ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES DOCTORAL STUDENT
KYANA STEWART IS HELPING MIDDLE SCHOOLERS
It wasn't that long ago that Kyana Stewart was struggling with the concepts of atomic
theory in middle school. So to help her seventh-grade students at Gainesville's Howard
Bishop Middle School understand, she's turning them into protons, neutrons and elec-
Protons -centered in the room's nucleus -are positively smiling; Neutrons -clus-
tered tightly with protons -wear a blank, neutral expression. And electrons -circling
around the nucleus frown negatively.
"It's early in the morning, so everybody smells good," says Stewart, a University of
Florida graduate student, encouraging the students to move closer together.
As electrons walk around the nucleus looking sad, Stewart decides it's time to form a
different element. She tags a student-electron to leave the atom, and take a proton with
him, lowering the group's atomic number.
"That was my favorite lesson because everyone wanted to participate," says Stewart, an
environmental engineering master's student with a background in chemistry. "When they
online: gradschool.rgp.d. HUM
took the exam, they scored highest on
atomic theory If you hear it, see it and
do it, you remember it the best."
Stewart is one of nine University of
Florida graduate students selected this
year to participate in SPICE, Science
Partners in Inquiry-based Collabora-
tive Education, a project funded by the
National Science Foundation to foster
inquiry-based learning of science, tech-
nology, engineering, and mathematics
in Gainesville's under-resourced middle
schools. This year, the middle schools
participating are Hawthorne, Oakview,
Lincoln, Westwood and Howard
"We focus on middle schools
because studies have shown that early
adolescents -especially girls -begin
to lose interest in science, technology,
engineering and mathematics," says
Doug Levey, the UF zoology professor
who serves as the principal investigator
on the SPICE grant. "We know that
this is the time to keep kids interested."
Stewart says the focus on minorities
is what attracted her to the program.
"I was one of those students," she
says. "When I was in middle school,
I was never really engaged in learn-
ing, but I was fortunate to have a great
science teacher and parents who were
educators, who hooked me into science
and engineering. A lot of these students
don't have those opportunities, so where
are they supposed to go to get hooked?"
First established at UF in 2003,
graduate students and middle school
teachers apply to the program annually
and a UF faculty advisory committee
selects nine students and nine teachers
each year to work together in the class-
room. Graduate students receive a one-
year $30,000 fellowship, plus tuition
and fees, while the teachers receive a
$3,325 stipend and both receive $2,500
SPICE is part of NSF's larger initia-
tive to bring graduate students into
Fellows teach in middle schools two
days a week, while keeping up with
the regular course-load for their own
They are also available for mentor-
ing after school, and often put in more
hours than they're responsible for be-
cause as Stewart says, they get attached
to the kids.
"The energy that the fellows give
is infectious," says Angela Lindner,
SPICE advisory committee co-chair
and environmental engineering sciences
assistant professor. "You'll fall in love
with seventh-grade teachers."
Towanda Luckie, who has taught
science at Howard Bishop since 1989,
has shared her classroom with Kyana
Stewart for the past two years.
"I love the program," says Luckie.
"As a young African American female in
the science field, Kyana serves as a role
model for the kids, especially females,
who mostly are minorities. And she's
young so she can relate to them better
than I can. There's a different type of
relationship there, and extra help in the
classroom is something every teacher
would love to have."
Stewart, who plans to teach after get-
ting her master's degree, speaks highly
of her experience as a SPICE fellow.
"It's easy for me to create a bond
with them because they see me and
think, 'Wait a minute, I could be her a
few years down the line,"' she says. "It
puts a lot of responsibility on me, but
I love it because it's a great opportunity
to positively influence people."
Saving Florida's Springs
GEOLOGICAL SCIENCES DOCTORAL STUDENT P.J. MOORE IS GAINING A BETTER
UNDERSTANDING OF HOW WATER MOVES THROUGH FLORIDA'S AQUIFER
Geologically, Florida's nearly 600 springs are windows into
the Floridan Aquifer 100,000 square miles of perme-
able limestone saturated with water like a giant sponge that
underlies all of Florida and parts of Georgia, South Carolina
For eons, rainwater has trickled from the surface down to
the aquifer, only to be regurgitated days, months or years later
from the springs to form rivers like the Ichetucknee and the
Silver. It evaporates and falls again as rain in a never-ending
For much of history, human impact on the springs and the
aquifer has been minimal. Although archaeological evidence
indicates humans have lived around the springs and along
the rivers they feed for thousands of years, it is only in the
last century as Florida's population has mushroomed, that
humans have begun to negatively impact the state's fresh water
One of the keys to protecting Florida's springs is under-
standing exacdy how water moves through the aquifer. That's
what UF geological sciences doctoral student P J. Moore is
studying at one of the most unique areas in Florida's springs
Moore, 30, is focusing his research on a stretch of the
Santa Fe River that goes underground for more than six miles
through O'Leno State Park in High Springs.
