks by scientists from the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Topics included the latest research on turfgrass weed management, cultivar development and the application of pesticides while protecting pollinating insects.

Self-guided tours in the afternoon included a demonstration on proper pesticide storage and handling, advice on the best fungicides for turfgrass disease control and sessions led by CAES turfgrass graduate students.

  • Center for Food Safety
  • College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
  • Research
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For years, food scientist Francisco Diez studied and admired the work of University of Georgia Regents’ Professor Mike Doyle, but the two researchers’ paths never crossed. For the next year, they will work closely together as Diez transitions into Doyle’s role as director of the UGA Center for Food Safety in Griffin, Georgia. Doyle, a leading authority on foodborne pathogens, came to the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in 1991 to establish the center. As director, he developed a research program that promotes collaboration among the food industry, the university, and federal and state agencies.

A native of Mexico, Diez earned a bachelor’s degree in food technology from the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, and completed master’s and doctoral degrees in food science at Cornell University in New York. He comes to UGA from the University of Minnesota, where he was a faculty member and head of the Department of Food Science and Nutrition. His research focuses on the family of pathogens known as enterohemorrhagic E. coli, an important cause of food contamination and foodborne illness.

  • Griffin Campus
  • Tifton Campus
  • Cooperative Extension
  • College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
  • Research
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An upcoming field day on Wednesday, Aug. 10, at the University of Georgia Southwest Georgia Research and Education Center (SWERC) in Plains, Georgia, will showcase cutting-edge agriculture research to farmers, UGA Cooperative Extension county agents and industry personnel.

Scientists representing UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences on the Tifton and Griffin campuses will be discussing projects on Georgia's high-value agricultural crops, such as cotton, peanuts, corn and sorghum.

“This field day is important because the local farmers, agricultural businessmen and county Extension agents get a chance to see, firsthand, the research conducted here and talk with the specialists who will be speaking about their research,” said Stan Jones, SWERC superintendent.

The field day will begin at 8:30 a.m. with opening remarks from Jones and Joe West, assistant dean of the UGA Tifton Campus, who also oversees the SWREC in Plains. The program, which will conclude at noon, will include remarks from UGA scientists regarding insect management, fungicide treatments and statewide variety testing in cotton, peanuts and soybeans.