Fort Pierce native John-Paul Fox is gaining real-world experience in Lorenzo Rossi’s root biology laboratory this summer.
“I am learning how to better work in collaborations with research scientists in Dr. Rossi’s root biology laboratory this summer,” said Fox. “The real-world experiences I have had here have taken me a few further steps from the school group projects I participated in at John Carroll High School.”
Fox said laboratory work has helped him gain interpersonal skills while working with others to examine roots in a laboratory setting. “It is important to consider how someone else works so that you do not hinder their style of work. Everyone has a different way of working, and it is important to not impede on what they do.”
Now 22, Fox said he grew up in the county’s agricultural region where he saw vast fields of citrus crops and springtime harvests. The sweet smells of orange blossoms are his birthright. At some point during his youth, he learned about the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural (UF/IFAS) research station in Fort Pierce, the Indian River Research and Education Center (IRREC). He planned to pursue an internship at IRREC for one of the summers during his undergraduate work and approached Lorenzo Rossi, who leads plant root biology research. Rossi accepted Fox before the conclusion of spring semester 2019.
“Citrus and other crops production are important to the economy,” said Fox. “And science supports crop production so that it is efficient and viable over a sustained time period.”
Fox is about to complete his fourth year as an undergraduate at UF/IFAS’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences in Gainesville, Florida. Next May, he will have completed a bachelor’s degree in agricultural operations management.
“I chose the agricultural operations path because it has given me a mix of both science and business skills,” said Fox. “I am interested in both disciplines, and I see how both are essential to the management of an agricultural operation.”
Opportunities to work in a full-service science laboratory have provided Fox with experience to develop laboratory research techniques. He learned how to stain roots for examination under a microscope. He learned how to measure proline in roots, a protein which increases under stress conditions.
Rossi explains that proline measurement is an important stress-related protein that can be measured for salinity or salt stress studies. Salt is often present in water supplies and may profoundly impact crops.
“I learned how to examine the development of a root system’s protective barriers and to see how they are affected by different conditions in the environment,” said Fox.
Along with a second summer student intern, Jonathan Capen, Fox conducted an experiment to measure the impact of cerium oxide nanoparticles and cadmium on corn seedling physiology and root anatomy. Cerium oxide and cadmium are common pollutants found in the air and in soils. Cerium oxide originates from diesel fuel; cadmium from metals.
Fox and Capen will present their experiment findings to IRREC faculty and staff members at the conclusion of their internships in August.
After Fox completes his bachelor’s degree, he plans to work for an agricultural operation and pursue a master’s degree in agricultural business. Food production will become increasingly important throughout the world, he said.
“I think agriculture is super-important to meet the needs of population growth,” said Fox. “We have to feed all of the people in the world, and there is a good future in a career in agriculture.”