My research is focused on the genetic improvement of apple and the introduction of new cultivars. Our goal is to produce superior, high-quality apple varieties. Reduced reliance on chemical control is also a goal, where possible. Traditional breeding is integrated with marker-assisted selection. Research areas include the study of pre- and postharvest fruit quality, nutritional components, plant form, and resistance to fungal (apple scab, cedar apple rust, powdery mildew) and bacterial diseases such as fire blight (Erwinia amylovora). Additional genes of interest are being investigated. Results of genetic studies, and our participation in RosBREED 1 and 2, indicate excellent prospects for improvement of many traits. The collaborative research at Cornell, and with other programs, has yielded tremendous results. Markers are being sought for both qualitative and quantitative traits. Genetic progress has been excellent, but there are always research areas needing further investigation.
Faculty responsibilities include plant breeding activities related to international agriculture; maintaining a liaison with national and international agencies, foundations and centers and arranging for students to conduct research abroad in cooperation with appropriate institutions; serving as a member of the Graduate Faculty in the Field of International Agriculture as well as the Field of Plant Breeding; serving as an advisor to students interested in plant breeding as it pertains to international agriculture, particularly students from other countries and those interested in conducting research abroad.
I also serve as Director of International Programs (IP) for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). IP/CALS provides support for the international activities of CALS faculty, students and staff covering a wide range of efforts: scientific exchanges, overseas research, undergraduate and graduate education, professional development, short courses, technical assistance, advising, publications, and other outreach. Major projects related to plant breeding include the Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) project and the NextGen Cassava Project.
Additional Field membership: International Agriculture.
My research is focused on the genetic improvement of potato. I oversee the Cornell potato breeding program, which develops new varieties that are adapted to the environment of New York and neighboring states, and conduct basic research aimed at cloning the genes underlying several morphological traits. The emphasis in variety development is to combine resistance to the golden nematode and scab with other attributes needed in a successful variety. Target market niches include round white varieties with resistance to low temperature sweetening and high dry matter for the chipping industry, and round white and red-skinned cultivars for fresh market use. The recent resurgence of late blight and discovery of race 2 of the golden nematode in NY have led to markedly increased efforts to breed for resistance against both of these pathogens.
Laboratory research centers on the characterization and cloning of genes influencing tuber shape and pigmentation. A better understanding of how these characters are controlled should lead to a more rational and directed improvement of potato appearance, upon which most purchasing decisions are based. Molecular genetic approaches are also being used to simplify the process of selecting desirable clones in the breeding program. Our current target is to develop diagnostic markers linked to processing quality.
My research lies in the area of comparative genomics, molecular systematics, and genome evolution. Nearly all work in my lab involves polyploidy—whole genome duplication—which is a common phenomenon in plants, including many crop species. Much of our work focuses on the legume family, particularly in soybean and its wild perennial relatives (Glycine), where several cycles of polyploidy are known to have occurred. Perennial soybean relatives are of interest as sources of biotic and abiotic stress resistance for soybean, and we assaying genetic diversity across this group, which includes numerous un-named species, and studying resistances in several species, notably to white mold, an important soybean pathogen. Much of our work focuses on recently formed (less than 500,000 years) allopolyploid fixed hybrids, with a goal of understanding the impacts of allopolyploidy on phenomena such as photoprotection, nodulation, and transcriptome size evolution. In addition to Glycine, students and postdoctoral fellows in the lab have worked on polyploid cultigens such as autopolyploid alfalfa, the tetraploid Ethiopian grain, tef (Eragrostis tef), the octoploid Andean tuber crop, oca (Oxalis tuberosa), the autopolyploid dragonfruit cactus (Selenicereus megalanthus), as well as plants of medicinal interest such as pot marigold (Calendula officinalis, a tetraploid), economically important weeds such as tetraploid johnsongrass (Sorghum halepense), and plants of conservation interest such as species of the genus Amorpha, which includes diploids and tetraploids. Systematics studies in the lab typically involve the identification of the genomic origins of polyploids. Comparative genomic studies address the impact of polyploidy on genome evolution, emphasizing particular gene families. Collaborative projects focus on the impact of polyploidy on cell biology with the goal of elucidating the earliest effects of genome duplication. I teach PLBIO 4470, Molecular Systematics, and PLBIO 4831 Plant Gene Evolution and Phylogeny.
