blog navigation

News Bureau - Research
Agriculture

blog posts

  • The research team includes, from left, agricultural engineering professor Yuanhui Zhang; undergraduate student Zhenwei Wu; graduate student Timothy Lee; visiting scholar Buchun Si; Illinois Sustainable Technology Center senior research engineer B.K. Sharma; and Chia-Fon Lee, a professor of mechanical science and engineering at the U. of I.

    Team converts wet biological waste to diesel-compatible fuel

    In a step toward producing renewable engine fuels that are compatible with existing diesel fuel infrastructure, researchers report they can convert wet biowaste, such as swine manure and food scraps, into a fuel that can be blended with diesel and that shares diesel’s combustion efficiency and emissions profile.

    They report their findings in the journal Nature Sustainability.

  • Illinois state climatologist Jim Angel, who is retiring in December, discusses his career, climate change and the recently released National Climate Assessment.

    Can we talk about the Illinois climate?

    Jim Angel, the Illinois state climatologist, has announced that he will retire in December 2018 after 34 years at the Illinois State Water Survey. News Bureau physical sciences editor Lois Yoksoulian spoke with him about his career, climate change and the National Climate Assessment released on Black Friday.

  • Andrew Miller and his colleagues created the first comprehensive checklist of North American fungi.

    North American checklist identifies the fungus among us

    Some fungi are smelly and coated in mucus. Others have gills that glow in the dark. Some are delicious; others, poisonous. Some spur euphoria when ingested. Some produce antibiotics.

    All of these fungi - and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, more - occur in North America. Of those that are known to science, 44,488 appear in a new checklist of North American fungi, published this month in the journal Mycologia.

  • Narayana Aluru, William Gropp, Andrew Leakey and Ray Ming are among 416 scientists elected AAAS Fellows this year.

    Four Illinois faculty members elected AAAS Fellows

    Four professors at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have been elected 2018 Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. They are: mechanical science and engineering professor Narayana Aluru, computer science professor William Gropp and plant biology professors Andrew Leakey and Ray Ming.

  • University of Illinois engineering researcher Ann-Perry Witmer has developed a new computer algorithm that helps engineers who work internationally incorporate the influences of local values into their infrastructure designs.

    Diagnostic tool helps engineers to design better global infrastructure solutions

    Designing safe bridges and water systems for low-income communities is not always easy for engineers coming from highly industrialized places. A new discipline called contextual engineering helps engineers think beyond personal values, expectations and definitions of project success when tackling global infrastructure problems.

  • The navel orangeworm caterpillar works with a fungus to overcome plant chemical defenses, a new study finds.

    Caterpillar, fungus in cahoots to threaten fruit, nut crops, study finds

    New research reveals that Aspergillus flavus, a fungus that produces carcinogenic aflatoxins that can contaminate seeds and nuts, has a multilegged partner in crime: the navel orangeworm caterpillar, which targets some of the same nut and fruit orchards afflicted by the fungus. Scientists report in the Journal of Chemical Ecology that the two pests work in concert to overcome plant defenses and resist pesticides.

  • May Berenbaum has been appointed editor-in-chief of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Berenbaum named PNAS editor-in-chief

    University of Illinois entomology professor and department head May Berenbaum, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and longtime editorial contributor to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and other journals, has been appointed editor-in-chief of PNAS, effective Jan. 1.

  • Illinois entomology professor Gene Robinson was elected to the National Academy of Medicine “for pioneering contributions to understanding the roles of genes in social behavior.”

    Honey bee researcher Gene Robinson elected to National Academy of Medicine

    Entomology professor Gene Robinson, an international leader in honey bee research, has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine “for pioneering contributions to understanding the roles of genes in social behavior.” Robinson directs the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

  • Civil and environmental engineering professor Jeremy Guest, left, and graduate student John Trimmer evaluated the feasibility of using human-derived waste as a safe and valuable nutrient commodity.

    Study: Human wastewater valuable to global agriculture, economics

    It may seem off-putting to some, but human waste is full of nutrients that can be recycled into valuable products that could promote agricultural sustainability and better economic independence for some developing countries.

  • Professor Kaiyu Guan, left, graduate student Yunan Luo and professor Jian Peng have developed a new algorithm that solves an age-old dilemma plaguing satellite imagery  whether to sacrifice high spatial resolution in the interest of generating images more frequently, or vice versa. Their algorithm can generate daily continuous images going back to the year 2000.

