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Voices of UF/IFAS: Lorenzo Rossi

Name: Lorenzo Rossi

Position: Assistant Professor of Plant Root Biology

Hometown
I am originally from Monsummano Terme, PT, Italy and I am located at the UF/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce, FL.

Years at UF/IFAS: 3 years

Describe your role at UF/IFAS?
As the sole plant root biologist at UF/IFAS, my research (80%) and teaching (20%) programs focus on root and rhizosphere ecology, improving root health and growth, primarily on HLB-affected citrus, and leading to the development of environmentally sound and effective citrus management methods. Being a horticulturist with specific expertise related to root anatomy, dynamics, and root system architecture I work extensively to study changes in the root system architecture of HLB-affected citrus rootstocks but also on new emerging specialty crops. In regard to specialty crops, my research on peach and Pongamia trees aims to assess the viability of what could become valuable alternative crops for Florida’s agriculture producers. Consistently with my research program, my teaching program focuses on root physiology, ecology, and rhizosphere interactions. Specifically, I am the lead instructor for the Root and Rhizosphere Ecology course (HOS 6355), which is thought every Fall. Moreover, I am the founder and coordinator of the UF/IFAS Plant Root Science Consortium, under the Center for Stress Resilient Agriculture. The consortium (https://csra.ifas.ufl.edu/faculty/root-consortium/), promotes plant root research among UF/IFAS and organizes the international short summer course on Plant Root Biology in collaboration with the UF/IFAS Agronomy Department and the University of Delaware.

How did your background/experiences shape your interest in your current field?
As a kid, I was always attracted by everything related to soil and horticulture. I grew up in a rural small town in Tuscany, Italy. At home, we have olive trees and grapes and I will spend my afternoons outside growing tomatoes and bell peppers and digging holes to see the worms. Later I went to an agricultural technical high school in Italy and I applied to the University of Pisa for a BS in Agricultural Sciences. The University of Pisa is the oldest Agricultural Sciences College in the world (https://www.agr.unipi.it/a-brief-history-of-the-faculty-of-agricultural-sciences-of-the-university-of-pisa/). I attended the University of Pisa but I also applied for the honor program at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna. After the national competition, I was admitted to the program and the Italian government offered me a full board scholarship for my BS in Agricultural Sciences (https://www.santannapisa.it/en/scienze-sperimentali/agricultural-sciences-and-plant-biotechnology). During my BS degree years I was an undergrad research assistant and I worked with peach and apple tree and their role as a carbon sink. Once graduate I started my graduate program and during my Ph.D. at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (https://www.santannapisa.it/en/education/phd-agrobiosciences) and I had to opportunity to spent two years of my Ph.D. as a Visiting Ph.D. Student at the Dept. of Plant Biology at NC State University in Raleigh, NC. My Ph.D. program was on olive trees and how they reacted to salinity and drought stresses. It is during my Ph.D. that my interest in root started growing. I wanted to know more about the effect of environmental stresses on root anatomy. And that’s why after graduating with my Ph.D. I accepted a postdoc position at Texas A&M where I was able to deeper my studies on root anatomy and biology.

Who do you admire?
I admire my Italian advisor Prof. Luca Sebastiani who taught me everything I know about statistics, experimental design, and tree physiology. And I admire my students who always challenge and spur me to be better and lead by example.

What does it mean to you to be a 2021 UF/IFAS Superior Accomplishment winner?
It is a great honor and I really appreciate the American academic system because it is rewarding and always promotes freedom and independence in research and teaching. Overseeing my lab, my courses, and my students is extremely important to me and I am happily pleased with UF/IFAS and UF/IFAS IRREC.

What inspires you? What are your hobbies?
I want to make sure that our agriculture systems are sustainable. Therefore, I am advocating for the development of new natural approaches to improve citrus root health. Our growers always inspire me because they are at the forefront and always report observations that lead to scientific trials.

As for my hobbies, I like to take long walks on the beach. I like to exercise daily, read novels, and watch documentaries. I am a heavy reader and I always push my students to read more books, especially titles outside their field of study.