The Gore Lab takes an interdisciplinary approach to studying the genetic variability of vitamins and minerals that are essential in plant-based food and feed. Through the integration of statistical genetics, genomics, and metabolomics, we are striving to elucidate the underlying genetic basis of natural variation for vitamin and mineral content of grain in maize and oat and cassava roots. These combined approaches have had success in the identification of key genes/alleles that are critical for the development of nutrient-dense crops. Additionally, we develop and implement field-based, high-throughput phenotyping tools (mobile and robotic platforms combined with deep learning algorithms) in breeding programs for monitoring and improving the resiliency of crops to pests, pathogens, and environmental stress.
The vegetable improvement program at Geneva focuses on the breeding and genetics of common bean, crucifer and tomato crops. The goals include the introgression of host plant resistance to economically important pests, tolerance to environmental stresses and the selection of niche-market crops and traits.
Julie Hansen conducts research in applied plant breeding on forage and biofuel crops. Research involves variety development, evaluation, and collaborations with other institutions. Grant funded projects include integrated pest management and accelerated evaluation of perennial grasses and legumes for biofuel production in New York State.
The overall theme of Michael Mazourek's program is innovation of vegetables for adaptation for production in the Northeastern US and to be of improved quality and nutrition for consumers. He conducts much of this selection in Organic systems that represenst a more natural environment. By working in a natural environment, he is better able to draw parallels between the artificial selection that takes place in plant breeding with the natural selection that has taken place during the evolution of crop progenitors.
Susan McCouch's research focuses on rice and includes publication of the first molecular map of the rice genome in 1988, early QTL studies on disease resistance, drought tolerance, maturity and yield, cloning of genes underlying domestication traits, and demonstrating that low-yielding wild and exotic Oryza species harbor genes that can enhance the performance of modern, high-yielding cultivars. Recently, she has used genome wide association studies (GWAS) to demonstrate that the different subpopulations of O. sativa have significantly different genetic architecture.
Martha Mutschler-Chu is a vegetable breeder / geneticist working on tomato and long-day onion. Her areas of interest concern the genetic control of novel traits derived from wild species, the genetic control/physiological mechanisms underlying these novel traits and their use in vegetable improvement.
Rebecca Nelson's interests and objectives pertain to plant pathology, plant breeding and international agriculture. Her own research program is focused on understanding the ways in which plants defend themselves against pathogen attack.
Wojtek Pawlowski's research group studies meiotic recombination using genetics, biochemistry and several advanced microscopy methods, such as restorative deconvolution, multiphoton excitation, and structured illumination microscopy.
K. V. Ramen's experience includes working in the area of International Agriculture and Rural Development. In addition to being the course coordinator for IARD 402 and 602, he is also involved in implementing several special projects in the area of agricultural biotechnology, capacity building, curriculum development and agri-business in many developing nations.
Bruce Reisch specializes in the development of new wine and table grape varieties, as well as new grape breeding techniques. Since joining the Cornell faculty in 1980, his program has released eleven new grape varieties - eight wine grapes (cooperatively with the Dept. of Food Science and Technology) and three seedless table grapes. The grape breeding program continues to emphasize wine variety development with a strong emphasis on combining wine quality with disease resistance and cold tolerance.
Kelly Robbins is a quantitative geneticist whose research focuses on the use of computational science to improve the efficiency of crop breeding programs. Current projects are aimed at developing computational infrastructure and models for applying high throughput technologies, such as Next Generation Sequencing and remote sensing, to genetic improvement of complex traits, increasing understanding of genotype by environmental interactions, and improving genetic gains in crop breeding programs in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia
Tim Setter currently collaborates with researchers at CIMMYT, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, on studies of drought tolerance of maize, and collaborates on cassava research with colleagues at national institutes in Nigeria, Ghana, and Uganda, and at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).
Frank Shotkoski has 20 years of academic and industrial experience in both agriculture and medical biotechnology. He is currently the Director of the Agriculture Biotechnology Support Project II (ABSPII), a USAID/Cornell University cooperative effort with a mandate to introduce agriculture biotechnology to developing countries.