Working with geological sciences Associate Professor Jon
Martin, Moore is using a variety of mechanical and chemical
techniques to track water in the Santa Fe River from when it
disappears beneath the surface at a point called the river "sink"
until it reemerges six miles later at the river "rise."
Moore is trying to understand how water moves between
large conduits like sinkholes and springs and the saturated
limestone "matrix" that surrounds them.
Moore's research has taken him a long way from his roots
in South Pascagoula, Miss., where generations of his family
have worked in the region's shipyards. He is the first member
of his family to pursue a doctoral degree.
While the focus of Moore's work is primarily the water-
rock interaction in carbonate aquifers, the knowledge gained
from this research is relevant to other aspects of fluid-rock
interaction, such as oil and natural gas reservoirs and ore
UF doctoral student PJ Moore prepares water samples from
O'Leno State Park for transport back to Gainesville where they
will be analyzed.
While most of Moore's research occurs in Florida, he also
makes several trips a year to the Bahamas for field data, as an
analog to his research on the Santa Fe River. He is able to
complete this research due in large part to a three-year Nation-
al Science Foundation grant he received in 2005.
Moore was drawn to UF to work with Martin after earning
his bachelor's degree at Mississippi State University, where he
worked closely with Professor John Mylroie, who was involved
in research similar to Martin's.
"I got involved with him and started going out to different
islands and doing all this research with him as an undergradu-
ate," Moore says. "I fell in love with it because of his passion.
"I pretty much knew coming in that this was what I
wanted," Moore says. "I wanted to become a professor at a
university and teach people and inspire them the way that I
had been inspired in the past by professors."
JILLIAN MILLS AND JOE KAYS
DOCTORAL STUDENT KATIE LUCANTE IS TESTING
HOW UF's AIR-COOLED SHOULDER PADS HELP
COMBAT HEAT ILLNESS
Rehabilitation sciences doctoral
R student Katie LuCante noticed a
serious heat problem while watching
football players at Oak Hall School
last spring -and she was just stand-
ing on the sidelines.
"I would watch them come off the
field, and I knew they were dehydrat-
ed LuCante says.
So, LuCante decided to join Mary-
Beth Horodyski, associate professor of
orthopaedics and rehabilitation, and
her research team on their studies of
an air-cooled Temperature Manage-
ment System, orTMS, shoulder
pads that blow cool air onto football
players on the sidelines during a game
The researchers have received a
grant from NFL Charities to conduct
a more exhaustive evaluation of the
LuCante is recruiting players for
the study in which they will have
their core body temperatures and
other parameters measured in a labo-
ratory environment while they com-
plete a series of treadmill exercises.
"The players will run on the
treadmill while wearing the pads, and
when they take a break we will shoot
the air under the pads," LuCante
says. "We can monitor their bodily
functions and check for heat stress.
If they start to experience symptoms
of serious heat stress the testing will
The researchers are using pills,
produced by Cortemp Inc. to moni-
tor players' core body temperature.
The players swallow the pills about
two hours prior to activity, and the
pills transmit their temperature to a
handheld device used by the athletic
trainer, LuCante says. This method
allows them to determine whether the
players are at risk for heat illness.
Nikolaus Gravenstein, one of the
University of Florida researchers who
came up with the idea for the pads,
says it's no surprise that hundreds of
football players -from high school
to the pros -suffer heat-related
illness every year and that more than
20 have died over the last decade,
given the insulating effects of football
equipment on the body. The worst
type of heat-related illness is heat
stroke, when the sweating mechanism
fails and the body is unable to cool
down. Symptoms may in-
clude confusion, strong rapid
pulse, dry flushed skin, lack
of sweating, possible delirium
"It's kind of like air
conditioning for the player's
S uniforms," LuCante says.
"It just seems so much easier
that when these players have
a break they can come off
UF football player Reggie Nelson
cools down with the TMS air-cooled
shoulder pad system.
the field and get hooked up to the
When players come off the field
after running a play an athletic
trainer hooks the player up to the
TMS through a tube in the shoulder
pad, where the system shoots cold air
direcdy under the pad. LuCante says
it's an efficient system, only taking
a few moments to click on and off.
They are also hoping to teach the
players to hook themselves up.
