Root biologist joins UF fight against citrus greening
By Robin Koestoyo
FORT PIERCE, Fla.— An inventive fruit tree researcher has joined the University of Florida IFAS 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 Sciences’ 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 Cave, director of the UF/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center near Fort Pierce.
According to Cave, 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,” he said.
A major thrust of Rossi’s work is to understand why a citrus root stock, Japanese bitter orange, and new citrus varieties such as Bingo and Sugar Belle, tolerate citrus greening.
In addition to research, Rossi will instruct new courses to expand the university’s department of horticultural science’s offerings. His teaching experience includes five years of instruction, and supervision of 11 undergraduate and graduate students at four universities.
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.
The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.