The research in Lawrence Smart's lab is focused on breeding, genetics, genomics, and physiology of shrub willow bioenergy crops. Shrub willow (Salix spp.) produce high yields of woody biomass when grown as a dedicated short-rotation crop on marginal or underutilized land. Willow stems are harvested every three years and the plants resprout after each cutback, making willow fields productive for more than 20 years.
Margaret E. Smith joined the faculty at Cornell University in 1987 in the College of Agriculture and Life Science’s Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics, focusing on corn breeding. Her research goal is to enhance our understanding of corn adaptation to marginal environments and develop genetic materials that will improve corn productivity and sustainability in such environments.
The objectives of the Cornell Small Grains Project are to:
1. To develop and evaluate novel breeding strategies for selection and for testing large number of genotypes for desirable agronomic characters.
2. To elucidate the inheritance, chromosomal location and expression of genes controlling economically valuable plant characteristics.
3. To develop, evaluate, and introduce new cultivars of small grains having improved yield, nutritional quality, disease resistance, and other characteristics that increase the crop value and production efficiency.
Approximately half of our breeding research effort is allocated to soft white winter wheat and the other to soft red winter wheat, spring oats, and spring barley. Breeding methods employed by the program include bulk, pedigree, single seed descent, and backcross, depending on the breeding objectives. A regional variety testing program is conducted annually.
Our research program utilizes appropriate technologies encompassing molecular genetics, physiology, pathology, and breeding to research strategies that contribute to the development of superior crop varieties. We collaborate with plant breeders and geneticists around the world including international centers on projects that involve the use of molecular markers to assess genetic relationship, construct linkage maps, and clone genes. The focus of our basic work involves comparative genomics, association mapping, allele characterization and particularly genomic selection methods. Characterization of allelic diversity and allelic value in both wild and cultivated germplasm is fundamental to crop improvement and efficient strategies are a major focus. Current research projects include mapping, cloning and characterization of candidate genes underlying QTL for preharvest sprouting resistance, milling and baking quality, kernel size and shape, mapping novel stem rust resistance genes, and nutritional quality. We also recently completed a large project on evaluating ancient and specialty grains.
I teach Plant Breeding Methods Lab (PLBR 4060) and Perspectives in Plant Breeding Strategies (PLBR 7160) – alternate years.
Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Donald Viands leads the Cornell Forage Breeding Project to conduct genetic research and develop cool season, perennial forage cultivars with higher yield, multiple disease and insect resistances, and forage quality. His project also conducts research on use of perennial grasses and legumes as feedstocks for the biofuel industry.
The Forage Breeding Project focuses primarily on breeding and genetic research of alfalfa and on evaluating legume and grass cultivars for forage yield and quality. Forage yield evaluation consists of harvesting 4-5000 plots at least three times per growing season. Breeding objectives on alfalfa are to improve yield, quality, and persistence.
Forage yield is being improved by developing plant populations from both adapted and unadapted sources, followed by selecting vigorous plants with good agronomic characteristics. We are also empirically comparing various selection methods for improving forage yield.
Nutritional quality of alfalfa for the dairy animal is a priority in most alfalfa breeding programs in North America. Research on methods to improve quality has been a major focus of the Cornell breeding project for more than three decades. We currently are selecting plants with lower fiber concentration and higher forage pectin concentration for providing more energy for rumen microbes that convert protein into a form usable for milk production.
Breeding for plant persistence requires a significant proportion of effort to maintain the perennial nature of the crop. Traits of interest are disease and insect resistance, root traits, and winter hardiness. In cooperation with entomologists at Cornell, breeding efforts have been developing alfalfa with resistance or tolerance to the alfalfa snout beetle and to clover root curculio. The first insect devastates alfalfa within 2 years of planting and has potential of spreading across North America. We also are developing and evaluating alfalfa with glandular trichomes for resistance to potato leafhopper.
In cooperation with eight forage breeders in North America, a small amount of Cornell effort goes into breeding birdsfoot trefoil for resistance to crown rot and Fusarium root rot and with a rhizomatous trait.
A recent initiative on the Forage Breeding Project is to evaluate grass and legume species and breed some of these species as feedstocks for the biofuel industry. In addition, we are cooperating with others to evaluate industrial hemp varieties and to develop new varieties for New York State.
I teach Quantitative Genetics (PLBR 7170) – alternate years.
I also serve as Associate Dean and Director of Academic Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences