Lynn Maher, 2013
Lynn at harvest time

Our research program is currently exploring several themes. We have devoted considerable effort over the years to work on secondary metabolites in carrot, onion, and table beet. We are continuing to pursue studies on volatiles that are associated with flavor, particularly the geosmins.  Geosmins deliver the earthy flavor to foods and are molecules produced by Streptomyces bacteria that live largely in the soil. Initial investigations suggested the genotypic specificity of geosmin concentration in table beet and presence of geosmin even under sterile culture conditions would be difficult to explain if microbial populations were the sole cause of this trait. We believe that table beet is capable of endogenous production of geosmin, and Solveig Hanson has recently completed a study evaluating the stability of this trait across environments in Wisconsin. She has also documented a large QTL associated with this trait in table beet and examined the role of this compound in consumer preferences across a range of other variables. Adam D’Angelo has picked up this thread of research and is taking it in some new and interesting directions. Adam’s work is supported by USDA-Hatch.

Katharina Wigg has been working on breeding table beet for resistance to Rhizoctonia solani, an important disease in this crop. Katharina has developed a greenhouse screening technique and is backcrossing resistance into table beet germplasm. She has identified resistance and susceptibility in plant introductions, cultivars, and breeding lines, and found QTLs associated with this trait in segregating populations. Her work is supported by the Midwest Food Product’s Association.

Emilee Gaulke and Liam Dixon are working on foliar diseases in table beet, primarily bacterial leaf spot and Cercospora. Their studies include controlled trials in greenhouse settings, trials across the state to examine field performance, and evaluation of the the crop during both vegetative and reproductive growth. A substantial portion of this work is directed at understanding the disease and its control in organic environments. Their work is supported by grants from the USDA-SCRI program, Wisconsin’s Specialty Crop Block Grant program, and the WISCORE program.

A substantial effort in our lab has been to determine the genetic control of root shape in carrot. This was facilitated by the development of a digital imaging system by Scott Brainard, who recently completed his Ph.D working on this project. This effort has been picked up by Andrey Vega Alfaro, who will be mapping QTL associated with root traits in segregating carrot populations, as well as studying the effect of density on some of these parameters.

Chandler Meyer, who is co-advised with Patrick Krysan, is developing a haploid inducer system in carrot through gene editing of CENH3. This creative approach involves the development of a protoplast transformation and regeneration system. Chandler’s work is supported by a grant from the USDA and the Gabelman-Seminis Wisconsin Distinguished Graduate Fellowship in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics.

Our breeding work and our research programs are intertwined. We are selecting and evaluating in both conventional and organic environments. We have long-standing partnerships with farmers who have helped support our breeding activities, with the network of Agriculture Research Stations in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, and with scientists at seed companies. These partnerships are critical to the continuation of our breeding and research programs.

Our program is a member of the Vegetable Breeding Institute, a public-private partnership fostering interaction between public breeders and vegetable seed companies. For more information on the Vegetable Breeding Institute, follow this link. Our breeding programs, particularly graduate student support for plant breeding in organic systems, have also been supported by USDA, Seed MattersCeres Trust, and NC-SARE.