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Expert on controlling body weight will speak at U of I Nutrition Symposium

Published March 31, 2014
Prof. David Levitsky
Dr. David Levitsky, speaker for 2014 Illinois Nutritional Sciences Graduate Student Association Nutrition Symposium

URBANA, Ill. – Is losing weight as easy as stepping on the scale regularly and cutting calories when the number trends upward? Cornell University professor David Levitsky will answer that question in his keynote address, “The Weigh to Control Body Weight: The Only Way,” of the 2014 Illinois Nutritional Sciences Graduate Student Association Nutrition Symposium on Wednesday, April 23, from 4 to 5 p.m. in 180 Bevier Hall on the University of Illinois campus. The event is open to the public.

“It’s important that individuals take responsibility for maintaining their own healthy body weight. Regular self-weighing is the best tool we have to combat a slow but persistent gain in body weight over time,” the expert said.

Levitsky is a professor of nutritional sciences and psychology at Cornell University. He came to Cornell in 1968 as a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellow after obtaining a Ph.D. from Rutgers University in experimental psychology. The focus of his research has always been energy balance and the control of body weight.

“His laboratory has examined the effect of skipping meals on subsequent energy intake, school feeding programs, and the effect of portion sizes on energy intake,” said Jessica Hartke, assistant director of the U of I Division of Nutritional Sciences.

Levitsky has served on the Culinary Institute of America’s Review Board, was on the Board of Directors for the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behaviors, was a member of the National Research Council from 1979 to 1982, and is currently an editor of the British Journal of Nutrition.

Throughout his career, he has received many teaching and mentoring awards, including being named a Weiss Presidential Fellow, the highest teaching award given at Cornell; the New York State Chancellor’s Award; the Innovative Teaching Award in Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; the Excellence in Nutrition Education Award from the American Society for Nutrition; and the USDA Excellence in College and University Teaching Award.

He has also published more than 200 articles in refereed scientific journals.

A mini-symposium, “Nutrition, Cognition, and Exercise: Connecting the Themes,” featuring world-class U of I faculty researchers, will be featured before the keynote address. That event will take place from 12:45 to 2:45 p.m. in the Monsanto Room at the Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) Library, Information and Alumni Center, located at 1101 S. Goodwin Ave., Urbana.

The panel will include Rodney Johnson, director of the Division of Nutritional Sciences (DNS) and a professor of animal sciences; Justin Rhodes, associate professor of psychology and DNS; Neil Cohen, director of the Center for Nutrition, Learning, and Memory and a professor of psychology; and Jeffrey Woods, professor of kinesiology and community health and DNS.

DNS graduate students will compete in an oral research presentation competition from 9:15 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in the Monsanto Room at the ACES Library, and poster research presentations by DNS graduate students will be on display from 5:15 p.m. to 6:40 p.m. in the ACES Library Heritage Room. A special awards presentation will complete the symposium at 6:40 p.m.

The Nutrition Symposium is sponsored by Abbott Nutrition, Kraft Foods Group, Inc., Mead Johnson Nutrition, Pepsico, Inc., and Wrigley. Friends of the Nutrition Symposium include Campbell Soup Company, Hillshire Brands Company, Egg Nutrition Center, U of I College of ACES Office of Research, and U of I Departments of Animal Sciences, Food Science and Human Nutrition, and Kinesiology and Community Health.

“Our graduate students take full responsibility for planning and executing the Nutrition Symposium,” said Rodney Johnson, DNS director. “The event provides our students with an important professional development opportunity. I’m pleased that they have organized a wonderful program that can be enjoyed by the community.”

For more information, contact the Division of Nutritional Sciences at 217-333-4177 or or click here for the Nutrition Symposium schedule.


Palmer amaranth recommendations for 2014 growing season

Published March 31, 2014
p amaranth

URBANA, Ill. - Palmer amaranth is a weed species that must be thoughtfully and carefully managed. Simply attempting to control Palmer amaranth often leads to ineffective herbicide applications, substantial crop yield loss, and increased weed infestations, said a University of Illinois weed sciences researcher.

“If ignored or otherwise not effectively managed, Palmer amaranth can reduce corn and soybean yield to nearly zero,” said Aaron Hager. “The threat of Palmer amaranth during the 2014 growing season is very real across a large portion of Illinois.”

The U of I weed science program has developed recommendations for management of Palmer amaranth in agronomic crops. These recommendations were developed in accordance with the unique growth characteristics of this weed species. The goals of the recommendations are twofold: to reduce the potential for Palmer amaranth to negatively impact crop yield, and to reduce Palmer amaranth seed production, which ultimately augments the soil seed bank and perpetuates the species. 

