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ANR in the news during winter break

While many offices are closed between Christmas and New Year's Day, the media don't stop distributing news. Following is a sampling of recent news stories with an ANR connection.

In battle to save Bonny Doon vineyards, scientists try tricking bacteria
Beth Mole, Santa Cruz Sentinel

UC Berkeley plant pathologist Steve Lindow is studying the use transgenic grapevines to control Pierce's disease.
Scientists are now investigating less costly methods of managing glassy-winged sharpshooters and the spread of Pierce's disease. Steve Lindow, a plant pathologist from UC Berkeley, is using something similar to a Jedi mind trick: Convince the bacteria they've already caused disease.

But to stop these microscopic killers, scientists had to do some criminal profiling.

When Xylella get into a grape vine, they're released in the vascular tissue -- the plumbing of the plant that pumps water up from the roots. From there, the bacteria use the tissue as "hallways" to invade the whole vine. They then start exploring and munching on the plant.

"We think that the exploratory phase involves rather promiscuous movement of bacteria," Lindow said. But as they spread from place to place, there are only a few bacteria in each area, he said.

Each bacterium constantly sends out a molecular beacon that allows them to collect. Lindow and his team of researchers realized that this beacon is the bacteria's glaring weakness -- without it, they wouldn't make it into their next sharpshooter or kill the vine. So, the researchers engineered transgenic grapevines to make the same beacon.

Pesticide use rises throughout Merced County
Joshua Emerson Smith, Merced Sun-Star

Pesticide use in Merced County is on the rise, according to the annual report from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. The bump followed a statewide trend that saw an increase in pesticide use after four years of decline.

The reporter talked to Paul Towers, a spokesperson for the Pesticide Action Network, who said, "California is stuck on a pesticide treadmill."

UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor Maxwell Norton said the idea that alternatives to pesticides aren't being pursued is false.

"Pest management has more resources dedicated to it than any other field of agriculture research," he said. "Agricultural researchers are putting a lot of resources into alternative systems. The research reports are there in the hundreds for people to read. We will eventually come up with alternatives."

Leaf curl dilemma
Debbie Arrington, The Sacramento Bee

Folks with backyard peach or nectarine trees face a major problem this winter. Used to control leaf curl, Micro-cop copper fungicide spray and lime sulfur no longer are available to California home gardeners due to environmental concerns. The fungicide sprays that are available have much lower concentrations of copper.

"It's a pretty big deal right now," said Chuck Ingels, Sacramento County UC Cooperative Extension's horticulture advisor. "Those products worked. We don't really have an alternative yet."

This month, Ingels and master gardeners are conducting tests on possible alternatives, such as Liqui-Cop and Concern copper soap, at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center's orchard. Because the fungus needs water to multiply, they're also testing another approach: Covering whole trees with breathable fabric to prevent moisture from accumulating on the branches.

"Until we know what works, the best option is to plant varieties that are resistant to leaf curl," Ingels said.

Olive oil's secret: Not enough real virgins
Ronald Holden,

In a report a year ago, UC Davis researchers found that 69 percent of imported "extra virgin" olive oil (and 10 percent of domestic oil) wasn't what it pretended to be. Even the best-known brands showed signs of adulteration —blended with inferior grades of olive oil or cheaper oils from soybeans, hazelnuts, and sunflower seeds.

The lone import to receive top ratings on all points was Costco's Organic Extra Virgin Oil, which sells for one-fifth the price of competing brands.

Posted on Tuesday, January 3, 2012 at 1:31 PM

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