The variety and abundance of plants, animals and insects in a given area define its environmental health. Each plays a critical part, and imbalances can lead to catastrophe, not only for the species but also for humans.
That delicate mix is what is known as biodiversity, and the state of Florida and the University of Florida are uniquely positioned to be at the vanguard of research aimed at maintaining it.
Florida’s ecosystems include more than 4,000 plant species, and the state supports the highest concentration of federally sensitive, threatened or endangered species per unit area in the country. On the other side of the equation are invasive species: More than half the plant life in South Florida is non-native, throwing that touchy balance out of whack.
Enter UF, home of the Florida Museum of Natural History, which houses more than 40 million specimens and artifacts and ranks as the second-largest university-based natural history museum in the nation, behind only Harvard.
The museum also is the home of iDigBio, the national center for creating a digital catalog of the Earth’s flora and fauna. UF’s standing as a national and international biodiversity leader is further strengthened by its status as both a land and sea grant university.
"The sheer breadth of biological expertise at UF, combined with the depth of bioinformatics and collection resources at the museum, place UF among the leading institutions in higher education to tackle the challenges of biotic diversity in Florida and the nation," said Florida Museum director Doug Jones.
How could UF make such a stellar biodiversity enterprise even more powerful? By hiring researchers who can help bring together the very best minds on campus in a variety of disciplines - microbiology, genetics, wildlife ecology, law, computing and a host of others – and adding their own expertise with the goal of focusing on a single goal.
Among the researchers already making great headway in the biodiversity effort is Leonid Moroz, a distinguished professor of neuroscience, genetics, chemistry and biology at UF’s Whitney Laboratory for Marine Biosciences, McKnight Brain Institute and College of Medicine. Earlier this year, Moroz made international headlines for becoming the first scientist to achieve genome-scale sequencing and analysis of fragile marine creatures at sea and in real time. On Moroz’s team was Gustav Paulay, an invertebrate zoologist with the Florida Museum.
The groundbreaking achievement, accomplished using UF’s HiPerGator supercomputer, means a rapid increase in the speed with which Moroz can gather information about disappearing species, some of which could hold the secrets for major medical advances and cures.
"We are in the midst of a genomic revolution," Moroz said. "Right now is the right time … We are in a race to save species; in 20 years some won’t exist. Losing them would be like losing the Sistine Chapel."
The consequences of not addressing biodiversity issues could be noticeable even on our dinner plates and in our gas tanks.
"We share the planet with plants and animals on which we depend for food, fiber and fuel. Biodiversity makes us less vulnerable to the loss of those organisms as the raw materials for our lives, and it strengthens our souls by surrounding us with life in myriad forms," said Jack Payne, UF's senior vice president of agriculture and natural resources. "The web of life is incredibly complex and can't be understood from any one perspective. UF's reinforced expertise holds the promise of making the planet and its people healthier."
To that end, under UF’s preeminence plan, UF will invest $725,000 to add five faculty members – two in the Florida Museum, two in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and one in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
"In this exciting and expanding field, UF can excel through the interdisciplinary approach of this investment," said David Richardson, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "The college will focus on biodiversity modeling, and we will build on our existing strengths in statistics, biology, and mathematical modeling of biological systems."
90 percent of the data that exists today was created in the last two years. UF wants it to serve us, not overwhelm us. With assistance from HiPerGator, the state's most powerful supercomputer, we'll figure out how to crunch the numbers in medicine, life sciences, education, and social science.
UF has initiated establishment of the UF Informatics Institute as part of the UF Rising Initiative. The UFII is focused on data science and informatics research relevant to solving problems in the Scientific, Clinical, Agricultural, Liberal arts, and Educational domains (SCALE). The UFII is composed of three major subgroups: (1) Problem domain specialists, (2) Algorithms and analysis experts, and (3) High-performance computing infrastructure.
By elevating its corporate and business law program to elite status, UF can make an enormous contribution to business formation and economic development in Florida. UF seeks a prominent scholar-lawyer with high-level government and/or private sector experience to help it rise.
Getting down to business...law
While images of young Southern Grisham lawyers or the cold ch-chunk of the Law & Order sound stamp rule the popular consciousness of Americans when it comes to the law, it's less sensational specialties such as corporate and business law that really impact lives on a daily basis.