Three general principles of Palmer amaranth management include:

  • Prevention is preferable to eradication. Prevention refers to utilizing tactics that prevent weed seed introduction and weed seed production.  “Palmer amaranth is not native to Illinois so any population discovered in the state originated from seed that somehow was moved into the state,” Hager said. “The myriad of ways in which Palmer amaranth seeds can be transported, however, makes preventing seed introduction extremely challenging. Once Palmer amaranth populations become established, utilizing any and all tactics to prevent seed production becomes of paramount importance.”
  • It is not uncommon for annual herbicide costs to at least double once Palmer amaranth becomes established. There are simply no soil- or foliar-applied herbicides that will provide sufficient control of Palmer amaranth throughout the entire growing season. 
  • Control of Palmer amaranth should not be less than 100 percent. “In other words, the threshold for this invasive and extremely competitive species is zero,” the researcher said. “Female Palmer amaranth plants produce tremendous amounts of seed, and in less than five years a few surviving plants can produce enough seed to completely shift the weed spectrum in any particular field.”

Recommendations based on Palmer amaranth germination and emergence characteristics include:

  • Be certain to control all emerged Palmer amaranth plants before planting corn or soybean. Burn-down herbicides or thorough tillage are effective tactics to control emerged Palmer amaranth plants before planting. Keep in mind, however, that glyphosate will not control glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth and that growth regulator herbicides (such as 2,4-D or dicamba) are most effective on Palmer amaranth plants less than 4 inches tall.  If pre-plant scouting (which is especially important prior to planting soybean) reveals Palmer amaranth plants taller than 4 inches, consider using tillage instead of herbicides to control the plants.
  • Apply a full rate (based on label recommendations for soil texture and organic matter content) of an effective soil residual herbicide no sooner than seven days prior to planting and no more than three days after planting. Many soil residual herbicides that are effective for controlling waterhemp are also effective for controlling Palmer amaranth. In soybeans, products containing sulfentrazone (Authority) or flumioxazin (Valor) have provided effective control of Palmer amaranth. Application rates of products containing these active ingredients should provide a minimum of 0.25 lb ai/acre sulfentrazone or 0.063–0.095 lb ai/acre flumioxazin.

Hager said growers should not rely solely on glyphosate to control Palmer amaranth. “Molecular assays have indicated that resistance to glyphosate appears to be relatively common among recently identified Palmer amaranth populations in Illinois,” he explained.

Recommendations based on Palmer amaranth growth rate include:

  • Begin scouting fields within 14 to 21 days after crop emergence. “We recommend this interval even for fields previously treated with a soil residual herbicide applied close to planting,” he explained.
  • Foliar-applied herbicides must be applied before Palmer amaranth plants exceed 4 inches in height. The effectiveness of most foliar-applied herbicides dramatically decreases when Palmer amaranth plants are taller than 4 inches.  Postemergence herbicides that demonstrate control or suppression of Palmer amaranth include synthetic auxin herbicides (dicamba, 2,4-D), diphenylethers (acifluorfen, lactofen, fomesafen), glufosinate, glyphosate, and HPPD inhibitors (mesotrione, tembotrione, topramezone). 
  • Consider including a soil residual herbicide during the application of the foliar-applied herbicide. A soil residual herbicide applied with the foliar-applied herbicide can help control additional Palmer amaranth emergence and allow the crop to gain a competitive advantage over later-emerging weeds.
  • Fields should be scouted 7 to 14 days after application of the foliar-applied herbicide to determine herbicide effectiveness; if the soil residual herbicide included with the post application is providing effective control; and if additional Palmer amaranth plants have emerged. 

“If scouting reveals additional Palmer amaranth plants have emerged, make a second application of a foliar-applied herbicide before Palmer amaranth plants are 4 inches tall,” Hager said.

In regard to Palmer amaranth seed production, Hager said research has demonstrated that female Palmer amaranth plants are capable of producing numbers of seed comparable to that of waterhemp (several hundred thousand to over one million). “Physically remove any remaining Palmer amaranth plants before the plants reach the reproductive growth stage. Plants should be severed at or below the soil surface and carried out of the field. Severed plants can root at the stem if left on the soil surface, and plants can regenerate from stems severed above the soil surface,” he said.

NRES Alum Participates in World Water Day in Mexico

Published March 26, 2014
Peace Corps Volunteers
Jason and other Peace Corps volunteers at the completion of the cistern and water collection system.