"Athletic trainers have a ton of
things they have to look for on the
field," LuCante says. "Heat illness is
just one of them, so if we can elimi-
nate the need for constant monitoring
of that, we could make their job a lot
LuCante also worked dosely with
Horodyski during her undergraduate
studies, so she was happy to make
the transition with her for graduate
"Dr. Horodyski is amazing. She's
really just looking to make life easier,"
LuCante says. "That's where her heart
is, to help athletes work to the best of
Sea Slugs on the Brain
DOCTORAL STUDENT SAMI JEZZINI SAYS TH
SLUG'S GIANT NEURONS OFFER A WINDOW I
HT TTM/ ANT NTp FP T Tc cYTFT/4
hN S'Sami Jezzini, along with a
purplish-brown sea slug weigh- -
ing in at about a pound, is filling
in a new world of knowledge.
Jezzini works in the emerging field
of genomics. While genetics studies
the single gene, genomics examines all
genes and their interrelationships, and th
way they affect the entire organism. Spec.I 4
izing in the brain and its neural cells, Jez: ....
investigates the activity of genes in nerve cells.
Human brains, even mouse brains, have such compli-
cated tissue structure and such small neurons that genomic
experiments with single neurons are almost impossible.
Enter Aplysia californica, the sea slug. With neurons measur-
ing up to 1 millimeter, or about one-twenty-fifth of an inch
-visible to the human eye -and with only 10,000 neural
cells (compared to a human's 100 billion), brain connec-
tions and activities are relatively simple to study
A doctoral student at UF's Whitney Laboratory for
Marine Bioscience, Jezzini examines how the brain processes
"When nerve cells undergo activity -when you have a
thought, when you remember something -what happens
in physical and chemical terms? We have no idea on a basic
level, without doing the kind of work we're doing."
Sea slug neurons have another advantage beyond size
and simplicity. Sea slugs and humans share many of the same
genes. Using genomic techniques, Jezzini identified genes
for potassium channels (which regulate the flow of potas-
-. ,, I-zzini in the lab
s lla IIInto and out
of cells and play
a role whenever
with each other)
in the Aplysia brain
t h a t are also found in the
human brain. Now Jezzini uses potassium channels as a
marker to identify specific neurons. Since these channels are
also present in many human brain cells, they are potential
targets for therapeutic drugs.
In any given human brain cell, says Jezzini, the un-
knowns are overwhelming. While every cell contains the
entire genome, different cell types only express a unique
fraction of the genome.
"We don't know how many or even what kinds of genes
are expressed in different neurons. Some of the Aplysia genes
that are very close to genes found in the human brain are of
unknown function, and being able to identify their presence
in neurons we can work with helps us figure out what these
genes do," Jezzini says. "Literally, what we're doing is map-
ping the expression of genes to identified neurons; the next
step is to use the neurons in experiments designed to figure
out what the function of the gene is.
Jezzini's chosen field of genomics integrates many
branches of science, including neurophysiology, bioinfor-
matics, genetics and molecular biology. Jezzini describes
himself as both a biologist and a neuroscientist.
"People ask me what I do. I say I'm a neuroscientist and
I work with sea slugs, and they say, 'What do you do?"'
Mapping gene function of the sluggish Aplysia brain
-which genes do what and where, and how they interact
with each other -brings our own brains into better focus.
"Imagine," says Jezzini, "how understanding the way
something works versus not understanding has implications
for understanding disease.
ENGINEERING DOCTORAL STUDENT DANNY KENT WAS
A LEADER ON THE UF TEAM WHOSE CAR COMPETED IN
THE $2 MILLION GRAND CHALLENGE RACE
In the first national robot car race two
years ago, the best-performing con-
testant traveled seven and a half miles
-an almost laughably short distance,
since the course was 142 miles.
The University of Florida's entry, a
modified 1993 Isuzu trooper, came in
eighth. But NaviGATOR traveled just
six tenths of one mile before running
off the road and becoming ensnared in
barbed wire. And that was its longest
That's when the UF team, including
engineering doctoral student Danny
Kent, knew they had to make some
changes in order to compete at the
second Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency Grand Challenge eigh-
teen months later.
The team rebuilt the car from the
ground up, starting with a Honda
Civic engine inside a blue tubular steel
frame. The car boasted 10 computers
and a wide array of other electronics,
including laser rangefinders and global
positioning system devices. NaviGA-
TOR traveled 40 miles in one test run
-only stopping when it reached
the end of its pre-planned route.