In fact, your favorite courtroom drama is brought to you by the real legal world of business decisions, negotiations, technologies, contracts and compliance. No perp walks, confrontations on the witness stand and the public drama of verdicts. But corporate law codifies the trust that is the basis of business.
That kind of direct impact is the driving motivation behind UF Rising, the University of Florida's plan to become a top-10 public research university. A rise in the rankings is not an end unto itself. It's a signal that the University of Florida is increasing its capacity to make an impact on the world.
UF's Levin College of Law is adding a leading business and corporate law scholar to its faculty to boost its expertise in that area of law.
"Corporate law might not be in the forefront of the average person's thinking about business, but its presence is ubiquitous in our economy and our culture," said UF Law Dean Robert Jerry. "By bringing on a top-flight business and corporate law scholar to UF Law, we will both bolster the college's excellent faculty and be situated to leverage this professor's research and expertise to help the university as a whole."
That scholar is Professor Robert Rhee, who this fall will become Levin's John H. & Mary Lou Dasburg Professor of Law. He comes from the University of Maryland, where he authored articles on the credit rating industry, punitive damages and the relationship between tort and corporate law.
Yes, the term "research university" might paint a picture of white coats shuffling test tubes around in a sterile lab, but there are a multitude of factors that go into helping UF reach its preeminence goals, and business law is an important one.
In case it's not immediately clear how a legal expert in business law ties into UF's preeminence plan, consider this: business and corporate law intersects with just about every newly incubated company, emerging technology, market strategy, and business operation in the U.S. Indeed, business and corporate law is intertwined with almost every facet of our country's economic fabric.
It is anticipated that the new professor will be able to offer unique insights into "Big Data" issues in financial regulation, investment banking, distressed restructurings, private equity funding, debt and equity issuances, and fiduciary duty and governance in business organizations. This could also lead to an array of possibilities to work with other areas of the university, including the Warrington College of Business.
Over the next five years, the UF's preeminence plan aims to boost the school's already-strong reputation into the strata of the nation's top-ranked research universities. By procuring annual funding of $15 million annually over the five-year period from the Florida Legislature - and private funds matching up to $800 million - UF will bring in as many as 130 new faculty members in 26 research areas campuswide.
By choosing corporate law as one of the targeted research areas, UF has identified it as a field in which it can achieve preeminent status on the strength of its research. Yet it may have equal impact in Levin's training of a generation of lawyers who become the drivers of business formation and economic development in Florida. That would be a dramatic impact, if not a made-for-TV drama.
Cybercriminals and terrorists have attacked everything from ATMs to banks to military stealth drones. Personal information, such as medical and financial records, is at risk. UF intends to build already strong engineering research in the area into one of the 10 best public cybersecurity programs in the nation.
Drug Discovery and Development
UF will recruit a scientific team to advance its expertise in the discovery and development of drugs to treat obesity, neurological disorders and cancer. The newcomers are expected to attract millions of dollars in federal and other research funding, allowing UF to make a greater contribution to health.
Food Security, Safety and Distribution Systems
For what it costs to feed 130 American families for a year, the University of Florida plans to devise a way to feed the world - indefinitely. UF intends to harvest the experts it needs to become an international leader in making sure the world's burgeoning population doesn't outrace food production.
UF's plan to feed world combines fertile land, fertile minds
For what it costs to feed 130 American families for a year, the University of Florida plans to devise a way to feed the world -- indefinitely.
With $1.45 million, UF intends to harvest the experts it needs to become an international leader in making sure the world's burgeoning population doesn't outrace food production.
"The fate of our societies is heavily dependent on this," said Jack Payne, senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. "We're long past the era where we can find the solution in more acreage. We need to find it in new ideas."
There will be a projected 9.6 billion people to feed in 2050. But seemingly every factor influencing production conspires against the food supply keeping pace. Farms are being transformed into subdivisions. The water supply is shrinking. Increasing regulation makes food production more expensive. Globalization gives diseases and pests more opportunities to hitchhike across borders and even oceans.
"It's a wonder that any food ever ends up on our plates," Payne said.
UF has expertise in many individual legs of that longshot journey. Its plant geneticists know how to breed a better tomato. Its professors expertly analyze pricing. Other Gators do sophisticated decades-long forecasting so farming can adapt to climate change. UF even has researchers working on better ways to package produce.
But no one has the 30,000-foot view to assure that the better-tasting tomato clears all the hurdles to make it into your salad. Payne and his colleagues have in recent years talked of how some big-picture intellects could help them forge a more efficient farm-to-fork chain. They're called systems thinkers. They're experts in understanding how all the parts involved in feeding the world fit together.
