Horticulture & Plant Breeding Projects

2024 Projects

5. Genetic diversity of Apples, Grapes, and Tart Cherries

Interested in biodiversity and conservation? Spend your summer doing research in the USDA Collection of Apples, Grapes, and Tart Cherries! With over 5,000 unique trees and vines, there’s no shortage of amazing things to observe. This project explores 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%

Mentors: Erin Galarneau, Ben Gutierrez, Victoria Meakem

6. From Digital Dreams to Cultivated Fields: The Dawn of Agricultural Robotics

Agricultural robots are essential to the automation of agricultural operations in the field. This project will focus on the use of digital twin as a platform to design and develop agricultural robots (individual and/or swarm) for autonomous seeding and weeding, and to evaluate its performance in physical vegetable fields. You will be learning ROS2 and Nvidia Omniverse Isaac Sim to develop controllers for real world robot platforms such as Farm-Ng Amiga and Clearpath Husky.

Lab: 30%, Field: 70%

Mentors: Yu Jiang, Yiyuan Lin

7. Using Big Data and Machine Learning to understand the interaction between apple physiology and climate change

Apples (Malus domestica) are the number one consumed fruit in the United States and apple production is challenged by several climate stresses.  Temperatures are rising in both the summer and winter seasons and changes in temperature stability can result in damage to apple tree trunks and canopy, leading to decline of apple trees in production. This project will focus on understanding genetic and physiological variation in a number of key plant traits related to climate resiliency.  Using genetic mapping populations and rootstocks that segregate for differences in growing season traits (stomatal density, stomatal conductance, photosynthetic efficiency, hyperspectral traits), and winter traits such as freeze resistance, freeze repair, and regrowth ability, the summer scholar will gain experience in field data collection, portable photosynthesis meters, microscopy, R programming, and the use of random forest models.  

Field: 60%, Computer: 40%

Mentors: Jason Londo, Kenneth Buck

8. There are seeds...and then there are Hemp Seeds!

Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) seeds can be a high-protein source for human and animal nutrition with an ideal omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio. Hemp seed size can vary by an order of magnitude, with a multitude of colors.

This project will analyze the seed variation in a mapping population to identify genomic loci associated with seed morphology, color, and protein content.

The summer scholar will learn and apply genetics and genomics techniques for QTL mapping, comparative genomics, and candidate gene and protein structure analysis.

The results of this project will facilitate the development of molecular markers to accelerate hemp breeding programs.

Processing facility: 50%, Lab: 25%, Computer: 25%

Mentors: Luis Monserrate, Larry Smart

9. Powdery mildew hops to hemp!

One of the most prevalent diseases on indoor Cannabis sativa cultivation is powdery mildew, mainly caused by the fungus Golovinomyces ambrosiae. But the hop powdery mildew pathogen, Podosphaera macularis, can also infect hemp. There is limited knowledge of the range of susceptibility in hemp to P. macularis. This project entails conducting controlled inoculations of different genotypes of hemp to characterize resistance to hop powdery mildew. The summer scholar will learn how to maintain an obligate pathogen, rate disease severity, and analyze those results.

Lab: 40%, Greenhouse: 50%, Computer: 10%

Mentors: Lucia Vignale, Larry Smart

10. It's Electric!

Weeds interfere with crops, directly, through resource competition, which results in reduced yield. For many growers, herbicides are the most frequently used tools to manage unwanted vegetation. However, a heavy reliance on herbicides for weed control is economically and environmentally unsustainable due to 1) the evolution of herbicide resistance, 2) crop injury concerns, and 3) changing public perceptions about pesticide use. This research project will evaluate the performance and safety of a tractor-mounted electric weeder in perennial crops like apples, grapes, and hops. The summer scholar will also assist with greenhouse based projects to develop dose-response curves describing the amount of electricity required to control different species of weeds. Additionally, the scholar will also help to develop extension materials for presentations at grower meetings. The ultimate goal is to show stakeholders what the coming wave of innovative weed control technology looks like.  

Greenhouse: 40%, Field: 60%

Mentor: Lynn Sosnoskie

11. Space saving apple trees

Although most apple trees grow a number of branches, columnar apple trees are characterized with little branching, thereby requiring less growing space and limited pruning in orchard. Join us to uncover the molecular pathways that regulate 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/Greenhouse: 20%

Mentor: Kenong Xu

12. Apple trees grow downward branches

Apple trees grow upward. However, apple trees can grow their branches downward as well occasionally. Can we learn something from such rare growth habit in apple trees? The answer is YES, as understanding the underlying genetics and genomics will provide useful information for developing apple cultivars of ideal tree architecture. The mystery of downward growing apple trees is being revealed, but much more remains to be learned.

Lab: 80%, Field/Greenhouse: 20%

Mentor: Kenong Xu