"In order to get ready for the
second race, four of us flew out to
the Mojave Desert and
drove around to get a feel for it and to
see what to expect," Kent says.
The members of Team CIMAR,
named for UF's Center for Intelligent
Machines and Robotics, were proud of
"Most of the people on the team are
people with diversifiable skills," Kent
says. "All of these diversities converge in
robotics, because you have to touch on
so many different things when dealing
with this kind of hardware. My skills
are more in the computer science soft-
ware design area."
On the day of the race, Kent led
everyone in a rousing rendition of the
Gator fight song as NaviGATOR left
About an hour into the race, Navi-
GATOR roared past the grandstand at
top speed to cheers from the UF team.
After following the road for awhile, it
stopped and did a couple of unexpected
loops in the dirt that were clearly not
part of the plan.
"Come on, get back on the road
again!," Kent urged, cheering when
NaviGATOR regained the road
banh and headed in the right
NaviGATOR next flawlessly tra-
versed a bridge over a railroad track
and disappeared into the brown desert
haze. After about two hours, the team
got word that the car had inexplicably
run off the road and stopped. Race
organizers got the car going again, but
after a short while, the car again got off
the road and stopped in front of a bush.
This time, DARPA quickly declared
NaviGATOR dead. It had traveled 23
miles and placed 18'" among the 23
"We will never know 100 per-
cent why it didn't complete the race.
However, we have a really good idea,"
Kent says. "For some unknown reason
our GPS ended up about 3 meters off.
That meant the vehicle thought it was
3 meters to the left of where it wanted
NaviGATOR is currency a research
platform for four doctoral students,
including Kent, and two master's
"The NaviGATOR was built for the
DARPA Grand Challenge race. How-
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DOCTORAL STUDENT J.C. ZANNIS EXAMINES THE INTENDED, AND UNINTENDED,
CONSEQUENCES OF EDUCATION PROGRAMS
Economics doctoral student J.C.
Zannis argues that quality educa-
tion is the best way to produce a high-
quality, highly skilled work force.
So it seemed natural for him to
pursue a degree in the economics of
"Children who do not learn funda-
mental skills at an early age are at a dis-
advantage that persists into adulthood,"
Zannis says. "These children usually
end up in low-skill jobs and often have
problems with the law. As a result,
I am especially interested in ways to
target disadvantaged children."
Zannis has been studying the im-
plications of Florida's Talented Twenty
Program, which guarantees admission
of the top 20 percent of Florida's high
school graduating classes into one of
the 11 state universities.
Zannis says that while some students
were motivated to work harder so that
they would qualify for the program,
others simply shopped for less-competi-
tive high schools.
"Say you're in the 75h percentile of a
good school. Are you going to move to
a poorer school where you're in the 25'h
percentile and you're guaranteed admis-
sion?" Zannis says. "Also, you may have
students who are in bad schools but are
doing really well. They might do better
if they went to a magnet program or a
better school, but they won't be in the
top 20 percent of their class, so they
won't switch schools, and it's actually
hurting their education."
Zannis is also studying a program
called Alachua County Scholastic
Chess, which teaches chess to middle
school students in hopes of improving
their spatial and numerical reasoning
Part of the program is the Alachua
County Scholastic Chess Challenge,
an annual middle school tournament
hosted by one elementary school in the
county Students at that elementary
school spend a year learning to play
chess, then host the middle school
tournament and compete against the
Zannis is trying to determine
whether the program has a positive
impact on student achievement. He
says the trick is determining whether
students perform better academi-
cally because they participated in the
program, or whether more academi-
cally gifted children are drawn to the
"Take for example a chess program
where half of a second-grade class
chooses to participate, the treatment
group, and the other half chooses not
to, the control group," Zannis explains.
"There is almost certainly something
different about the treatment group. If
the students who play chess do better
on standardized tests, we don't know
if it was because of chess or because
the students who chose to participate
were more motivated, smarter or
had more encouragement from their
parents. My research is concerned with
isolating and identifying the effects of
Wastewater Blues Go Green
MASTER'S STUDENT AARON MALEK STUDIES HOW
COW MANURE AFFECTS WATER QUALITY
F lordas sandy soils and plentiful
cows provide a perfect laboratory
for Aaron Malek's work. More than
milk comes out of cows, and farmers
spray the liquefied manure on their
grassland as fertilizer, a seemingly per-
fect example of recycling. But, Malek
says Florida's sandy soils pose problems
One of the nutrients in manure is
phosphorous, an element that nourishes
plants on land and in water. However,
phosphate-rich water plants will use
up oxygen in the water, choking out
other species life. Florida's sandy soils,
especially in the Suwannee River Basin,
a center for dairy industry, don't retain
water -the water passes through, into
the aquifers, and then onto the springs.