The call from the provost for ideas on how to use preeminence funding - a state award to UF to boost its national standing in various academic specialties -- galvanized Payne and leaders from the colleges of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Engineering, and Public Health & Health Professions to propose a Food Systems Hub. Using part of that funding, they intend to recruit a Hub brain trust that will lead UF to a place among the top five institutions in the world in food systems.
They want to do for food production something akin to what UF's Clinical and Translational Science Institute aspires to achieve for drug development. Both seek to stop leaks in the pipeline that slow down or even prevent discoveries from reaching their intended beneficiaries - the sick or the hungry.
"Our team recognizes that feeding the world isn't just a farming challenge. It's an environmental challenge, a design challenge, transportation challenge. It takes people from all kinds of backgrounds to figure out the most efficient way to meet all those challenges simultaneously so we can do the most good," said Cammy Abernathy, dean of UF's College of Engineering.
Abernathy, Payne and others aim to bring to UF an all-star team in big-picture thinking - the kind of thinking that prompts a university to aspire to feed the world.
Historical and Environmental Archaeology
UF has the largest collection of Spanish American colonial artifacts in the world. Its management of a 5 million-piece collection and its continuing work bringing St. Augustine's history to life will strengthen the state's tourism industry and give us a better understanding of our past.
Digging the way to the top
An important part of Florida's story remains buried in soil and in misconceptions. The University of Florida is about to step up its ongoing efforts to unearth it.
The $150,000 in preeminence money that President Bernie Machen and Provost Joseph Glover have allotted for UF's Florida Museum of Natural History will build on that to hire a visionary fluent in sifting soil and in storytelling. It's a fuse to launch UF from very good to great in historical archaeology.
It's also a remedy for what Floridians regard as the high crime of missed opportunity. Tourists spent $72 billion in the Sunshine State in 2012. An even more compelling St. Augustine holds the promise of opening those wallets wider - creating jobs and contributing more to state revenues.
"If visitors' next stop after the theme parks and the natural wonders is the airport, then we're leaving money on the table," said Douglas Jones, director of UF's Florida Museum of Natural History. "And we're not sending people home with the whole truth about Florida. People are still attracted to the real thing. We need to show people the original, not just an image."
The museum is looking for an anthropologist with expertise in colonialism to manage UF's research, education and interpretive programs in St. Augustine and elsewhere. The new scholar and leader will also teach and mentor students. Three endowments are already in place to support the appointee's research.
Long before Florida was the launch pad for moonshots, it was the moonshot. St. Augustine was the country's first European settlement. Yet the earliest New World colonization is often associated with a rock or the daughter of a Native American noble.
UF is setting out to restore Florida's rightful place in the national narrative. It's an ambition made possible by preeminence money - state funding designed to build on areas where UF is already strong and making it a national leader.
UF is strong in historical archaeology. It's five years into the latest remake of St. Augustine to get it ready for its 450th birthday in 2015. It recently reopened Government House, the centerpiece of the historic district, with an exhibit about the Spanish colonial era based largely on the scholarship of UF museum researchers. Learn more about UF's St. Augustine work.
Through six decades of historical-archaeological research in the Southeast and 40 years of running archaeological field schools in St. Augustine, UF has amassed the largest collection of Spanish American colonial artifacts in the world.
"We're the place everyone looks to for true Spanish Florida," Jones said.
Now, 500 years after Ponce de Leon's arrival in Florida, UF seeks a leader to ensure that people keep looking.
Latin American Development
UF wants to bring new expertise into the oldest Latin American studies program in the nation to help lift a continent out of poverty - and to do it in a way that protects the environment.
Protecting the planet, one hemisphere at a time
In a state with a 1,200-mile coastline, the flagship university sees science and statesmanship, not just sandbags, as the response to a projected catastrophic sea level rise.
The nation's oldest Latin American studies program is recruiting three experts to accelerate UF's work on sustainable development. It's among the biggest of global challenges -- how to pursue prosperity and protection of the planet simultaneously.
It's just the kind of big question President Bernie Machen and Provost Joseph Glover wanted raised as they allocated state funding designed to help boost UF to top 10 status among U.S. public universities. Director Philip Williams said the $300,000 for UF's Center for Latin American Studies, matched by an additional $150,000 from the Center, can be a "game-changer" in establishing UF as a leading source of expertise on matters from Havana to Tierra del Fuego.
