Father-daughter duo team up for citrus research
LAKE ALFRED, Fla. — When Jude Grosser’s daughter, Melinda, was in elementary school, he would often take her to his laboratory at the University of Florida’s Citrus Research and Education Center, where he works as a researcher on citrus diseases and creating new varieties. In the lab, he let Melinda look at fluorescent proteins from jellyfish, glowing in plant cells under the microscope, and even grow microorganisms in her petri dish handprint. Now, the 26-year-old is set to get her Ph.D. in molecular microbiology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the spring and still finds herself working with her dad.
The pair recently co-authored a research paper on new grapefruit cybrids, developed when the nuclear genes from a ”Ruby Red” grapefruit were combined with genes from within a cell’s cytoplasm (the jellylike material that makes up much of a cell) from a “Dancy” mandarin. The change increased the harvest window of the new grapefruits by three months. This resulted in the commercial release of a new UF/IFAS grapefruit cultivar N2-28 ‘Summer Gold Grapefruit’ that can be harvested into August. Melinda was working as an undergraduate Howard Hughes Medical Institute “Science for Life” student in the laboratory of UF Department of Horticultural Sciences Professor Christine Chase in Gainesville for her contribution to the project.
“She developed the marker that we used to validate the source of the mitochondrial genome in the cybrid grapefruit plants,” said Dr. Grosser, referring to finding the DNA marker in mitochondria, a cell’s energy source, which was partly responsible for developing the new fruit. “Melinda is way smarter than I’ll ever be, so I’m especially pleased that she has chosen biological sciences for her career.”
Melinda remembers fondly working with her Dad when she was in elementary and middle schools on her award-winning citrus research science fair projects and being able to use some of the high-tech lab equipment for her projects, which included creating hybrid citrus varieties. Dr. Grosser still uses some of those hybrid citrus trees in his experiments today.
“It was the first time I really started to understand some of the basics of his research and be able to discuss it with him intelligently,” she said. “I think part of it, too, was that he was always so enthusiastic about going to work every day, talking about new discoveries to friends and family, showing us trees in the groves, and making us taste new fruit. It all seemed like a pretty exciting and fun profession, to be able to investigate and discover new things almost every day.”
Dr. Grosser, 61, is at the forefront of working on a solution for citrus greening, which is devastating groves throughout the state.
Melinda was salutatorian at Santa Fe Catholic School in 2007 and was a National Merit Scholar. From there, she went to UF, from which she graduated in 2011 with a bachelor’s of science degree in biology and a minor in aquatics and fisheries. She maintained a 4.0 grade point average while at UF and was one of only 10 undergraduates who received the Outstanding Undergraduate Scholar Award, from a graduating class of more than 3,000 students. She became interested in molecular microbiology and genetics during a 2010 summer internship at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland, where she studied the causal agent of cholera.
At UNC, her doctoral dissertation research involves the study of MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), a bacterium that causes often-deadly infections in different parts of the body. It’s tougher to treat than most strains of staphylococcus aureus — or staph — because it’s resistant to some commonly used antibiotics and is responsible for thousands of deaths across the country each year.
“I have told her that if she makes any significant progress in developing a way to control this bacterium that she will be a hero to a lot of people,” Dr. Grosser said.
Melinda’s mother, Donna Grosser, said she is pleased one of their three daughters followed in Dr. Grosser’s footsteps in science research, noting that Melinda and Jude often think alike.
“I was tickled to learn that they are co-authors on this publication,” said Donna Grosser, who is a mental health therapist. “We are truly blessed as a family and we our very proud of all three of our girls!”
The middle Grosser daughter, Molly, is finishing her masters of science degree at Lesley University in art therapy, and the youngest daughter, Heidi, is an undergraduate student at Florida State University, majoring in psychology.
For Melinda, her dad has been a great life teacher by example.
“My dad has taught me – about life and research – that when you run into a problem, to stay calm and think rationally and there is always a solution; there’s no point in getting worked up about the small stuff,” said Melinda, who admitted she is needs to practice this habit a little bit more. “His enthusiasm for what he does also reminds me not to get bogged down when experiments don’t work; instead, I should appreciate the fact that I get to come up with new ideas to try out and remember that it’s pretty special to have a job that allows so much freedom and room for creativity every day.”
Melinda said her dad has also passed on his favorite ways to wind down and relax after all that hard work: fishing, camping, and enjoying the outdoors.
After her spring 2016 graduation, Melinda said she is hoping to work at a small college where she can do a blend of biology, microbiology, teaching and research, with a goal of getting undergraduates involved in and excited about doing research.
“It has been really fun watching her develop her formidable thinking skills,” Dr. Grosser said. “I couldn’t be more proud.”
By Kimberly Moore Wilmoth, 352-294-3302, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: Jude Grosser, 863-956-8680, email@example.com
Melinda Grosser, firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo caption: Jude and Melinda Grosser at his laboratory at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, Fla.