Friday, January 9, 2009

Kid food scientist

(To read the full story, click on the title above)

A University of California, Davis, professor's son discovered that a major agricultural pest prefers pistachios over other nuts.

Gabriel Leal, 11 and a student at Willet Elementary School in Davis, thinks pistachios taste better and theorized that navel orangeworms share a similar preference.

The hypothesis runs counter to past research, including a report recently published in the California Agriculture journal, which indicates the pest prefers almonds.

Gabriel conducted the research in his father's UC Davis lab under the voluntary supervision of Zain Syed, a chemical ecologist.

Gabriel placed mated and gravid, or egg-filled, females in a cage. He used four commercially available navel orangeworm traps and filled one with 50 grams of shelled pistachios, one with 50 grams of almonds, one with 50 grams of walnuts and left the fourth empty to serve as the control, Syed stated in the release.

The eggs laid in the traps were counted for two consecutive nights.

Enough eggs were laid in the pistachios to demonstrate that female navel orangeworms prefer pistachios over the other nuts.

Walter Leal reported the findings at the state almond industry conference last month in Modesto.

Researchers and growers typically use traps baited with a mix of almond meal and almond oil to attract the pests in the field. But during the hull split, the chemical from the real crop competes with the synthetic material in the traps, Leal said.

If pistachio-derived sources are used in the almond fields, it could eliminate the problem throughout the flight season, he said.

The pest attacks tree crops planted on more than 1 million acres throughout the state.

Science should never underestimate an idea, said Leal.

"That's why the academic environment is so enriching," he stated in the release. "Students come with new ideas, but I never imagined we would benefit so much from a science project for elementary school."

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