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UF Scientists Receive Top USDA Awards For Research

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Three University of Florida professors, Lynn Bailey, Jess Gregory and Nan-Yao Su, will receive 1996 Honor Awards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture during ceremonies in Washington, D.C. today. (6-5-96)

The awards, which are the agency’s highest recognition for outstanding contributions to agriculture and the consumer, will be presented to the UF faculty by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman and broadcast live via satellite to staff nationwide at 1:00 p.m.

Bailey and Gregory, nutrition professors with the UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, will be honored for their pioneering research on folic acid and its role in preventing birth defects, anemia and heart disease in women and other at-risk populations.

Su, an entomology professor at the UF/IFAS Ft. Lauderdale Research and Education Center, will be recognized for his research and development of a new system for controlling native subterranean termites and the highly destructive Formosan termite.

Until Bailey and Gregory initiated their research, there was uncertainty in the scientific community about the amount of folic acid (or folate) pregnant women need to prevent low birth weights and other birth defects such as spina bifida.

Their research indicates the current dietary intake of folate by women of reproductive age — about 200 micrograms — should be doubled to about 400 micrograms. “Our research has clearly shown that women of childbearing age have a higher requirement for folic acid than the quantity typically eaten,” Bailey explained.

More than 30-million women of childbearing age could benefit from their research findings. Currently, some 4,000 babies are born each year with neural-tube defects, low birth weights and other problems related to inadequate folic acid in the mother’s diet.

Bailey and Gregory were instrumental in the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recent decision recommending the addition of folic acid to “enriched” cereal grain products.

Lack of the vitamin also is associated with high levels of an amino acid in the blood called homocysteine — a condition that may lead to heart attacks and strokes. The problem is particularly serious in post-menopausal women and elderly men.

Su’s new termite control system, patented by the UF and licensed to DowElanco of Indianapolis, is expected to generate some $200 million in annual sales in the U.S. and Japan alone — even more when marketed on a worldwide basis. Sold under the “Sentricon” brand name, the new product was announced by DowElanco in May 1995 following swift approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Conventional pesticides may keep termites out of buildings, but they don’t control termites in the ground. Unlike traditional barrier control methods, Su’s system eliminates underground colonies of both subterranean and Formosan termites — a first for the pest control industry.

“Because of this unique capability, this technology is the most significant advance in termite control in the past 50 years,” according to the firm.

In announcing its fast-track approval of Su’s termite control system, the EPA said: “This is the first chemical to be approved for registration under the EPA’s new voluntary reduced-risk pesticide initiative.” The active ingredient, an insect growth regulator called hexaflumuron, is low in toxicity to humans and environment. It will reduce the amount of pesticide needed to control termites around homes and other structures.

“Termites are very picky about what they will eat. They are capable of recognizing a variety of chemicals and sealing themselves off from them,” Su explains. “We had to find a slow-acting chemical that could be transmitted throughout the colony via normal feeding activity, and then we had to develop a foolproof delivery system.”

To deliver the growth regulator bait, Su developed a small monitoring/feeding station placed in the ground near buildings. When termite activity is detected, the monitoring device is replaced with a cellulose material laced with the insect growth regulator. The new control system is successful because termites themselves spread the bait containing the growth regulator.