    New algorithm fuses quality and quantity in satellite imagery

    Using a new algorithm, University of Illinois researchers may have found the solution to an age-old dilemma plaguing satellite imagery – whether to sacrifice high spatial resolution in the interest of generating images more frequently, or vice versa. The team’s new tool eliminates this trade-off by fusing high-resolution and high-frequency satellite data into one integrated product, and can generate 30-meter daily continuous images going back to the year 2000. 

  • Illinois professor Andrew Smith, right, and graduate student Mohammad Zahid developed a technique to track molecules that deliver drugs and genes to cells.

    New technique can track drug and gene delivery to cells

    University of Illinois researchers say they now know how to track and map drug and gene delivery vehicles to evaluate which are most effective at infiltrating cells and getting to their targets, insight that could guide development of new pharmaceutical agents. The researchers described their tracking system and their findings on the most effective delivery vehicles in the journal Nature Communications. 

  • Agricultural and biological engineering professor Girish Chowdhary is leading a team that includes crop scientists, computer scientists and engineers in developing TerraSentia, a crop phenotyping robot.

    Ag robot speeds data collection, analyses of crops as they grow

    A new lightweight, low-cost agricultural robot, developed by a team of scientists at the University of Illinois, could transform data collection and field scouting for agronomists, seed companies and farmers.

     

  • The crayfish Faxonius eupunctus is rare and under consideration for endangered species status.

    Scientists seeking rare river crayfish aren't just kicking rocks

    As far as anyone can tell, the cold-water crayfish Faxonius eupunctus makes its home in a 30-mile stretch of the Eleven Point River and nowhere else in the world. According to a new study, the animal is most abundant in the middle part its range, a rocky expanse in southern Missouri – with up to 35,000 cubic feet of chilly Ozark river water flowing by each second.

  • Professor Craig Gundersen

    Would replacing food stamps with food boxes reduce hunger?

    Swapping food stamps for food boxes would mean scrapping 'the most successful government program we have going today,' said U. of I. professor Craig Gundersen

  • Researchers used neuroimaging to study how iron deficiency influences piglet brain development. The findings may have implications for human infant brain development.

    Neuroimaging reveals lasting brain deficits in iron-deficient piglets

    Iron deficiency in the first four weeks of a piglet’s life – equivalent to roughly four months in a human infant – impairs the development of key brain structures, scientists report. The abnormalities remain even after weeks of iron supplementation begun later in life, the researchers found.

  • May Berenbaum, left, and Ling-Hsiu Liao found that honey bees have a slight preference for food laced with the fungicide chlorothalonil at certain concentrations.

    Agricultural fungicide attracts honey bees, study finds

    When given the choice, honey bee foragers prefer to collect sugar syrup laced with the fungicide chlorothalonil over sugar syrup alone, researchers report in the journal Scientific Reports.

  • American bittersweet, left, has red berries encased in orange capsules, while oriental bittersweet, right, has red berries encased in bright yellow capsules.

    Many Midwestern retailers sell mislabeled invasive vines

    Gardeners hoping to celebrate the beauty of American bittersweet – a native vine that produces orange berries in the fall and is used for wreaths – may be unwittingly buying an invasive bittersweet instead. That’s because many Midwestern retailers are selling oriental bittersweet with labels misidentifying it as the native plant, researchers report. These sales are occurring in stores and online.

  • From left, Matthew Hudson, Arian Avalos, Gene Robinson and their colleagues found genomic signatures associated with the evolution of gentle behavior in Puerto Rico’s Africanized honey bees.

    Genomic study explores evolution of gentle ‘killer bees’ in Puerto Rico

    A genomic study of Puerto Rico’s Africanized honey bees – which are more docile than other so-called “killer bees” – reveals that they retain most of the genetic traits of their African honey bee ancestors, but that a few regions of their DNA have become more like those of European honey bees. According to the researchers, these changes likely contributed to the bees’ rapid evolution toward gentleness in Puerto Rico, a change that occurred within 30 years.

  • With expansion, the sugarcane-to-ethanol industry in Brazil could reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 5.6 percent, an international team reports.

    Scientists: Expanding Brazilian sugarcane could dent global CO2 emissions

    Vastly expanding sugarcane production in Brazil for conversion to ethanol could reduce current global carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 5.6 percent, researchers report in the journal Nature Climate Change.