"The stakes are huge for Florida," Williams said. "With a few more top minds, UF can play a more influential role in producing good science and new knowledge and translating it into good public policy in Latin America."
Smarter and more sustainable policy could result in busier ports and more lucrative export markets for Florida. Seven of the state's 10 largest trading partners are Latin American countries.
UF also aims to slow the deforestation that a scientific consensus links to global warming, which in turn feeds sea level rise. That's why carving roads into the jungles of Ecuador and Brazil should be of concern to every merchant on Key West's Duval Street who already keeps sandbags near the door or anyone who beholds the sea walls that protect historic St. Augustine from inundation.
Of course, the University of Florida can't hold back the sea. But it can help turn the political tide with science-backed sustainable development, protecting the environment while helping lift a continent out of poverty. The center with the 84-year history is looking decades into the future.
The ability of the center to bring multiple areas of expertise to bear on the continent's challenges already gets financial backing from the MacArthur and Ford foundations, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
"Saving an acre of forest is an incredibly complex undertaking," said Bette Loiselle, director of the center's tropical development and conservation program. "It requires ecologists who understand how forests function, anthropologists who interpret the broader cultural context of resource use, economists who specialize in agriculture and natural resources, and development experts with a deep knowledge of the history and politics of South America, all working together."
As part of the top 10 push known as UF Rising, the center envisions assembling a research team that takes advantage of UF's wide array of expertise by including specialists in agriculture, tropical ecology, medicine, law, politics and economics.
The new faculty members will likely speak Spanish, Portuguese, and other languages of the region, increasing Florida's capacity to talk to the world. Their fluency in the languages of science and diplomacy increases the chances they'll also change the world.
The time from discovery of a new material to its use in health care, national security, energy or consumer technology can be more than two decades. UF is recruiting new engineering researchers who can lead a push to shorten that generation-long lag.
Mathematical Modeling of Diseases
UF has a plan to become a top-10 institution in mathematical modeling of the spread of infectious disease. The idea is to bring in mathematicians, geographers and biologists to work with UF's existing public health experts to explain and even predict where disease will strike next.
Maps, math and medicine
To really fight disease with medicine, first you need to fight it with math and maps.
"We can't vaccinate every person and every animal for every disease," said Jason Blackburn, director of the Spatial Epidemiology and Ecology Research Laboratory and a researcher with the University of Florida's Emerging Pathogens Institute. "So we combine equations and geography to figure out how can we control the most disease with the least vaccine. It's bang-for-your-buck research."
To do this work well, it also helps if you're willing to don a Tyvek suit and latex gloves and harvest anthrax from a dead animal. More on that later. UF is looking for mathematicians first.
With the addition of four experts who can use numbers to describe how disease spreads, UF's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and EPI expect results - more grant funding, more discoveries published in academic journals and a burnished reputation as one of the top 10 institutions in the nation for expertise in infectious disease.
UF chose mathematical modeling and mapping of disease as one of 26 research areas in which it will concentrate a total of as many as 130 new faculty hires to boost its national stature and its contributions to the world. UF Rising combines state money, which will cover $300,000 of the expense of the expansion, and a $500,000 investment from the EPI.
In the case of predicting when, how and where disease will spread, UF research has already reduced the number of school days children miss and likely saved lives by guiding response to pandemics.
"We're just a few mathematicians away from making an immensely greater impact," said Dr. Glenn Morris, the EPI's director. "This is one of the most dramatic ways UF can alleviate untold human suffering worldwide."
One of UF's strengths is globetrotting to the source of disease. Morris has been shuttling to Haiti since the 2010 earthquake to oversee the establishment of a UF-run cholera lab in response to the nation's first cholera epidemic in over 100 years. EPI researchers have worked on TB in Uganda, bird flu in China, and disease in at least 34 other nations.
Going to the far reaches of the planet is in Florida's interest. The state's climate is hospitable to all sorts of germ invaders. Its many ports and millions of annual visitors give pathogens myriad ways to gain a foothold here. And the substantial role agriculture and tourism play in its economy make it especially vulnerable to economic damage from disease outbreaks.
Even closer to home, Alachua County public schools have received national recognition from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the flu vaccination program that EPI helped launch.
