Horticulture & Plant Breeding Projects

Below are past examples of projects that were planned for Summer Research Scholars. For details on 2022 projects, please check back in the future. 

1. Identifying Amaranths

Do you like growing plants? Do you like taking pictures? Do you like building websites? Do you want to learn about 3-D imaging? Answered ‘Yes” to most of those? Then we have got a project for you! Amaranthus species, also known as pigweeds, are significant pests of crops in New York, Northeastern US, and most of the United States. They can also be very hard to identify when they are very small. This project will be focused on describing the changes in the growth and development of multiple pigweed species from emergence through flowering, both in the lab and in the field. At the same time, you’ll be capturing these changes using conventional photography and 3-D imaging and building a better pigweed identification guide. The end result will be a pocket guide that growers can carry with them day-to-day as well as a website showcasing differences among the species with respect to leaf shape, flower development, growth habit, and plant architecture, among other traits.

2. Space saving columnar apple trees!

Although most apple trees branch and grow rapidly in size, there are compact ones, called columnar apple trees, which are slow in growth, have little branching, and require less space and pruning in orchard. Join us to uncover the molecular switches that can turn on or off the columnar growth, while learning basic techniques in plant genomics, such as DNA and RNA isolation, DNA sequencing, and gene expression analysis.

  • Lab: 80%, Field: 20% 
  • FacultyXu

3. Apple trees grow horizontally

Apple trees grow upward normally. However, the picture shows that an apple tree can grow horizontally. It would certainly cause headaches if such trees were grown in apple orchard. Can we learn something from ‘the bad and the ugly’ and then make something good out of it? The answer is YES as understanding the underlying genetics and genomics will provide useful information for making apple trees grow with optimum architecture. The mystery of horizontally growing apple trees is being revealed, but much remains unknown. Want to be part of our mystery solving team?

  • Lab: 80%, Field/greenhouse: 20%
  • FacultyXu

4. Genetic diversity of wild and hybrid grapes

Interested in biodiversity and conservation? Spend your summer doing research in the National Collection of Cold-Hardy Grapes! With nearly 1,400 unique vines and 27 species, there’s no shortage of amazing things to observe. This project explores grapevine metabolite diversity that impact fruit quality and other physiological processes using liquid and gas chromatography. You’ll have the chance to develop lab and field skills, and how to manage data and work with genetic markers. Additionally, you’ll gain a greater appreciation for the role of diversity in agriculture! 

  • Lab: 70%, Field/greenhouse: 30%
  • FacultyGutierrez

5. Drone technology for hemp

Remote sensing by way of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or drones offer a quick and cost-effective way to detect biotic and abiotic stressors at the field and plot levels. You will use high-resolution cameras and multispectral sensors mounted on a UAS to develop indices that correlate well with ground-based phenotypes in hemp, such as canopy chlorophyll content, pest and disease outbreaks and plant height. You will gain knowledge in the use of the latest image analysis software packages, open-source GIS, as well as field-based techniques for evaluating crop growth.

  • Lab: 40%, Field: 60% 
  • FacultyL. Smart

6. Phenotyping Hemp: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Hemp (Cannabis sativa <0.3% THC) is an emerging crop with many food, medicinal, and industrial uses. Cornell AgriTech is home to the first public hemp breeding program in the US. In this project, you will phenotype one of our hemp mapping populations. After conducting preliminary field surveys, you will identify important traits segregating in the mapping population. These could include growth traits like height or leaf area, ontogenetic traits like flowering time, or more complex traits like disease susceptibility, insect preference, or secondary metabolite/volatile profile. Your data will contribute to our molecular breeding efforts.

  • Field: 70%, Lab 30% 
  • FacultyL. Smart

7. Giving hemp a sex change

A single hemp plant can produce male flowers, female flowers, or both. While genetics plays a large role, other factors can affect the sex of flowers produced. For instance, silver can induce male flowers on genetically female plants, leading to pollen without Y chromosomes and an all-female seed lot. While this technique is widely used in the hemp industry, little is known about the molecular genetic mechanisms of sex determination in hemp. This project will involve applying plant growth regulators, such as silver thiosulfate and ethephon, isolating DNA and RNA, and determining their effect on sex phenotypes in the greenhouse and field.

  • Field/greenhouse: 60%, Lab 40%
  • FacultyL. Smart

8. Genetic control of flowering time in grapevines

Control of flowering time is a complex trait in grapevines and has rarely been studied in North American species commonly used in grapevine breeding. Flowering time controls adaptation of plants to their local environment, and evidently, climate change is causing vines to flower earlier. Consequently, it becomes quite important for breeders to gain some control over flowering time in potential new cultivars. As part of this project, flowering time along with climate parameters (temperature, solar radiation) will be assessed with two complementary grapevine segregating seedling populations. One group of seedlings descends from a very early flowering parent, while the other group descends from a later flowering species. You will interact with a national cooperative grapevine genetics project (VitisGen2) to use your flowering time data (plus data from the past two years) with pre-existing molecular marker-based genetic maps, in order to validate previously identified Quantitative Trait Loci (QTL). In this project you will help to elucidate the genetic architecture of flowering time in grapevines in terms of finding grapevine chromosome regions and possible candidate genes underlying the QTL influencing the timing of flowering. You will also learn to measure the magnitude of the QTL effects, the broad sense heritability, and genotype-by-year interactions for this trait.

  • Lab: 40%, Field: 60% 
  • FacultyReisch

9. Computer visioning and assessment of variation in flower/berry development in grape

Flowering is very important in grapevine and a major determinant of yield given that the development of the ovary of the flower eventually leads to berry formation. Certain floral structures including the structure of the inflorescence, the number of flowers per inflorescence, the length of rachis, etc., directly affect overall quality and yield. Cluster structure may also affect disease development.

To help breed for new cultivars having improved cluster characteristics, it would be highly useful to have ways to assay this trait that are not labor-intensive. Interestingly, there has been increased activity in the application of non-invasive and non-destructive artificial vision with corresponding machine learning techniques in high throughput plant phenotyping.

Hence, a major goal of this proposal is to use computer-vision in the phenotypic evaluation of floral cluster structure in a grapevine family, and subsequent identification of loci related to phenotypic variation for cluster structure and fruit set. Computer-vision techniques will be used to provide estimates of important flowering and fruit set variables including peduncle length, pedicel length, rachis length, structure of inflorescence, number of flowers per inflorescence, rate of fruit set, etc. and develop prediction models using these attributes to estimate some cluster-related components – e.g. cluster architecture and compactness.

  • Field: 50%, Lab: 50%
  • FacultyReisch


More horticulture projects coming soon.