Malek, a master's student in the
School of Natural Resources and Envi-
ronment, studies the risks of repeated
"Dairy wastewater has about half or-
ganic phosphorous and half inorganic,
as phosphate. Phosphate can bind with
soil permanently while organic matter
can block the soil sites where phospho-
rous attaches, so it will go deeper into
the soil and possibly into the aquifer
and that's a concern."
Malek's research ties into the work
of Associate Professor Ann Wilkie, who
has developed an anaerobic digester
-a big tank full of little microbes that
eat the dairy wastewater. While Wilkie
works to harvest methane gas from the
digester, Malek examines the digested
"What the digester also does is min-
eralize a good portion of the phospho-
rous that is in organic form and turns it
into an inorganic form. My hypothesis
is that the increase in the inorganic
form will help the soil retain the phos-
In this way both dairy farmers and
the aquifer benefit -grasslands get to
keep more of the wastewater phospho-
rous and Florida springs don't suffer an
To test his hypothesis, Malek has
set up soil columns filled with three
common types of Florida soil. Some
columns get undigested wastewater,
others digested wastewater, and the rest
inorganic phosphates. Knowing the
concentrations of organic and inorganic
phosphorous going into the soil, Malek
then measures how much of each type
leaches out of the soil. Since the diges-
tion process also changes the nature of
the organic matter in the wastewater,
his research seeks to discover if the
change affects phosphorus leaching.
To get his experimental and very
raw material, Malek visits UF's Dairy
Research Unit in Hague, Fla.
"I sample the wastewater that goes
into the digester, that hasn't been
treated, and then I turn the spigot on
the digester and get the digested waste-
water," Malek says.
Friends joke about his research.
"They give me funny looks when I tell
them I work with wastewater. I have
to tell them accidents happen, that I've
been sprayed with wastewater, but it's
not so bad really." His worst experi-
ence came when a pipe fitting loosened,
spraying him in the face with liquid
Malek says his research is a way to
connect farmers and scientists. "My
long-term career goal would be some-
thing like this -bringing agriculture
and science together to better protect
J. 1- ,.
DOCTORAL STUDENT LORI WHITE SAYS COCHLEAR IMPLANTS GIVE
NEW OPPORTUNITIES TO PEOPLE WITH HEARING IMPAIRMENTS
U F audiologist Lori White says
Giving people with hearing
impairments a world of new opportu-
nities through cochlear implants is an
emotionally rewarding experience.
"For a child who was profoundly
deaf and now can hear," says White,
"the doors for their future -educa-
tionally socially and emotionally -are
opened much wider.
"Adults who lose their hearing typi-
cally become more reclusive and with-
drawn," she adds. "Once they get an
implant, they get this whole
Life back. They are
able to go to bingo
and hear their
A cochlear implant is an electrical
device that is surgically implanted into
the inner ear, called the cochlea. The
implant is comprised of two compo-
nents: an external speech processor and
an internal electrode array. The external
speech processor picks up sound,
modifies it into an electrical signal, and
sends it through the skin to the internal
electrode array. The internal electrode
array is surgically implanted in the ear.
It is made up of electrical contacts that
electrically stimulate the auditory nerve,
allowing people with hearing impair-
ments to perceive sound.
Although cochlear implants have
been proven to significantly improve an
individual's quality of life, White says
some recipients have better results than
White is part of a multi-disciplinary
team of audiologists, physicians and
basic scientists who believe the distance
between the electrode contacts and the
auditory nerve fibers leading from the
inner ear to the brain is a major factor
in cochlear implant performance.
The team is applying a new imaging
technique to document the distance
between the cochlear implant electrodes
and the auditory nerve fibers. The tech-
nique, which has been used for years
with dental implants, correlates a series
of X-rays to create a three-dimensional
image of the implanted device.
"MRI would be perfect, but there is
too much metal in the devices,"
White says, "so we are using this
X-ray technique to get a similar
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Mentoring students is only one
aspect of Goran Hyden's relationship
with the political science graduate
Since Hyden's arrival at the Univer-
sity of Florida in 1988, he has served
on 146 master's and doctoral graduate
committees in numerous academic
fields and chaired 33 doctoral com-
mittees. He also served as political
science graduate coordinator and on
the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
graduate committee for 3 years.
"Graduate students began, sympa-
thetically, referring to Professor Hyden
as 'the sofa' because he had too many
students to be a chair," says former
student Richard R. Marcus.