Blackburn's work on anthrax has taken him to the hill country of West Texas to collect anthrax samples from dead deer and to the mountains of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to talk to villagers about their health behavior. The fieldwork gives him the insight to ask better questions of the data he uses to map the spread of invisible pathogens.
"This wouldn't work so well if we didn't already have so many pieces in place. We've got expertise, labs, computing power and a comprehensive university that can bring multiple disciplines to bear on disease," Blackburn said. "A few more talented team members can really help us change the world for the better."
UF has one of the nation's six federally funded centers that focus on the chemistry that occurs inside our cells. Identifying the molecules that contribute to metabolism allows researchers to better understand disease, genetic mutations, and the influence of environmental factors on growth and development. UF's new hires will use metabolomics to discover more about agriculture, animal science, and human health.
Our microbes outnumber our cells by 10 to 1. Especially in the lining of our gut, those microbes can be friends that help deliver nutrients or foes that cause pain and disease. UF is striving for international prominence in the kind of science that could lead to breakthroughs in Crohn's disease and colon cancer.
Gutsy job - Attacking Crohn's Disease, Colon Cancer on Microbial Level
Yogurt's takeover of the dairy aisle is occurring in part because of the kind of work Mansour Mohamadzadeh does in a University of Florida lab.
UF has set out to become an international leader in mucosal immunology - how microbes interact with your gut and immune system. Success could mean a solid scientific grounding for prescribing 5.3-ounce cups of creamy snacks and the "good" bacteria they contain to help prevent the suffering and premature deaths of millions.
So far, the marketing is ahead of the science, though.
Studies do suggest a connection between the bacteria in the gut and Crohn's disease, Celiac disease, autism, obesity, colon cancer and more. But most of the findings result from work with mice, and in UF's labs, zebrafish. Researchers face a difficult task proving that probiotics - swallowing beneficial bacteria - promotes human health because it's nearly impossible to control what people eat short of sequestering them in a lab for days.
It's a field of research crucial to human health, since microbes outnumber cells by 10 to 1 in our bodies. But the study of distinguishing good from bad bacteria, figuring out how they interact with the lining of our mouths and guts, and decoding the talk between those linings and our immune systems is a relatively young area of inquiry. UF has one of the nation's few centers for mucosal immunology, and it has a plan to recruit experts with the ability to acquire the knowledge, the research funding and the collaborators across campus and around the globe to make breakthrough discoveries.
The plan is financed in part by UF's Preeminence Plan, the push to assemble the faculty, students, buildings and programs necessary to improve on the measures of success used by so many ranking systems. The state has awarded UF $15 million a year for five years to support its drive for national preeminence, and the university is matching that amount with privately raised funding. The Center will get $500,000 of that to help cover the salaries of five new researchers.
"We're looking for very specialized minds. We believe we'll accelerate discovery by assembling a braintrust that's not only on the cutting edge of the biology but experts in techniques, including the use of sophisticated cell imaging and the crunching of huge amounts of data," said Robert Burne, associate dean for research at UF's College of Dentistry and coordinator of the project, along with Dr. Mohamadzadeh and Dr. Rob Hromas from the College of Medicine. "There aren't many out there. UF's Preeminence Plan gives us a better chance at luring them here."
Within the last two years, UF has put together an A team by bringing in Mohamadzadeh from Northwestern University to lead the center and world-renowned mucosal immunologists Christian Jobin from the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) and Ellen Zimmerman from the University of Michigan to reinforce the research efforts.
Now the College of Dentistry is teaming with the colleges of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine to bring together the interdisciplinary expertise necessary to take on such complex medical challenges.
Solutions are unlikely to be as simple as "Eat this, not that." Nonetheless, UF's work at the molecular level aims to put immense powers of health in your hands as you reach onto the refrigerated shelves of your supermarket.
"We can't wait to have the new hires join our team, because we know people with Crohn's disease can't wait, and diabetics shouldn't have to continue worrying that what they eat will trigger an attack," Mohamadzadeh said. "We do this work at a microscopic level, but we never lose sight that this is about people's health."
Neuroscience and the Brain
A third of all human disease is related to the nervous system. Understanding the structure and function of the brain will lead to therapies for brain disorders. UF plans to be a major player in President Obama's recently announced decade-long brain research initiative that will start with a federal government investment of $100 million.
Neuroscience initiative aims to get inside your head
An estimated 50 million Americans will be affected by a neurological disease this year. And without a response from the scientific community, the challenge could get steeper: dementia rates are projected to triple in the next 40 years as Baby Boomers age.
