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By Erin Rodger
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  • Cornell AgriTech
  • School of Integrative Plant Science
  • Horticulture Section
  • Plant Breeding and Genetics Section
  • Food
  • Fruits
  • Crops
  • Horticulture
For her work in developing new varieties that foster the growth of the apple industry, the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) recently awarded the distinction of NAI Fellow to Susan Brown, Herman M. Cohn Professor Agriculture and Life Science.

Brown leads the oldest apple breeding program in the United States, located at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva, New York, part of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Her work supports the state’s robust apple industry — valued at $262 million annually.

The NAI Fellows Program highlights academic inventors who have demonstrated a spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on societal well-being, economic development and quality of life.

During her apple breeding career, Brown has successfully developed new varieties that match both what consumers and what growers need. Her strong relationship with local orchards also helps give the New York state apple industry a competitive edge.

RubyFrost and SnapDragon are the most well-known of Brown’s varieties. Released in 2013 and managed by Crunch Time Apple Growers, the two varieties are produced by 151 growers across state and shipped to retailers in all 50 states. In upcoming years, they will also reach an international audience.

“Susan is a brilliant inventor in every sense,” said Jessica Stein, senior licensing and business development officer at Cornell’s Center for Technology Licensing.

“This award is very well deserved," Stein said. "She is committed to developing exactly what growers and consumers need, and her efforts will continue to have positive impacts for years to come.”

The combination of molecular marker-assisted breeding and detailed in-orchard studies has allowed Brown and her collaborators to fine-tune their understanding of how different genes influence key traits. As a result, her apple varieties are known for their optimal combinations of appearance, flavor, texture and growing characteristics — leading to high performance in orchards and on the market. 

She has also advanced knowledge of the underlying biological mechanisms that govern plant architecture, cross-pollination, nutrition and disease resistance. With additional varieties in development, this research paves the path for the success of future apple releases. Brown holds 12 patents in the U.S. and additional international patents are pending.

The new class of fellows will be inducted at NAI’s tenth annual meeting in June 2021 in Tampa, Florida. There, Brown will join recipients from 115 worldwide research universities, governmental agencies and non-profit research institutes, whose collective body of research also includes biomedical engineering, computer engineering, materials science and physics.

Header image: Susan Brown, the Herman M. Cohn Professor Agriculture and Life Science. Photo by Jason Koski.

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