Despite the heavy workload, stu-
dents and colleagues note that Hyden is
always available for his students.
"A mentor is expected to provide a
definite measure of prescriptive advice
-at least a road map that would help
the graduate student find his or her
way with a dissertation project," says
Doctoral student Kenly Greer Fenio
says Hyden gives his students versatility
to "explore potential dissertation topics"
instead of trying to steer them into a
"My own mentoring and advising
has emphasized that a graduate student
is better off being versatile than trained
in just a single approach to the study of
politics," Hyden says.
Michael S. Kilberg's graduate
students know exacdy what to expect
when they enter his laboratory. Posted
on the wall is the motto, "Art is a pas-
sion pursued with discipline. Science is
a discipline pursued with passion."
"The message that I preach to my
students is to discover what they are
passionate about and pursue that topic
as a career," says Kilberg, a professor of
biochemistry and molecular biology
Seventeen students have earned their
doctorates under Kilberg, with three
more currently pursuing their degrees
in his lab.
"His love of science and dedication
to his 'lab family' (as he puts it) were
attributes of his mentoring style that
I have carried with me," says Barrie P.
Bode, associate professor of biology at
Saint Louis University. Bode says his
2003 college-wide mentoring award
was a direct result of his experiences
Kilberg's talks at international
meetings have left an impression on
Michelle Thiaville, a third-year student
in Kilberg's lab.
"Dr. Kilberg's love and interest in
science inspires his students to work
hard and to develop their own thoughts
and theories about current lab prob-
lems," Thiaville says.
"Guidance to begin one's career on
the right path through good mentor-
ship is the greatest gift that a faculty
member gives to their student," Kilberg
Leading one of the strongest inter-
disciplinary programs in agroforestry in
the country, Ramachandran P.K. Nair
encourages his students to think inde-
pendently but also to work as groups
and share their experiences.
"Dr. Nair's research and scholarly
work has provided him with opportuni-
ties not often available to younger fac-
ulty," says John G. Bellow, who earned
his Ph.D. under Nair. "His excellence
as a mentor is enhanced by his unfailing
willingness to share his insights, offer
encouragement as well as constructive
criticisms, and to assist his students to
work and study where they might not
His book, An Introduction to Agro-
forestry, has been translated into three
other languages and is the textbook of
"My graduate instruction is based on
the philosophy of providing an educa-
tion that enables students to develop
critical thinking and problem-solving
skills in natural resources and agricul-
ture/forestry interface, in both national
and international arenas," Nair says.
"My teaching and mentoring goals
and objectives are to familiarize the stu-
dents with the concepts and principles
of the subject matter, expose them to
rapidly emerging scientific paradigms
in these fields, prompt them to think
independently about the issues, and
broaden their outlook," says Nair.
DOCTORAL STUDENT RUSSELL DURING S RESEARCH SHOWS HOW ANTHRAX PARALYZES
THE BODY'S "FIRST RESPONDERS"
One of the first things people ask when they find out Rus-
sell During works with anthrax is "Isn't that dangerous?"
During, a doctoral student in microbiology and immunol-
ogy, assures them that the purified form of anthrax toxin that
he studies poses very little risk.
Then he tells them what he has learned about the deadly
bacteria that has been linked to a series of attacks in 2001 that
left five people dead.
Working with Dr. Frederick Southwick, chief of infec-
tious diseases at the UF College of Medicine, During helped
uncover how the inhaled form of anthrax disarms bacteria-
fighting white blood cells before they can fend off the disease,
which kills most victims within days.
The lethal toxin in anthrax paralyzes neutrophils, the white
blood cells that act as the body's first defense against infection,
by impairing how they build tiny filaments that allow them to
crawl throughout the body and eat invading bacteria.
Just two hours of exposure to the anthrax toxin blocks the
neutrophils' ability to produce these filaments by nearly 60
percent, paralyzing them and allowing the anthrax to move
freely in the body, During says.
"Neutrophils are the first responders, like the ambulance
going to the crash scene," says During. "For anthrax to get
established, it has to be able to thwart those first responders,
so we looked at what the toxin was doing to interfere with that
When researchers at the CDC looked at lung fluid from
victims of the 2001 attacks, they noted that the victims did
not have the elevated white blood cell counts typical for most
infections, and a large number of the inhaled anthrax bacteria
had spread from the lungs into the bloodstream.
This led researchers to believe anthrax may be impairing
the cells' ability to move and fight off the offending bacteria,
an idea that had only been studied once before years earlier.
