ASU genetics student looks to address crop issues with genetics research

Senior Bruno Rozzi switched majors to study genetic modification in plants

Bruno Rozzi had just finished his sophomore year as a finance student at ASU when he came across a genetics book he had read once in high school.

Two years later, he was in a rainforest in Panama researching animal genetics for the Smithsonian Institute.

“I was set on doing finance, but I kind of liked doing science stuff back in the day – that's what I enjoyed,” Rozzi said.

Now Rozzi is one of four undergraduate students selected to work with four doctors at ASU’s Gaxiola Lab, which is a plant genetics research lab.

His team is working on ways to grow crops in unusual climates.

Rozzi said the team hopes their work will dispel pre-conceived notions that genetically modified crops are unhealthy.

“We’re trying to prove that GMO’s aren’t terrible," Rozzi said. "We’re doing it so plants will grow stronger by themselves, not with pesticides."

The technique involves pumping a complex proton gene into the plant’s roots, making it easier for the plant to grow with less attention and nutrients. 

The research team wants to eventually find a way to grow crops without using the pesticides that farmers use now, Rozzi said.

Rozzi said he hopes that his research will also one day help people in developing countries who have less access to food. 

Dan Guzman, a senior genetics student who works alongside Rozzi studying plant genetics, said the work Rozzi is doing can be helpful to solving food issues.

“Current food security issues already impact many worldwide," Guzman said. "The work he’s doing is seeking to provide us possible answers.”

Rozzi said it's possibilities like this that led him to quit his path to finance in the first place.

“I want to be outside and doing stuff. I can’t work a nine to five, I just can’t,” Rozzi said.

His first research project was in 2016 for the Smithsonian Institute. The research focused on the behaviors of shrimp and how climate change in their environment could possibly upset the rainforest ecosystem.

“It was super interesting work,” Rozzi said, but it still wasn’t the experience he was looking for. 

“I had been battling with giving up finance so I kind of went with any random opportunity to do research,” Rozzi said.

Rozzi said that from his point of view, plant research could be so much more useful for humanity than animal research. 

“I absolutely didn’t like working with animals – plants are so much more useful,” Rozzi said.

That’s when his passion for plant genetics was confirmed.

Rozzi said he wants to apply for the plant biology Ph.D program at the University of California, Berkeley after he completes his plant genetics research at the Gaxiola Lab.

“I think he deserves a spot in one of those programs," nutrition senior Mary Gibson, one of Rozzi’s classmates, said. "I really think he’ll be doing great work for the science community in a couple years.” 

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