Working With the Wild
Together with collaborators, my lab focuses on making Oregon/Pacific Northwest specialty crops resilient. We have plant health projects with mint, potato, hazelnut, and black raspberry. We focus on specific pests and diseases of each of these crops. We sequence and analyze plant genomes, hunting for disease resistance genes. Often, we work with wild relatives of the crop species as there is more genetic variation available in the wild plant material.
Thrill of the Hunt
I grew fascinated with plant pathology during graduate school at the University of New Hampshire. My Ph.D. research focused on verticillium wilt of mint. This wilt is a fungal disease caused by Verticillium dahliae. There are accessions (individually-collected plants) of some mint species that are resistant to verticillium wilt. Which genes are conferring disease resistance? Are the same genes conferring resistance in all of the resistant plants? How do those genes work? What is "broken" in the susceptible plants? Trying to understand why these plants are disease-resistant while others are susceptible is endlessly engrossing to me.
Breeding resistance to pests and diseases helps at all levels, from individual farmers to the environment, because resistant plants require lower pesticide chemical inputs. For mint, it's verticillium wilt. For potato, it's Columbia Root Knot Nematode (CRKN). For hazelnut, it's Eastern Filbert Blight (EFB). For black raspberry, it's aphids that vector black raspberry necrosis virus (BRNV).
Collaboration is Key
I work with a variety of people across Oregon and the Pacific Northwest for each specialty crop: mint with Mark Lange of Washington State University and Jeremiah Dung of the Central Oregon Research and Extension Center, potatoes with Vidyasagar Sathuvalli of the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center, hazelnut with Shawn Mehlenbacher of OSU's Department of Horticulture, and black raspberry with Nahla Bassil of USDA-ARS.