Using blood samples from volunteers, the researchers stud-
ied how neutrophils reacted when exposed to a purified form
of anthrax lethal toxin. Low doses of the lethal toxin stopped
the protein actin from building filaments to steer the neutro-
phils, stopping the body's immune response.
"Neutrophils crawl around in the body and roll around
in the blood vessels and whenever they sense bacteria, they
gobble them up like Pac-Man," says During. "If neutrophils
I, -.3 4- r-.,
. I ;rl. I- I r
are the first responders and they never get there, you're fight-
ing a losing battle."
Although only 25 years old, During has considerable expe-
rience working with infectious diseases, going back to his days
as an undergraduate at Valdosta State University in Georgia,
where he conducted research on West Nile Virus.
During, who plans to become a physician's assistant in an
infectious diseases clinic as well as continue his research on an-
thrax after he finishes his Ph.D., says the team's findings could
lead to faster diagnostic tools for anthrax.
"There's no quick test for anthrax, so a few of the early
anthrax patients in 2001 were actually sent home with what
doctors thought was the flu," During says. "Unfortunately, by
the time the doctors realized what it was, it was too late."
During is an enthusiastic supporter of UF's Emerging
Pathogens Initiative, which aims to create a national center for
the study of new infectious diseases.
"Florida desperately needs a center to study emerging
pathogens, particularly because of its tropical climate and
tourism," During says. "I think UF is taking the correct
approach, involving researchers from agriculture, veterinary
medicine and medicine."
JOE KAYS AND APRIL FRAWLEY BIRDWELL
TREES "SPEAK" TO DOCTORAL STUDENT XIAOBO LI, OFFERING INSIGHTS
INTO THE QUALITY OF THEIR WOOD
Southern pine trees in Georgia and
Florida speak to Xiaobo Li. The
equipment he brings to the forest tells
him many things about the future
paper and wood products that might
come from these trees.
Southern pines are the most com-
mon commercial timber in the South,
and account for 58 percent of the
country's wood production. In Florida
alone, the pine industry is worth $16
Using ultrasonic technology, Li can
quickly determine the exact stiffness
of the wood. The faster the sound, the
stiffer the wood, and the more valuable.
An Alumni Fellow in UF's School
of Forest Resources and Conservation,
Li's research focuses on identifying the
genes that control wood property traits
in southern pines -physical traits,
such as microfibril angle, which deter-
mines how much the paper end prod-
ucts shrink or expand; wood chemistry
traits of cellulose and lignin that affect
the pulping process; anatomical traits,
such as the shape of the wood fibers;
and mechanical traits, such as stiffness.
The goal is to produce trees that
have many desirable traits and few un-
desirable ones. For example, says Li, "if
wood has more cellulose and less lignin,
we can have a greater efficiency in pulp-
ing, and also have more strength in the
timber products. It's also important for
conservation -if you produce more
wood of better quality in the same area,
you save land and resources."
New gene technology, along with
high-tech equipment such as pyrolysis
molecular beam mass spectrometers,
speeds up the whole process and allows
scientists to zoom in on the genes that
control the most desirable traits.
This approach, says Li, is highly
interdisciplinary and includes molecular
and cell biology, quantitative genetics,
statistics, Li's own field of forestry ge-
netics, and genomics, as well as equip-
ment borrowed from the chemistry
"It's a good combination of funda-
mental science and application," he
Li uses an approach called asso-
ciation genetics. More powerful and
precise than traditional gene mapping,
it takes unrelated trees with varying
levels of traits, such as greater or lesser
amounts of cellulose, and evaluates the
probability of a link between each trait
and 10,000 chosen gene markers.
Until recently, it was impossible for
Li, or anyone else, to do this kind of
research. Just as advances in gene iden-
tification technology and the decreasing
costs of that technology have made Li's
project possible, so he hopes his work
will make the development of more
useful southern pines possible.
In the meantime, Li enjoys his tree
time. "I like trees; I don't have a specific
reason for it, I just love nature. I enjoy
getting out into the woods, to see the
trees, to listen to the birds."
MOLECULAR BIOLOGY DOCTORAL STUDENT
ABEER AHMED KHALAF IS USING GENETIC
ENGINEERING TO PROTECT CITRUS FROM A
F lorida sacrificed more than 11
million citrus trees over the last 10
years in a desperate struggle to keep
citrus canker from spreading, but all of
that effort was wiped out in just a few
shorts hours last October when Hur-
ricane Wilma rampaged through the
heart of the state's groves, spreading the
bacteria far and wide.