"If we're going to make progress we need to put additional science to work," said Michael G. Perri, Ph.D., dean of the University of Florida's College of Public Health and Health Professions.
That's why the university has made a $2.2 million investment in attracting top neuroscience researchers as part of UF's efforts to raise its national standing and its impact on the world. The "Neuroscience and the Brain" initiative is the second-largest of UF Rising's 26 research areas, and Perri brought together the participation of the colleges of Medicine, Public Health and Health Professions, Engineering, and Liberal Arts and Sciences, as well as the McKnight Brain Institute and several research centers.
Perri and his colleagues believe that with key faculty hires, UF will become a leading institution of cutting-edge brain research and play a major role in the federal Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, or BRAIN, Initiative, which is expected to award grants that will total billions of dollars over the next 10 years.
Neuroscience research took a major leap forward in 2013 with the launch of the BRAIN Initiative. The federal effort supports the development of new technologies to produce dynamic images of brain function with the eventual goal of treating, curing and preventing brain disorders.
In announcing the initiative, President Barack Obama called it "the next great American project."
"As humans, we can identify galaxies light years away, we can study particles smaller than an atom. But we still haven't unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears," he said.
UF has extensive neuroscience expertise and infrastructure, most notably through the McKnight Brain Institute, one of the nation's most comprehensive and technologically advanced centers devoted to understanding how the brain works. More than 300 UF faculty members from 10 colleges are conducting research in areas such as age-related memory loss, brain cancer, central nervous system injury, neurorehabilitation, mental health, and neurological disorders, including Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and epilepsy.
UF is particularly interested in hiring 10 to 12 scientists in three strategic areas where existing expertise, combined with the talents of the new faculty members, could have the greatest impact on treatment advances. The first is neuroimaging and mapping, which involves capturing real-time images of the brain to better understand its structure and function. Researchers working in therapeutic and biomarker discovery will develop and test new treatments that may include gene therapy and medications. A third research area focuses on designing rehabilitation strategies that draw upon the brain and nervous system's ability to adopt new functions or reorganize existing ones following injury or disease.
With the pieces in place, UF can accelerate research on several conditions, including age-related cognitive decline and neurological diseases that cause memory deterioration. And time is of the essence for the tens of millions of Americans and their families whose lives could be improved through a better understanding of how to protect and treat the brain.
Global Health Initiative
UF plans to build on its strengths in both veterinary and human medicine to become a world leader in the science of infectious and zoonotic diseases such as SARS, dengue, and West Nile virus. This is especially crucial given Florida's location as a gateway for invasive species and disease.
For all species, One Health
While it's been busy saving and extending the lives of billions of people, medicine has given scant attention to one of its own centuries-long afflictions - a tendency to divide itself by the species of the patient.
For centuries, doctors worked mostly separately from veterinarians and plant experts on the causes, transmission and treatment of disease.
That's what gives the University of Florida's One Health initiative historic potential. One Health is a national movement to integrate the work of researchers in human, animal, environmental, and public health, but UF aims to become a global leader in it. Its efforts are getting a boost from $500,000 in state money earmarked to help UF rise to top-10 status in numerous fields.
The particular medical challenges targeted by UF One Health will be determined later. For now, UF intends to bring in the best scientists it can find and put them in an environment where they can make a strong team even better.
The best scientists will certainly be those who know the most about their field, demonstrate the greatest mastery of technique and devise the most insightful hypotheses to guide research. But these Renaissance men and women will have skill in forming relationships with people outside their species of focus. These will be people who know their limits - and who can push beyond those limits to attack a problem from multiple angles, whether it's checking the spread of insect-borne disease or identifying the source of food contamination.
"Because we want to make the greatest possible impact, we can't tell you what we'll be working on until we know what we get the expertise in. This new braintrust could take us on any number of paths, and all of them lead to better health for both people and animals," said James Lloyd, dean of the UF's College of Veterinary Medicine.
Just as a cardiologist and a radiologist can do more together than separately in determining what's causing your heart troubles, so can a medical researcher, a public health expert, and a veterinarian learn more by collaborating on zoonotic diseases.
The collaboration starts at the top. The deans of the College of Veterinary Medicine and the College of Public Health and Health Professions, the leadership of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), and the director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute must agree on which scientists can help propel UF to the top in One Health, regardless of which department, institute or college the newcomers work for.
