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Port St. Lucie Native Participates in Internship at University of Florida local campus

Sawyer Adams knows how a single college course can change a person’s life.

During her first year as a junior at the University of Florida, while enrolled in pre-medical biology courses, she chose a botany course as an elective. The course was Plant Taxonomy. And then she completed a second plant science course, and a third. It was during a subsequent course, Tree Biology, when she realized her passion for plant life science.

“The instructor was talking about water transport,” said Adams. “The physics behind how trees can transport water up hundreds of feet, when it shouldn’t be able to get above 30, is astounding. They are marvels of nature.”

This summer, Adams is learning about root systems in citrus trees as an intern, working with a plant root biology expert.

A lifelong resident of St. Lucie County, Adams is participating in an internship at the local University of Florida location, the university’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Science’s Indian River Research and Education Center (IRREC).

Adams is pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Botany at the UF campus in Gainesville and is home for the season. The internship at the UF/IFAS Fort Pierce location involves working with plant roots in the Rossi Plant Root Biology Laboratory, under the direction of Lorenzo Rossi. Rossi is an inventive root biology scientist who joined a team of researchers at IRREC who are working hard to protect Florida’s citrus crop.

Rossi said the region’s citrus crop production is rapidly declining because of a plant disease called huanglongbing, or HLB, which is more commonly known as citrus greening. The disease has reduced Florida’s citrus trees by more than 70 percent in the last 20 years. Rossi is teaching Adams to test how infected citrus rootstocks react to different fertilizers.

Adams said she is grateful for the opportunity to learn about how the roots are so vulnerable to the disease and to explore how different fertilizers may affect the plants.

At home, Adams learns about plants from cultivation. She is growing ginger tubers and propagating plants in her yard. She grows succulents and watches how the plants use water. She observes how jasmine flourishes and blooms at night, imparting a heady sweet aroma similar to citrus blossoms. Adams would like to work in a lab or own a plant nursery after she completes her undergraduate degree.

Members of Adams’ family have been involved in local agriculture for decades. Her grandfather and uncle serve as managers at Adams Ranch, one of Florida’s premier cattle and citrus ranches.

It was only a couple of years ago when Adams graduated from Lincoln Park Academy, a prestigious local high school, with both a high school diploma and an Associate in Arts degree from Indian River State College. She was recognized with top honors.

This summer is Adams is growing her knowledge in plant science and planning her next steps for a successful career.

“After I graduate with my bachelor’s I would like to open a nursery or have a job in a laboratory,” said Adams. “I am enjoying work in a laboratory.”

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