When state and federal regulators
decided the devastating disease was
now spread too far and wide to make
eradication feasible, the work of people
like UF microbiology doc-
.I prudent Abeer Ahmed
S I I daf became even
l* ..lore important.
studies genes that
tance to citrus
members of the
citrus family are
i naturally resistant,
ind Abeer has shown
11 is the way their genes
ond to infection, and
.. ..st the waxy protec-
L .- u.Ling on the leaves,
that protects against the bacteria.
Infected citrus -grapefruits and sweet
oranges are especially susceptible -de-
velop ugly brownish yellow lesions on
fruit, leaves and stems. Both leaves and
fruit drop off the tree, leaving farmers
with blemished unripe fruit they can't
"It is the absence of the genes that
makes the grapefruit susceptible, rather
than having a susceptible gene," says
Abeer. And since kumquats cross
with other citrus, why not use genetic
engineering to move the genes respon-
sible for this resistance into oranges
and grapefruit? Abeer has now found a
pool of genes in the kumquat, some of
which provide protection.
"They're not all resistance genes.
Resistance is like a cascade; when a
pathogen invades a plant, the plant
responds by a cascade of genes becom-
ing either up- or down-regulated, where
each gene produces either more or less
of its specific protein." Abeer's job is
to figure out which gene causes which
response in this cascade.
A doctoral student in UF's Plant
Molecular and Cellular Biology Pro-
gram, Abeer uses a technique called
microarray analysis. She puts 2,000 of
her pool genes on glass slides, adds RNA
from infected and healthy plants, and
watches which genes are more expressed
in the kumquat plants upon infection.
"Ultimately if the plant has the
resistance gene which gives directions
to other genes in the cascade -some
of the defense genes downstream would
get up-regulated and the plant gets
resistant to this pathogen."
Pictured here is a grapefruit
covered with lesions as a
result of citrus canker
"So now we have some of the
resistance genes and some of the de-
fense genes in the kumquat, and we're
looking for which of these genes are not
present in grapefruit," says Abeer. "And
maybe ultimately we can transform
grapefruits through these genes and
make them resistant to canker."
Because it is so easily spread, state
regulations strictly limit citrus canker
testing. Healthy plants are brought to a
special greenhouse to be infected with
canker and then studied. Protection is
draconian; on leaving her sick plants,
Khalaf sprays herself all over with alco-
hol to kill any lingering bacteria.
"Farmers have been supportive of
the scientists working in this field,"
she says. "They hate to eradicate trees,
and they want other control processes
where they can keep their trees. They
know it'll take time, but it's better than
Rice is another plant with disease
resistance UF researchers have bor-
rowed for use in citrus. The grain has a
gene that provides protection from rice
bacterial blight, a disease closely related
to citrus canker.
Doctoral student Ahmad Omar has
been working for more than five years
on a project to transfer the resistance
gene to Hamlin orange trees. The first
of these trees are now being tested to
determine if they can resist the most
common strain of citrus canker bacteria.
If the test proves successful, the trees
will be field tested to evaluate their
ability to resist canker and produce fruit
in a real-world environment. Eventually
they could become the first canker-
resistant citrus variety UF makes available
I L W
Graduate Education: An Economic Engine and
Students and faculty in this edition of EXCEL highlight the excellence found in the University
of Florida's 10,200 graduate students and the 3,000 graduate faculty who mentor them. Graduate
students conduct research that directly benefits the economy of Florida and the nation. New technol-
ogies developed by faculty working in partnership with graduate students benefit Florida's economy
through patents, licensing and invention disclosures.
For example, Xiaobo Li, a doctoral student featured in EXCEL, is identifying genetic traits in
southern pines that could gready improve the efficiency of pulp processing and the quality of lumber.
His work will transition almost immediately from the laboratory to industry with significant economic
implications for Florida's $16 billion forestry industry.
Although the economic impact produced by our students is significant, many aspects of gradu-
ate education cannot be measured in economic benefits. Who can measure the value an education
adds to a graduate student's individual resources and quality of life? How can you assess the insights a
counselor provides to a family in distress? How does one weigh the potential importance of discover-
ing a water-covered planet? Likewise, can the pleasure derived from the beauty of poetry, music or a
painting and their calming influence on the human spirit be measured by a financial equation?
We are proud of the graduate students and faculty members featured in EXCEL and proud of all
the graduate students who make a difference in their disciplines and in society. After all, excellence in
graduate education defines this great university.
Kenneth J. Gerhardt, Ph.D.
*. UNIVERSITY OF Non-profit
FLORD U.S. Postage
CE News For & About PAID
University of Florida Gainesville, FL
G graduate Students Permit No. 94
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