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These are the Horticulture/Plant Breeding projects that our Summer Research Scholars will be tackling in 2020.  Faculty members associated with each project are also listed. You can read more about their programs by clicking on their names. 

1. Climate Change and Weed Control

Two devastating weeds have moved into New York: Palmer amaranth (Amaranthus palmeri) and common waterhemp (Amaranthus tuberculatus). Both species can grow incredibly large (up to 8 feet tall), very quickly (inches per day), and produce a lot of seed (250,000 to 1,000,000 per plant), which will result in weed control problems for years to come. This project will focus on describing how Palmer amaranth and common waterhemp grow and develop under current conditions and simulated climate change. You will also have the opportunity to study how environmental stresses impact the sensitivity of these species to integrated weed control practices, which can have significant impacts on the sustainability of our crop production systems.

  • Lab: 30%, Greenhouse/field: 70%
  • Faculty: Sosnoskie

2. Space saving columnar apple trees!

Apple TreesAlthough 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

horizontal-apple-seedlingApple 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. Building better broccoli

broccoli We study the physiology and genetics of how broccoli uses temperature to regulate flower development. This work is part of a broader effort to develop broccoli that is resilient to the eastern climate, and to use the new hybrids to expand local production of this widely consumed crop ( The summer project will involve scoring phenotypes and matching them with genomic information in several diverse collections of genotypes. 

5. Drone technology for willow

drone launchRemote sensing by way of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or drones offer a quick and cost-effective way to detect biotic and abiotic stressors at the field and plot levels. You will use high-resolution cameras and multispectral sensors mounted on a UAS to develop indices that correlate well with ground-based phenotypes in shrub willow, such as canopy chlorophyll content, pest and disease outbreaks and plant height. You will gain knowledge in the use of the latest image analysis software packages, open-source GIS, as well as field-based techniques for evaluating woody plant growth.

  • Lab: 40%, Field: 60% 
  • Faculty: L. Smart

6. Can a willow change its sex?

willow flowersWillows are dioecious species and are used as short rotation coppice crops grown for bioenergy.  We want to determine the genes and pathways controlling sex determination and dimorphism in willow. This project will involve applying various plant hormone treatments on male, female, and hermaphrodite willow stems to observe if they can change floral development pathways, as they do in other dioicous and monoecious species.  You will gain skills and knowledge in experimental design and setup, plant physiology and development, observation and data collection, and statistical analysis and interpretation.    

  • Lab: 50%, Greenhouse: 50%
  • Faculty: L. Smart

7. Phenotyping Hemp: The good, the bad, and the ugly

purple hempHemp (Cannabis sativa <0.3% THC) is an emerging crop with many food, medicinal, and industrial uses. Cornell AgriTech is home to the first public hemp breeding program in the US. In this project, you will phenotype one of our hemp mapping populations. After conducting preliminary field surveys, you will identify important traits segregating in the mapping population. These could include growth traits like height or leaf area, ontogenetic traits like flowering time, or more complex traits like disease susceptibility, insect preference, or secondary metabolite/volatile profile. Your data will contribute to our molecular breeding efforts.

  • Field: 70%, Lab 30% 
  • Faculty: L. Smart

8. Genetic control of flowering time in grapevines

grape flowersControl of flowering time is a complex trait in grapevines and has rarely been studied in North American species commonly used in grapevine breeding. Flowering time controls adaptation of plants to their local environment, and evidently, climate change is causing vines to flower earlier. Consequently, it becomes quite important for breeders to gain some control over flowering time in potential new cultivars. As part of this project, flowering time along with climate parameters (temperature, solar radiation) will be assessed with two complementary grapevine segregating seedling populations. One group of seedlings descends from a very early flowering parent, while the other group descends from a later flowering species. You will interact with a national cooperative grapevine genetics project (VitisGen2) to use your flowering time data (plus data from the past two years) with pre-existing molecular marker-based genetic maps, in order to validate previously identified Quantitative Trait Loci (QTL). In this project you will help to elucidate the genetic architecture of flowering time in grapevines in terms of finding grapevine chromosome regions and possible candidate genes underlying the QTL influencing the timing of flowering. You will also learn to measure the magnitude of the QTL effects, the broad sense heritability, and genotype-by-year interactions for this trait.

  • Lab: 40%, Field: 60% 
  • Faculty: Reisch

9. Biodiversity of vegetables

Explore the diversity and natural colors in vegetable crops and how they can contribute to aesthetics and nutrition.  You will work in both the greenhouse and field with an applied breeding program to identify and select new plants with diverse colors and shapes.  The summer scholar experience will also include an opportunity to evaluate phytochemical profiles and how they influence plant nutrition and color. 

  • Lab/greenhouse: 70%, Field: 30% 
  • Faculty: Griffiths

10. Appreciating and understanding genetic diversity in Malus (apple)

diverse apple cultivarsMost apples are Malusdomestica or cultivated apple, but there are over 25 Malus species that can be used in breeding or to study the genes influencing plant architecture, leaf morphology and flowering. When these species are crossed, apple interspecific hybrids are created. This project will explore the phenotypic and genotypic diversity of some of these hybrids. Study of these unique plants will help you understand how best to characterize plants, both from a morphology and genetic perspective. Breeding theory and practice will be explained in relation to the project.

  • Field: 60%, Lab: 40%
  • Faculty: Brown

11. Computer visioning and assessment of variation in flower/berry development in grape

Flowering is very important in grapevine and a major determinant of yield given that the development of the ovary of the flower eventually leads to berry formation. Certain floral structures including the structure of the inflorescence, the number of flowers per inflorescence, the length of rachis, etc., directly affect overall quality and yield. Cluster structure may also affect disease development.

To help breed for new cultivars having improved cluster characteristics, it would be highly useful to have ways to assay this trait that are not labor-intensive. Interestingly, there has been increased activity in the application of non-invasive and non-destructive artificial vision with corresponding machine learning techniques in high throughput plant phenotyping.

Hence, a major goal of this proposal is to use computer-vision in the phenotypic evaluation of floral cluster structure in a grapevine family, and subsequent identification of loci related to phenotypic variation for cluster structure and fruit set. Computer-vision techniques will be used to provide estimates of important flowering and fruit set variables including peduncle length, pedicel length, rachis length, structure of inflorescence, number of flowers per inflorescence, rate of fruit set, etc. and develop prediction models using these attributes to estimate some cluster-related components – e.g. cluster architecture and compactness.

  • Field: 50%, Lab: 50%
  • Faculty: Reisch

12. Genetic diversity of wild and hybrid grapes

bunch of purple grapesInterested 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 learn lab and field skills, how to manage data and work with genetic markers. Additionally, you’ll gain a greater appreciation for the role of diversity in agriculture!