  • Researchers from the Illinois Natural History Survey have surveyed fish in the Illinois River since 1957. Here, the team uses electricity to stun the fish for capture.

    Illinois sportfish recovery a result of 1972 Clean Water Act, scientists report

    Populations of largemouth bass, bluegill, catfish and other sportfish are at the highest levels recorded in more than a century in the Illinois River, according to a new report. Their dramatic recovery, from populations close to zero near Chicago throughout much of the 20th century, began just after implementation of the Clean Water Act, the researchers say.

  • Like a Hydra, some plants grow bigger and boost their chemical defenses after being clipped.

    Some plants grow bigger – and meaner – when clipped, study finds

    Some plants behave like the mythical monster Hydra: Cut off their heads and they grow back, bigger and better than before. A new study finds that these “overcompensators,” as they are called, also augment their defensive chemistry – think plant venom – when they are clipped.

  • Photo of Craig Lemoine, the director of the Financial Planning Program at the College of ACES

    Is our flood insurance model broken?

    Craig Lemoine, the director of the Financial Planning Program at the College of ACES, discusses the flood insurance market in light of Hurricane Harvey losses.

  • Photo of Craig Lemoine, the director of the Financial Planning Program at the College of ACES

    Should states be in the lottery business?

    A major downside to record-breaking lottery jackpots is that money flows from poorer communities into the hands of one incredibly lucky person, said Craig Lemoine, the director of the Financial Planning Program at the College of ACES.

  • A new study of stress responses in largemouth bass found that those that are less likely to strike at a fishing lure also tend to experience higher cortisol levels after a stressful encounter.

    Study links fish stress hormones to whether they take the bait

    Take a fish out of water and its stress hormones will go up. Adrenaline and noradrenaline, the “fight or flight” hormones, peak first, followed more gradually by cortisol. A new study finds that largemouth bass whose cortisol levels rise most after a brief bout of stress are inherently harder to catch by angling.

  • Socially unresponsive bees share something fundamental with autistic humans, new research finds.

    Study finds parallels between unresponsive honey bees, autism in humans

    Honey bees that consistently fail to respond to obvious social cues share something fundamental with autistic humans, researchers report in a new study. Genes most closely associated with autism spectrum disorders in humans are regulated differently in unresponsive honey bees than in their more responsive nest mates, the study found.

  • Researchers at the U. of I. found that plants vary a lot in the efficiency with which they uptake carbon dioxide and conserve water. Plant biology professor Andrew Leakey, left, mentored Kevin Wolz, who was an undergraduate at the time he conducted the research. Wolz now holds degrees in civil engineering and biology and is pursuing a doctorate in biology.

    Two undergrads improve plant carbon-cycle models

    In the summer of 2012, two undergraduate students tackled a problem that plant ecology experts had overlooked for 30 years. The students demonstrated that different plant species vary in how they take in carbon dioxide and emit water through stomata, the pores in their leaves. The data boosted the accuracy of mathematical models of carbon and water fluxes through plant leaves by 30 to 60 percent.

  • Kumar_Richardson

    Corn better used as food than biofuel, study finds

    Corn is grown not only for food, it is also an important renewable energy source. Renewable biofuels can come with hidden economic and environmental issues, and the question of whether corn is better utilized as food or as a biofuel has persisted since ethanol came into use. For the first time, researchers at the University of Illinois have quantified and compared these issues in terms of economics of the entire production system to determine if the benefits of biofuel corn outweigh the costs.

  • A new study reconfigures the elephant family tree, placing the giant extinct elephant Palaeoloxodon antiquus closer to the African forest elephant, Loxodonta cyclotis, than to the Asian elephant, Elephas maximus, which was once thought to be its closest living relative.

    Genetic study shakes up the elephant family tree

    New research reveals that a species of giant elephant that lived 1.5 million to 100,000 years ago – ranging across Eurasia before it went extinct – is more closely related to today’s African forest elephant than the forest elephant is to its nearest living relative, the African savanna elephant.

  • Photo of Brenna Ellison, a professor of agriculture and consumer economics at Illinois and an expert in consumer food preferences and behaviors.

