Agricultural and Food Research Initiative

Enhancing Education and Research for Plant Disease Resistance

As humans transition to sustainable agricultural systems that focus on local production and prepare for the consequences of global climate change, a clear imperative has emerged to invest in plant breeding for biotic stress resistance in the northeastern United States. The faculty in the Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics at Cornell University are in a unique position to leverage investments in genomics for crop improvement in this region and have been awarded a grant through the USDA-AFRI (Agricultural and Food Research Initiative) program entitled, "Enhancing Education and Research for Plant Disease Resistance" to meet this challenge.

Building on existing research and educational programs, Plant Breeding and Genetics faculty are training future plant breeders to utilize genomic tools, navigate vast data sets using bioinformatics, and synthesize research perspectives from both vegetable and grain breeding as part of their modern skill set. Through student training and curriculum development, this project draws together fundamental and applied plant breeding research.

The Team

Cornell researchers on the project include project director, Dr. Michael Mazourek and co-PI's Mark Sorrells, Walter De Jong, Martha Mutschler, Susan McCouch, Lukas Mueller, and Rebecca Nelson. Additionally, through applied plant resistance breeding programs lead by the Principal Investigators, the project provides two graduate students and sixteen undergraduates with rotations, thesis projects, and internships. Since 2010, several AFRI students have benefited from specialized training through the program.

The Training

Curricula have been developed and enhanced by creating new courses and learning materials. The Solanaceae Genome Network and Gramene offer research projects in genomic databases and bioinformatics. To ensure these projects are relevant and focused, the project is advised by groups from an institutional education committee, seed producers, growers, processors, and private sector plant breeders.