The stakes are high. The increasing movement of people, animals, plants and goods present myriad opportunities for the movement of disease. The complex global food supply chain introduces worrying possibilities for contamination. Research indicates that climate change is driving the movement of species and the emergence of pathogens in previously unaffected areas. And bioterrorism presents the threat of a sudden and catastrophic public health calamity.
The new investment in bringing the fight to health threats is likely to go farther at UF than it would in most places because the backbone of collaboration is already here. UF is one of just a handful of research universities with colleges of medicine, public health, veterinary medicine, other health sciences and agriculture all on one campus. Throw in the Emerging Pathogens Institute and the Clinical and Translational Science Institute, and you've got an academic neighborhood where great minds can meet for lunch today instead of waiting for the next professional conference to talk face-to-face.
So UF was already working on collaboration before preeminence money came along. But the scientists likely to arrive this year will be hired with orders to make UF a go-to institution as medicine looks to heal itself.
Optimizing Early Childhood Interventions
UF has a vision to put all we're learning about the brain to use in daycare centers and preschools. Improved teaching during a child's first five years can produce a lifetime of benefits, particularly for children in poverty, with autism, or with other circumstances that threaten to prevent them from reaching their full potential.
UF is on a push to become a top-10 university in plant biology research. The research results in improved crops and food that is tastier and more nutritious. Such advances have immense impact in a state where half a million people are employed in the agriculture industry.
STEM Translational Communication Research
Scientists speak their own language. UF is investing in figuring out what goes into a successful translation - how, when, where, and to whom to deliver potentially life-saving information.
Africa has many of the world's fastest growing economies - and many potentially catastrophic health threats. Already, the U.S. departments of Education, Defense and State tap UF's expertise about the continent. UF's Center for African Studies will bring in more minds to study problems such as infectious disease, food shortages and lack of sanitation.
UF has developed hurricane drones - tiny planes that can fly into a hurricane and provide real-time data that meteorologists and emergency officials can use. UF is looking to expand its expertise in unmanned vehicles to monitor farms and forests, to transport people or even to explore space.
UF gets 500 applications a year for 12 spots in its creative writing program. Professor Jill Ciment's latest book is being made into a movie starring Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton. UF is striving to become one of the top 10 programs in the country in part by adding to the number of prestigious Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships its faculty has won.
UF is a leader in enabling doctors to pinpoint the medicine that will work best on an individual patient through analysis of their genes. With the expertise and leadership of new faculty hires, we'll expand our ability to pioneer and prepare for more comprehensive approaches to genomic medicine in everyday health care. That means your doctor will be able to go beyond evidence that suggests what works for most people and look at your genetic fingerprints to see what works best on you.
Obesity has surpassed smoking as the number one cause of preventable death in the U.S. Doctors prescribe diet and exercise, drugs, or surgery. UF is looking for a fourth way. New researchers could help UF come at the epidemic by using an addiction treatment approach, focusing on biological causes of appetite, exploring social factors, and updating physicians' practices.
Millions of students enroll in Web-based courses, but online pedagogy is in its infancy. UF will establish an R&D arm of its new undergraduate online operation. Possibilities include tailoring instruction in response to students' keystrokes, teaching through gaming, searching a semester's worth of video lectures with a single keyword and apps to open textbooks and connect to tutoring from a smartphone.
Renewable Energy and Storage
Florida is renowned for a renewable fuel supply - the sun. Not enough is known about how to store it. UF already has leading-edge facilities at its Energy Research and Education Park. The university will bring in more engineers to ratchet up efforts to bottle sunlight.
Skeletal Muscle Biology
UF wants to find the first powerhouse drug to preserve muscle mass in the aged, cancer patients and other ill people. UF plans to build on its nationally recognized excellence in the field to put it at or near the top with advances in regeneration of muscle, prevention of age-related muscle loss, and more.
Smart Polymer Nanomedicines
The advent of materials so tiny they can enter a cell makes possible all kinds of treatments and diagnostic tools for disease. UF is assembling a team of engineers, biologists and medical researchers who can bring instant attention to the university's status as a leading institution in nanomedicine.
Social Network Analysis
Studying the relationships that connect people can better inform us in our efforts to fight terrorism, uncover money-laundering, predict the spread of disease, estimate the size of hard-to-count populations and much more. UF plans to bring together engineers, computer scientists and others to help unlock complex relationships.