Maria Gallo named UF/IFAS agronomy chairman
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Maria Gallo, a molecular genetics professor, has been named chairman of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ agronomy department.
Jack Payne, UF’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources, announced the move Jan. 14. Gallo, who has served as the interim department chair since September 2009, replaces Jerry Bennett, the department’s chair for 17 years. Bennett is now serving as the department’s graduate coordinator and teaching.
“Maria Gallo represents what is best about the IFAS faculty. She is a proven researcher, gifted teacher, and a great team player, who as an administrator, recognizes the challenges of her department, IFAS and the university in maintaining the level of expertise necessary to solve global problems,” Payne said.
A member of the UF/IFAS faculty since 1996, Gallo is best-known for her research that may someday help create a non-allergenic peanut. Gallo and a graduate student found that one of the allergenic proteins in peanuts is sometimes produced with a portion missing — resulting in a form that apparently doesn’t trigger a bad reaction in human immune systems.
Gallo said she expects to continue that research, along with other projects, including one that could increase sugarcane’s potential as a bioenergy crop by reducing or eliminating the plant’s flowering, boosting its biomass and altering its lignin composition.
She is also leading another multi-state, multi-agency research team that hopes to gain funding for a regional biofuels and bioenergy consortium to work toward the commercialization of third-generation biofuels utilizing energy cane, elephant grass and sweet sorghum.
Gallo said she believes the biggest challenges for her department are twofold: The first is finding ways to communicate to potential undergraduates that agronomy is about much more than crop production — it is increasingly an academic discipline focused on issues such as sustainable agriculture, bioenergy, climate change research and controlling invasive plants.
“I think that in crop science and agronomy, we are positioned to make a really big difference right now,” she said. “Our little window of opportunity is right here, right now, so we need to grab it and go. I think our country’s becoming more aware of the importance of food and the environment and sustainable approaches – it’s on people’s radar screens.”
The second challenge, she says, is in reaching out to potential private donors who could help create a push for a more modern facility to house the department, which is currently based in Newell Hall, one of the main campus’ oldest buildings.
Gallo holds a bachelor’s degree in agronomy from Cornell University, a master’s degree in crop science from North Carolina State University, and her doctoral degree in genetics, also from North Carolina State. This year, she is president of the Crop Science Society of America, a group of more than 4,700 members dedicated to advancing crop science.
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