    Paper: Nutrition label readers favor food quality over quantity

    Although nutrition-label users eat roughly the same amount of food as less-discerning diners, the two groups diverge when it comes to the quality of the food they eat, says a new paper co-written by Brenna Ellison, a professor of agriculture and consumer economics at Illinois and an expert in consumer food preferences and behaviors.

  • Illinois scientists are making advances in pharmaceutical chemistry (1); tracking invasive species (2) and emerging diseases (3); understanding pollinator biology, behavior and population status (4); exploring genomics (5); developing new imaging techniques (6); improving photosynthesis (7) and developing and harvesting biomass for bioenergy production (8).

    Science at Illinois feeds the world, furthers health, protects the planet

    Illinois scientists are helping power plants run more efficiently, designing better, longer-lasting batteries, finding new ways to target cancerous tumors, and developing robots that can aid in construction, in agricultural fields and even inside the human body.

  • The soybean aphid is tiny, about the size of a pollen grain, but an infestation can cause soybean losses of up to 40 percent, studies reveal.

    Team nebulizes aphids to knock down gene expression

    Researchers are nebulizing soybean aphids with RNA to speed the process of discovering the function of many mystery genes.

  • Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweeds, while adults consume the nectar of milkweeds and many other flowering species.

    Report: Milkweed losses may not fully explain monarch butterfly declines

    Monarch butterfly declines cannot be attributed merely to declines in milkweed abundance, researchers report.

  • Precision agriculture techniques could have substantial financial benefits for producers of hand-picked specialty crops, according to a new paper by Richard Sowers, a professor of engineering and of mathematics at the University of Illinois. Recent Illinois alumnus Devasia Manuel, currently a machine learning researcher with Google and Sowers’ co-author on the study, developed a mathematical model that determined the optimal time for transporting a grower’s strawberries from the field to cold storage.

    Hand-picked specialty crops ‘ripe’ for precision agriculture techniques

    Using precision agriculture, researchers at the University of Illinois have developed an algorithm to help producers of hand-picked crops such as strawberries determine the optimal time to transport their highly perishable crop from the field to cold storage.

  • A robot under development at the University of Illinois automates the labor-intensive process of crop phenotyping, enabling scientists to scan crops and match genetic data with the highest-yielding plants. Agricultural and biological engineering professor Girish Chowdhary, right, is working on the $3.1 million project, along with postdoctoral researcher Erkan Kayacan.

    Agricultural robot may be ‘game changer’ for crop growers, breeders

    A semiautonomous robot being developed by University of Illinois scientists may soon be roaming agricultural fields gathering and transmitting real-time data that crop breeders can use to identify the genetic traits in plants likely to produce the greatest yields.

  • Illinois State Archaeological Survey archaeobotanist Mary Simon, with ISAS director Thomas Emerson, is correcting misconceptions about the earliest cultivation of corn in Illinois.

    Study rewrites early history of corn in corn country

    A new study contradicts decades of thought, research and teaching on the history of corn cultivation in the American Bottom, a floodplain of the Mississippi River in Illinois. The study refutes the notion that Indian corn, or maize, was cultivated in this region hundreds of years before its widespread adoption at about 1000 A.D.

  • Survival of many of the world’s nonhuman primates is in doubt, experts report

    A report in the journal Science Advances details the grim realities facing a majority of the nonhuman primates in the world – the apes, monkeys, tarsiers, lemurs and lorises inhabiting ever-shrinking forests across the planet. The review is the most comprehensive conducted so far, the researchers say, and the picture it paints is dire.

  • Pollinator habitat program spreads bad seeds with the good

    Weed scientists in at least two Midwestern states have been reporting for years that a conservation program meant to provide habitat for pollinating insects is sowing bad seeds – including seeds of the potentially devastating agricultural weed Palmer amaranth – along with the good. Now, researchers at the University of Illinois have traced the weed seeds to at least one source: pollinator habitat seed sold by a company in the Midwest.

  • Plant biology professor Lisa Ainsworth is one of eight Illinois faculty members on the Clarivate Analytics / Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researchers list, 2016.

    Eight Illinois researchers rank among world’s most influential

    Eight University of Illinois researchers have been named to the Thomson Reuters / Clarivate Analytics Highly Cited Researchers list for 2016. The list identifies scientists “whose research has had significant global impact within their respective fields of study."

  • As computer models predicted, genetically modified plants are better able to make use of the limited sunlight available when their leaves go into the shade, researchers report.

