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First root biologist joins UF/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center

An inventive fruit tree researcher has joined the University of Florida’s Indian River Research and Education Center. Lorenzo Rossi is the center’s first-ever root biology professor and will support the university’s statewide Institute of Food and Agricultural Science’s commitment to restore Florida’s $9 billion citrus industry.

“Healthy roots are essential for a healthy plant. Dr. Rossi’s root biology research will investigate the best conditions for strong root development and function, so that citrus trees can suppress the symptoms caused by infection from huanglongbing,” said Ronald D. Cave, director for the UF/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center near Fort Pierce.

Rossi is known for his successful research experiments with olive trees in Italy and in North Carolina, where he evaluated genetic and environmental stress on roots. With citrus, Rossi said roots will die when infected with huanglongbing, or citrus greening, the industry’s most threatening disease in history.

“Citrus tree roots stop growing when the bacterium is present in the tree,” said Rossi. “My research program will begin with field experiments using instruments that measure roots and photograph root growth daily.”

Rossi uses the most recently developed tools to study root physiology and biology. With root system images captured both in the field and in the laboratory, he creates both two and three dimensional computer images to study finite spaces inside root architectures.

“This will help us to understand root stocks and needed modifications so that we may develop disease-resistant trees and long-term solutions,” Rossi said.

A major thrust of Rossi’s work is to understand subterranean biotic and abiotic issues affecting root health as it relates to crop growth and yields. These studies will help to understand why a citrus root stock, Japanese bitter orange, and new citrus varieties such as Bingo and Sugar Belle, tolerate citrus greening, said Rossi.

In addition to research, Rossi will instruct new courses to expand the university’s department of horticultural science’s offerings. Course topics will cover rhizosphere ecology, environmental stress physiology and citriculture.

His teaching experience includes five years of experience instructing courses and supervision of 11 undergraduate and graduate students at four universities, one abroad and three in the U.S.

Before his appointment with UF, Rossi completed three post doctorate positions at Missouri University of Science and Technology, Texas A&M University, and North Carolina State University. During his academic tenure, Rossi secured more than $190,000 in research, travel and scholarships.

In 2014, Rossi completed a Ph.D. in agro biosciences, plant biology, at Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, in Pisa, Italy. Rossi earned a master of science in crop production and management of the agroecosystem in 2010, and a bachelor of science in agricultural sciences in 2009, both at the University of Pisa, Italy. He achieved magna cum laude with each of the degrees.

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