Fifty years after graduating from the University of Florida, Ghazi Taki returned to Gainesville to accept the Gator100 award for the success of his rapidly growing company, Amazing Taste.
The first Gator100 awards were held in February 2015 to recognize the fastest-growing businesses owned or led by UF graduates.Taki graduated with a degree in meat science from the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences in 1965 and went on to develop a number of successful seasoning products. Taki said he would not be where he is today if not for his time at UF. "Everything I know about meat tenderness and juiciness, and how you make food taste good and convenient – that's all Florida," Taki said.
After receiving a bachelor's degree in Baghdad, Iraq, then moving to Stillwater, Okla., to earn a master's degree in meat science from Oklahoma State University, Taki came to UF to continue his education. Taki's unique research efforts at OSU caught the attention of several graduate programs throughout the nation, but Taki was convinced that UF could offer him more than any other school."I heard that Dr. Palmer was one of the phenomenal meat science professors, and I thought that was an opportunity that I should explore," Taki said.
Zane Palmer, past professor in the animal sciences department, served as Taki's advisor throughout the course of his Ph.D. program."He (Palmer) was tough, very determined, and very demanding, but it was all good," Taki said. "Everything he had me do was a phenomenal thing for my career, and for my future." As Palmer's only graduate student at the time, Taki got all of Palmer's attention. Palmer required that Taki take additional English language courses, retake organic chemistry courses, and even that he take several courses in the medical school to develop knowledge on specific technologies, Taki said. "He was very generous with his time with me, but had high expectations," Taki said. Palmer and the animal sciences faculty were working in collaboration with Publix Supermarkets during the time that Taki was a student at UF. "We worked very closely with Publix, and all this was evolving beginning at a time when Ghazi was here as a student, so he became acquainted with Publix," Palmer said. Several years after his graduation, Taki would meet Publix again when they became the first grocery store to sell his products, Taki said. Taki's success came as no surprise to Palmer. "He learned quickly. He was energetic, enthusiastic about his research and coursework, and he was a self-starter. He was ambitious. He set his objectives, and he persevered in the pursuit of these objectives," Palmer said. "All of these things, coupled with his pleasant, always cheerful personality, indicated that he should have a most successful career in the US- and of course, he did." Over the last 50 years, Palmer and Taki have maintained contact, and kept up to date with each other's progress and research, Palmer said. Now 93 years old, Palmer was in attendance with Taki at the Gator100 award ceremony in February. "I was very, very pleased," Palmer said. "I had followed his progress."
The team has spent several months studying more than 700 specimens of these beetles. They have conducted DNA tests and dissections and gathered detailed descriptions of each beetle for comparison, Harrison said.
After collecting data for almost a year, Harrison had the opportunity to travel to the Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C., to study the type specimens for these two species of beetles. Type specimens are specimens that are selected to be representative of the species as a whole, Moore said."I went there to photograph them and get data off the type specimens to determine if cyclocephala deceptor is really a different species or not," Harrison said. What Harrison and Moore didn't anticipate was the Smithsonian staff allowing Harrison to take the type specimens back to UF for further research. Having the ability to continue studying the specimens in the laboratory is a major advantage, Moore said. "I was uncertain that they would let them leave with an undergraduate student," Moore said. Moore explained that the Smithsonian houses a large collection of type specimens that are commonly used for research by many institutions. Although, it is much more common for graduate students and faculty members to be involved in these projects than undergraduate students, Moore said. "I'm excited, but I just know you have to be really careful with specimens like that, and you need to take care of them," Harrison said. Moore said he designed the project knowing that it would be a good opportunity for an undergraduate student to gain experience in research. Harrison said she had expressed interest to her professors and advisors to be involved with research, so when the opportunity arose, she was immediately recommended. "At the end of it, Stefani will have a paper, she'll have all this experience and all these professional connections," Moore said. "I designed this project with the specific intention to develop an undergraduate researcher. I knew we would have good results because I knew this was an interesting project." Although she would like to focus future efforts on live animals, Harrison said her involvement in this project has influenced her educational and career goals. "This project has definitely inspired me to push more towards beetles," Harrison said. "I've realized that Scarabs, and all beetles, are really awesome, but they're also not really acknowledged."