World Water Day 2014: Rain water collection makes a big difference in Mexico

Jason Todd Berner, BS, NRES, MS, Landscape Archictecture, tells of his work with the Peace Corps Response Project on the World Water Day 2014 project.

"For my entire career at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency I have focused on storm water management needs, ostensibly for municipalities and local communities: how to harvest rainwater and how to use technology protect water resources. But instead of working on this smaller scale, I found myself working primarily on a national scale.

Finally, I decided it was time for a big change that focused on small communities.

As I pursued opportunities at EPA to work more directly with local communities, I found I loved that type of work whenever I got a chance to do it. I learned of the Peace Corps Response program and its projects on water resources management and engineering a couple summers ago. The EPA and Peace Corps had an agreement that supported EPA employees working as Peace Corps Response Volunteers so I applied for a rainwater harvesting engineering position in Puebla Mexico. It was exactly what I was looking for and the length of the project was similar to temporary reassignments at EPA. Plus, I could bring my Response Volunteer ground implementation experiences back to EPA.

I now work at a state technology institute in Zacatlan, Mexico, to train students, faculty and maintenance staff on how to design, construct and maintain rainwater harvesting cistern systems for on-campus buildings.

In Zacatlan there is abundant rainfall, but few people are using it for non-potable, or non-consumption, uses. Deforestation from timber harvesting and mining activities has caused soil erosion in the drinking watershed, and the local drinking water utility is worried about annual decreases in rainfall captured for potable water uses – especially as Zacatlan’s population grows.

The state technology institute I work at has great interests in harvesting rainwater for non-potable uses – such as flushing toilets, bathroom sinks and irrigating plants – because it is one of the largest users of potable water in town. The photo above is of the proud team of students, faculty and maintenance staff after installing their first on-campus rainwater harvesting system for non-potable uses.

I’m very excited that my training on implementing rainwater harvesting systems at the university and primary schools will have an impact even after I’ve returned to work at EPA. I have learned a lot through teaching in both the university and rural residential settings. I hope to keep enjoying opportunities to implement local rainwater harvesting projects both abroad and in the U.S. after I’ve finished my PCR project."

Jason Todd Berner works for the U.S. Environmental ProtectionAgency’s Office of Water. He has a BS in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences and a Master of Landscape Architecture from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As an Environmental Protection Specialist/Landscape Architect Washington, D.C., he’s a team member of EPA’s national low impact development and green infrastructure stormwater management program. Areas of focus include water resources; hydrologic and water quality modeling; energy savings and air pollution modeling; GIS spatial analyses; cost-benefit analyses; urban environmental justice analyses; climate change mitigation strategies; urban planning community technical assistance workshops; and coordination of national university stormwater management design competitions. He enjoys bicycle riding, camping, hiking, skiing, dancing, traveling, spicy food, and live music. 

News Source:

Jason Todd Berner

Understanding plant-soil interaction could lead to new ways to combat weeds

Published March 25, 2014
Giant ragweed

URBANA, Ill. – Using high-powered DNA-based tools, a recent study at the University of Illinois identified soil microbes that negatively affect ragweed and provided a new understanding of the complex relationships going on beneath the soil surface between plants and microorganisms.

“Plant scientists have been studying plant-soil feedback for decades,” said U of I microbial ecologist Tony Yannarell. “Some microbes are famous for their ability to change the soil, such as the microbes that are associated with legumes—we knew about those bacteria. But now we have the ability to use high-power DNA fingerprinting tools to look at all of the microbes in the soil, beyond just the ones we’ve known about. We were able to look at an entire microbial community and identify those microbes that both preferred ragweed and affected its growth.”

Although it would seem that the logical conclusion would be to simply add anti-ragweed microbes to soil, Yannarell said that adding microbes to soil hasn’t been successful in the past. An effective strategy, however, to suppress weeds might be to use plants that are known to attract the microbes that are bad for ragweed, and in so doing, encourage the growth of a microbial community that will kill it.

The study used Manhattan, Kan. (sunflower) and Urbana, Ill. (ragweed) and conducted trials independently at agricultural research facilities in Michigan, Illinois, Kansas, South Dakota, and Oregon, using local soils gathered on site. These particular weeds were selected because ragweed is a more common weed east of the Mississippi and sunflower is more common in the West.

The experiment allowed Yannarell and his colleagues to observe how three generations of ragweed and sunflower interacted with the microbial community in the soil. The plants interact with each other indirectly due to the differing effects they each have on the microbes in the soil.