    Scientists tweak photosynthesis to boost crop yield

    Researchers report  that they can increase plant productivity by boosting levels of three proteins involved in photosynthesis. This confirms a hypothesis some in the scientific community once doubted was possible.

  • Photo of U. of I. agricultural economists Peter Goldsmith and Alex Winter-Nelson.

    Livestock donation programs reduce poverty, improve food security and nutrition

    Research from U. of I. agricultural economists Peter Goldsmith and Alex Winter-Nelson found that the direct donation of livestock to impoverished communities in rural Africa had numerous positive effects ranging from a reduction in poverty to an increase in gender empowerment.

  • Crop sciences professor Aaron Hager examines herbicide-resistant waterhemp.

    Illinois growers are running out of options in fight against waterhemp

    Resistance to multiple herbicides is the new norm for populations of waterhemp, a common agricultural weed. With their herbicide options dwindling and nothing new on the horizon, Illinois growers must be strategic in how they manage waterhemp-infested fields, says a University of Illinois expert on crop weed management.

  • Plant biology professor Andrew Leakey and colleagues report that soybeans will suffer yield losses sooner than previously predicted under future conditions that combine elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide levels with drought. 

    Study: Future drought will offset benefits of higher CO2 on soybean yields

    An eight-year study of soybeans grown outdoors in a carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere like that expected by 2050 has yielded a new and worrisome finding: Higher atmospheric CO2 concentrations will boost plant growth under ideal growing conditions, but drought – expected to worsen as the climate warms and rainfall patterns change – will outweigh those benefits and cause yield losses much sooner than anticipated.

  • Professor Praveen Kumar and graduate student Dong K. Woo developed a model to tell the age of inorganic nitrogen in soil, which could help farmers more precisely apply fertilizer to croplands.

    Measure of age in soil nitrogen could help precision agriculture

    University of Illinois engineers developed a model to calculate the age of nitrogen in corn and soybean fields, which could lead to improved fertilizer application techniques to promote crop growth while reducing leaching.

  • Photo of Kimberlee Kidwell, dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences effective Nov. 1, pending approval by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees

    Kidwell named College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences dean

    Currently the executive associate dean of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University, Kimberlee Kidwell will be the new U. of I. dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences effective Nov. 1, pending approval by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees. She also will hold the inaugural Robert A. Easter Chair.

  • U. of I. alumna Temple Grandin elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

    Temple Grandin, a University of Illinois alumna and a professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University, has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

  • Study suggests commercial bumble bee industry amplified a fungal pathogen of bees

    Scientists hoping to explain widespread declines in wild bumble bee populations have conducted the first long-term genetic study of Nosema bombi, a key fungal pathogen of honey bees and bumble bees. Their study found that Nosema infections in large-scale commercial bumble bee pollination operations coincided with infections and declines in wild bumble bees.

  • Giant reed is a photosynthetic outlier, study finds

    Arundo donax, a giant reed that grows in the Mediterranean climate zones of the world, isn’t like other prolific warm-weather grasses, researchers report. This grass, which can grow annually to 6 meters (nearly 20 feet) in height, uses a type of photosynthesis that is more common to crop plants like soybeans, rice and peanuts.

  • Consumer perception of organic foods affected by food type and where they’re sold

    The organic food industry has grown from fresh produce and grains to snack foods and condiments – from farmers markets to supercenters. Has this new variety in organic products, and the availability of them, affected consumers’ perceptions?

  • Plant biology professor Evan DeLucia and co-authors found that the renewable fuel standards greater emphasis on second-generation biofuel can reduce emissions greatly despite economic considerations.

    Study: Second-generation biofuels can reduce emissions

    Second-generation biofuel crops like the perennial grasses Miscanthus and switchgrass can efficiently meet emission reduction goals without significantly displacing cropland used for food production, according to a new study. Researchers from the University of Illinois and collaborators published their findings in the inaugural edition of the journal Nature Energy. The researchers call it the most comprehensive study on the subject to date.

  • Plant biology professor Donald Ort is one of seven U. of I. researchers on the Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researchers list for 2015.

    Seven Illinois researchers rank among the world’s most influential

    Seven University of Illinois researchers have been named to the Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researchers list for 2015. The list includes “some of the world’s most influential scientific minds,” according to a statement from Thomson Reuters.