Kathleen Kanaley is a second-year Ph.D. student working in the lab of Katie Gold, professor of plant pathology and plant-microbe biology at Cornell AgriTech. Originally from San Francisco, Kathleen came to Cornell AgriTech after receiving her B.A. in natural sciences and Spanish language and literature from Fordham University. Her research focuses on developing rapid, accurate methods for monitoring grapevine diseases using remote imagery.
Explain your research in a few sentences in layman’s terms.
Remote imagery encompasses everything from satellite data to pictures taken by a robot driving itself through a vineyard. I am trying to figure out if we can use these images to distinguish diseased from healthy vines based on differences in how plants reflect light in the presence of a pathogen.
What’s one fascinating thing that most people wouldn’t know about grapevines?
All grapevines of the species vitis vinifera (most wine grapes are of this species) are highly susceptible to an insect pest known as phylloxera. Phylloxera is native to North America, and when it was accidentally introduced to Europe in the 1800s it almost obliterated the European wine industry. As a result, most vitis vinifera grown across the world are now grafted onto the rootstocks of North American grape varieties that are more resistant to phylloxera. If you’re in the Finger Lakes looking out over a block of Riesling grapes, you’re looking at plants that are European above ground with American roots below.
What challenges affecting grapevines does your research address?
Grapevines are affected by a plethora of different diseases, often at the same time. Most vineyards are very large (tens to hundreds of acres), which makes it difficult to keep track of which diseases occur where and when. We are trying to find new ways to quickly get a snapshot of vine health so that grape growers can identify stressed plants as early as possible and prevent severe epidemics.
What are some of your most successful research findings?
We now know that it is possible to use satellite images to differentiate healthy vines from vines with severe downy mildew.
What do you ultimately hope the outcomes will be for the industry?
I hope that one day agricultural extension services can offer remote imagery analysis as a management tool for grape growers. Geographic information systems specialists would become a central part of the extension framework, creating vineyard health maps generated with data from remote sensing tools (including topographic and climatic information). Growers would be able to request these maps daily or weekly to enable monitoring of early disease outbreaks and more rapid responses to signs of stress.
What drew you to the graduate student program at Cornell AgriTech?
I was excited to work at Cornell AgriTech because of the chance to work with people from many different research groups on projects that bridge plant pathology, breeding and genetics, horticulture, engineering, and mathematics.
What do you love most about student life at Cornell AgriTech?
The best part of being at Cornell AgriTech are the collaborations and friendships that have grown out of the work we do.
What’s your favorite moment from your time on the Geneva campus?
The best day I’ve had at Cornell AgriTech was May 12, 2023, when Maylin Murdock, Juan González and I successfully flew a new drone with a hyperspectral sensor three times in a single morning.
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