Even when Matt Mattia was studying tomato breeding as a master’s student at the University of Florida (UF), he was dreaming of citrus.
Now a doctoral student at UF, he’s working toward achieving that dream of working in one of Florida’s most important industries. Thanks to the Hunt Brothers Fellowship, which funds graduate research in citrus, Mattia can live, work and study in the heart of citrus country at the Citrus Research and Education Center (CREC) in Lake Alfred, Florida. CREC is part of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS).
“The citrus industry is at a critical point in its existence, and I love working on projects that will help this industry succeed,” Mattia said. “There is an extraordinary amount of practical citrus information, hardcore science and real industry experiences that flow through the CREC. If it were not for the Hunt Brothers Fellowship, I would not be studying citrus breeding at the center.”
Mattia’s research focuses on phytochemicals, the health-boosting antioxidants found in citrus. He is investigating which genes are associated with these beneficial substances and approximating where they are located in the citrus genome.
“Once the genomic associations are known, we will develop molecular markers that will enable plant breeders to create new cultivars with enhanced human health benefits,” Mattia said. “Additionally, we will conduct a consumer survey to determine how much consumers are willing to pay for nutritionally improved cultivars. We expect that evaluating the phytochemical levels in newly released cultivars and marketing them as such may accelerate variety adoption driven by consumer demand.”
Mattia’s story is just one example of the impact the Hunt Brothers Fellowship has had for graduate students at CREC, said Michael Rogers, director of UF/IFAS CREC and professor of entomology.
“We won’t be able to combat present and future challenges in the citrus industry without the promising young scientists who come through the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center,” Rogers said. “Thanks to the Hunt Brothers Fellowship, we’ve been able to fund many graduate students over the years. The Hunt family’s generous support is an investment in the next generation of researchers who will be on the forefront of innovations in the industry.”
Frank and Ellis Hunt Sr. created the Hunt Brothers Fellowship in 1987. Founded in 1922, Hunt Brothers is a citrus growing, packing and shipping company operating in Polk County, Florida, where CREC is also located.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the UF/IFAS CREC.
“A century later, CREC still embodies the university’s relationships with citrus growers such as Hunt Brothers,” Rogers said. “We’re grateful for the support, and look forward to another 100 years of partnership.”
by Samantha Grenrock, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
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