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IFAS Matters: A Message from Jack Payne, IFAS SVP
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Dear Friends,

Every day, before Nian Wang examines disease in his lab, he sees it through his windshield.
 
He gets a daily snapshot of a grove to his left as he cruises eastbound on Old Lake Alfred Road on his commute from his home in Auburndale to his lab at the Citrus Research and Education Center. From behind the wheel of his VW Passat, he witnesses in slow, agonizing real time the deterioration of the grove, the discoloring of the leaves, the warping of the fruit.
 
And he knows it’s his job to make that picture show run in reverse.
 
Even for the most cerebral of scientists, the search for solutions can get personal. If we’re not careful, that can hinder the search for truth. If we harness it properly, though, it can be an emotional tailwind.
 
In Wang’s case, when he drives by an afflicted grove, he feels the suffering of the people responsible for it and his mind begins to reel: Is it a third-generation grower preoccupied with preserving a family legacy? Fourth-generation? Fifth? As the money disappears, what else is disappearing from that grower’s family life?
 
Wang acknowledges that he feels the weight of an industry and a way of life on his shoulders as he tries to beat the clock that ticks for the life of Florida citrus.
 
Fortunately, it drives him to excel. There may be no silver bullet for citrus greening, but Wang may be onto the closest thing with his gene editing work. A new technique known as CRISPR has exploded into widespread use in science in the past two years. It involves tricking an organism into shutting off its own genes for a particular trait. Wang thinks he knows how to hit the off button in a sweet orange for susceptibility to citrus greening.
 
For sure, he has needed the best training, the infrastructure provided by a world-class research organization, funding from the Citrus Research & Development Foundation, from the USDA, and from the state Legislature, and an ambitious crew of graduate students and post-docs.
 
He also enjoys what we all benefit from as employees of a land-grant university: relevancy. Science in the service of society is embedded in our mission. We exist to make people’s lives better. When you can see the people – or even just their groves – it brings home just how important our work is.
 
It should also inform how we talk to people. We are all messengers for the power of science to improve the human condition. When we talk to people about our work, we’d do well to talk in stories. Tell them UF/IFAS researchers are people first. People who happen to be scientists. 
 
Wang is constantly exposed to tiny reminders of the future. They’re drawings by his 9-year-old daughter Isabella on Post-It Notes with which she has decorated his office. He knows his work could very well play a role in whether Isabella will be able to serve Florida orange juice to his grandkids some day.
 
Wang appears able to channel that motivation to give his work a push. It’s not going to guide his use of a microinjector or which scions to attach to which rootstocks in his experimental greenhouse.
 
But I think we get the best results if our work has meaning and purpose. I don’t know that Wang ever had to look beyond the lab to find it. He was attracted to come to UF/IFAS from UC Berkeley nine years ago because of his ferocious drive to confront a scientific challenge, and even back then he saw such a challenge in HLB.
 
Still, his daily commute and his daughter’s sketches are logs on that fire. All of us have these forces that drive us. So be on the lookout for them in your windshield. Please listen for them in the stories of your stakeholders. Learn from your sons, daughters, nieces and nephews.
 
There’s plenty of soul in science. If you can tap into it, you’re likely to enjoy your work more. And the people who are the reason you do the work just may enjoy the results more.

- Jack
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Follow Jack on Twitter!

Highlights

Researchers honored at 9th annual UF/IFAS FAES Research Award ceremony

Survey: Most Floridians concerned about food waste, safety

UF/IFAS researchers work to combat pasture weed

 
Ambrosia beetle spreads dangerous avocado pathogen
UF/IFAS researcher: With sod-based rotation, profits up, risks down

 
Globally recognized entomologist named interim director of UF/IFAS Indian River REC
UF/IFAS Chef Bearl teams up with Bok Tower Gardens for Outdoor Kitchen opening

 
UF/IFAS study: Citizen scientists can help protect endangered species
UF/IFAS study: More sea turtles survive with less beach debris

 
Nutrition labels may lead to buying more raw seafood

 
UF/IFAS study: Wood toxin could harm zoo animals
At UF/IFAS Plant Camp, science teachers learn to spread the word about invasive plants
 
UF/IFAS study could help cities improve tree planting
 
UF/IFAS helps local farmers break into the local food movement
 
Save the Date - Ag and Gardening Day 2016
Buy Your Tickets Today! 

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