“We used the same soil continuously so it had a chance to be changed,” Yannarell said. “We let the plants do the manipulation.”

Interestingly, they did not find the same ragweed-preferring microbe across all five states. “The microbial communities are different in each of these states, and yet we found the same overall patterns in each state individually,” Yannarell said. Illinois, Oregon, Kansas, and South Dakota (and in about 50 percent of the data from Michigan) each had local microbes that preferred ragweed and had a negative effect on its growth. “That was a take-home lesson for me,” he said, “that the actual organisms can be different in different locations, but they still may be performing the same functions.”

Yannarell said that currently one of his graduate students is studying ways to use what they learned as a method for weed control. “What we’re looking at now is the use of different cover crops, many of which are not harvested but just turned under into the soil,” he said. “We’re looking for specific cover crops that can make the microbial community bad for weeds as opposed to spraying. Can we create weed-suppressive soils?”

 “An Affinity–Effect Relationship for Microbial Communities in Plant–Soil Feedback Loops” was published in the January 2014 issue of Microbial Biology. Others who contributed to the research are Yi Lou, Sharon A. Clay, Adam S. Davis, Anita Dille, Joel Felix, Analiza H.M. Ramirez, and Christy L. Sprague.


Dredging of the Fractured Bedrock-lined Mississippi River Channel at Thebes, Illinois

Published March 25, 2014
Map of  Mississippi River channel near Thebes, Illinois
Map of Mississippi River channel near Thebes, Illinois

A recently-published article by Kenneth R. Olson and Lois Wright Morton explains why the six mile stretch of the Mississippi River near Thebes, Illinois, is the only section of the navigation channel that is bedrock lined, with pinnacles of rock protruding into the shipping channel, making it difficult to dredge. The rest of the entire Mississippi shipping channel is loose unconsolidated sediment.

The ancient Mississippi River was re-aligned by earth quakes and glacial melt waters about 12,000 years ago, making the current narrow Mississippi River valley about 30 miles to the east of the location of the ancient Mississippi River valley. USACE has difficulty maintaining navigation in the shipping channel due to the bedrock lining and the fact that barges sometimes catch on the rock pinnacles.

During the drought of 2012 there were only a few feet of water in the Mississippi River except for the shipping channel, which is 9' deep and 300' wide. Giant excavators and a dragline were loaded on barges and moved out into the shipping channel to remove the rock during the drought of 2012 and early 2013. Shipping of agricultural grain and agricultural inputs on partially filled barges were move through the shipping channel at night, when there were only a few feet of water over the 9' deep and 300' wide channel. By February of 2013, the river rose and the excavators could not reach the remaining rock.

Approximately 70% of the rock was removed in phase 1. A second phase of the project has now started to remove the remaining bedrock pinnacles in the shipping channel and to re-align and widen the north end of the bedrock lined channel to make it easier to turn the long attached barges and keep them in the 300' wide navigation channel and avoid the underlying rock which is 9' closer to the water surface on the other sections of the 2000' wide Mississippi River bottom at Thebes, Illinois.

Feature article entitled  "Dredging of the fractured bedrock-lined Mississippi River Channel at Thebes, Illinois" by Kenneth R. Olson and Lois Wright Morton and in the March-April 2014 issue of  Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 2014;69 31A-35A:

Additional Images:
  • Map of  Mississippi River channel near Thebes, Illinois

Webinar to address nitrogen management this spring

Published March 25, 2014

URBANA - While dry weather is allowing nitrogen (N) application to start in some places in Illinois, the ongoing cool temperatures continue to raise questions about N management this spring.

University of Illinois Crop Sciences and the Council on Best Management Practices (C-BMP) are organizing a webinar for Thursday, March 27 at 8:00 AM to address some of these issues, including fate of fall-applied N, use of inhibitors this spring, and how cool soils might affect soil N supply and plant uptake.

Participants will also learn about a program, newly funded by the Nutrient Research & Education Council, to conduct field-scale N rate trials in several dozen fields across Illinois in 2014. Producers interested in hosting such a trial are invited to attend to learn more.

Sign up for the webinar at


Earth Week 2014 at Illinois - April 21-26

Published March 25, 2014

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will celebrate Earth Week on April 21-26. Earth Week is a time to promote awareness and appreciation for the Earth's environment, sustainable living and earth awareness.

Several exciting activities on-and-off-campus are being planned for the week. We hope you will join us in celebrating!

Here is an overview of activities, courtesy of the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment:


News Source:

Lezli Cline, 217-244-6254