Horticulture & Plant Breeding Projects

2022 Projects

1. Evaluating willow cultivars for use as a rooting hormone for certified organic operations

Successfully rooting cuttings is a challenge for many clonally propagated crops. Artificial rooting hormones, typically with indolebutyric acid (IBA) as the active ingredient, are frequently used to overcome this problem in commercial operations. However, these artificial rooting hormones are not approved for use in certified organic agriculture. Willow (Salix) bark steeped in water (“willow tea”) is often used as a rooting hormone in many operations seeking to utilize organic or “natural” practices. Nevertheless, there is a lack of information on which willow species and cultivars produce the best rooting response in cuttings. In this project, you will make use of the largest willow germplasm collection in North America to identify which cultivars are most suited for use as rooting agents in clonally propagated crops. Tasks will include willow bark extraction and preparation of willow “tea” and measurement of root growth and number in hydroponically grown cuttings across a range of clonally propagated species.

Greenhouse: 80%, Lab: 5%, Field: 15%

Faculty: L. Smart

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%

Faculty: Xu

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%

Faculty: Xu

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%

Faculty: Galarneau, Gutierrez

5. Exploring Novel Technology for Weed Control in Fruits and Vegetables

Weeds are a significant problem in agriculture. Weeds interfere with crops, directly, through resource competition. Weeds also interfere with crops, indirectly, by harboring pests and pathogens, inhibiting production operations, and reducing harvest efficiency. For many commodities, synthetic herbicides are the principal tool for managing unwanted vegetation. However, a heavy reliance on herbicides for weed control is economically and environmentally unsustainable due to the evolution of herbicide resistance and changing public perceptions about pesticide use. Novel technological solutions are being investigated for weed control, and Cornell is actively involved. The summer scholar’s research program will focus on 1) investigating state-of-the-art tools for detecting and discriminating between crops and weeds, 2) evaluating the efficacy of vision-guided, precision sprayers, and 3) describing the performance and safety of electrical weeders. The ultimate goal is to show growers what the coming wave of innovative weed control technology looks like.

Lab/greenhouse: 40%, Field: 60%

Faculty: Sosnoskie

6. How do roots control how shoots respond to the environment?

Grafting is the mechanical joining of two different plant genotypes, sometimes combining two different species into a single plant. In grapevine, wild grapevine species are often used as the root system (rootstock), while the domesticated grapevine Vitis vinifera is used as the shoot (scion). Grapevine producers often choose specific rootstocks to control how vigorous vines grow, but rootstocks can also impact drought response and mineral uptake. You will work in a grafted grapevine vineyard examining how different rootstocks can change how the shoot responds to the environment. Using portable photosynthesis equipment, you will measure how carbon dioxide is taken up by the plant, how the plant responds to changes in light, and how berry ripening is affected by changing rootstock. You will have the opportunity to work with genetic maps of the population and test mapping of genetic loci which contribute to changes in scion. The data collected will be an important part of a large project designed to identify climate-designed combinations of rootstocks and scions being examined in 5 vineyard replicates planted in Missouri, South Dakota, and Pennsylvania.

Split 80% field/20% lab

Faculty: Londo

7. Development of aerial image processing pipeline for high throughput plant phenotyping

Unmanned aerial systems (UASs) have become a regular tool for agricultural research and production, and are being widely used for collecting multimodal imaging data. You will work with an interdisciplinary team to develop a data processing pipeline that can extract various phenotypic traits at the plant and canopy levels. Through the development, you will practice skills and gain experiences for web-based system development, computer vision, deep learning-based image analysis, and geographic information system (GIS). You will also have opportunities to work with plant scientists and crop breeders to learn domain knowledge.

Computation: 80%, Field: 20%

Faculty: Jiang

8. 3D-fluorescence imaging system for seed coating technology evaluation

We are developing novel seed treatment and coating technologies that enable the co-application of systemic seed treatments (e.g., biofungicides) and fluorescent tracers (e.g., Rhodamine) for crop seeds. Plants germinated from treated seeds will show natural fluorescence reflecting treatment uptake during the germination process. Measurement of treatment uptake rate and distribution can be invaluable to facilitate the development of weed and pest management practices. You will work with an interdisciplinary team to develop a 3D-fluroescence imaging system that can simultaneously measure plant 3D structure and fluorescent signals. You will gain substantial knowledge and experiences in optics sensing, mechanical engineering, and 3D computer vision.

Lab: 70%, Greenhouse: 30%

Faculty: Jiang

9. Full-spectrum hyperspectral imaging for quality assessment of specialty crops

Quality assessment is crucial to not only profitability of growers but also nutritional health of consumers. While extensive research has been focused on the use of hyperspectral imaging for quality assessment, it is still challenging for researchers to effectively use full spectrum (400 to 2500 nm) and efficiently narrow down full spectrum to multispectral signals for production systems. In this project, you will conduct experiments on the use of a full-spectrum hyperspectral imaging system to determine fruit maturity of caneberries (e.g., blackberries and raspberries) and cannabinoid contents of hemp. You will work with both engineering and plant science faculty members on this project to generate outcomes that are translational to actual production systems in the future.

Lab: 70%, Field: 30%

Faculty: Jiang

10. Characterizing Cannabinoids

In this project, you will use hyperspectral sensors to characterize and develop a model that is predictive of cannabinoids in hemp. With this, you will gain knowledge in hyperspectral imaging, near infrared spectroscopy, as well as other high-throughput phenotyping techniques. More importantly, your project will contribute to our remote sensing efforts. 

Field & GH: 50%, Lab: 50%

Mentors: L. Smart, Maylin Murdock

11. Assessment of hemp cultivars for fiber yield, composition, and quality

Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) has been primarily exploited as a source of fiber. The Cornell hemp research program has evaluated several fiber cultivars over the last five years. Although the characterization of cultivars’ fiber yield has been previously reported, it is unclear which crop growth parameters are the most influential towards fiber composition and quality. In this project, you will grow and collect morphological and physiological data on several hemp cultivars from different origin/breeding areas. Complementarily, you will analyze chemical and physical characteristics of hemp samples to associate hemp growth parameters with fiber quality. You will learn about hemp cultivation, phenotyping strategies, and data analysis respective to a breeding program. Your contribution will shed light on identifying key breeding objectives and agronomic practices to maximize hemp fiber production.

Field: 90%, Lab: 10%

Faculty: L. Smart