Drought, Tree Fruit, Gift

Modeling Drought Resistance to Improve Biofuel Production

From the number of tomatoes in a backyard garden to the yield of wheat on commerical cropland, the availability of water significantly influences a plant’s productivity. But an equally critical factor is how a plant reacts to the available water supply. Even within the same plot, individual plants can sometimes handle drought conditions better than others — and WSU plant biologist Asaph Cousins wants to know why.

Cousins is a member of a team working to discover the mechanisms underlying drought responses and identify candidate genes and pathways for improving plant productivity, particularly in bioenergy grasses.

Funded by a five-year, $12 million grant from the Department of Energy, Cousins and collaborators at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis will develop a genetic and physiological profile of Setaria viridis, a grass closely related to corn and bioenergy feedstocks.

“Creating a model system will allow us to correlate physiological features like drought resistance to the genetic controls of these features,” said Cousins. Once the process is understood, it may be possible “to identify these characteristics within plant populations and perhaps breed them into biofuel species.”

Developing varieties of bioenergy feedstock plants that use water efficiently and produce abundant yields at high densities are major steps toward reducing and eliminating dependence on petroleum-based fuels.

Watch a short video that explains and elaborates on Cousin’s research at http://bit.ly/PShuwH.

–Joanna Steward

WSU Hires World Leader in Tree Fruit Horticulture Extension

Desmond Layne
Desmond Layne

One of the world’s leading experts in tree fruit horticulture extension, Desmond R. Layne, is joining the faculty at WSU. Layne is the first endowed chair funded by the historic $27 million investment by Washington State tree fruit growers to the Campaign for Tree Fruit.

Layne, the state extension horticulture program leader and extension fruit specialist at Clemson University in South Carolina, will begin his new responsibilities in February 2013 based at WSU’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee.

The goal of this investment is to position Washington’s tree fruit industry as sustainably competitive in the global marketplace.

“Desmond Layne literally sets the national bar for how to deliver scientific information to producers through extension,” said Dan Bernardo, vice president for agriculture and extension at WSU. “His use of online technology and media brings a whole new approach to providing producers with the information they need when they need it.”

Layne said he is eager to begin working for Washington. “I am delighted to join the world-renowned WSU tree fruit team and positively contribute to its growth toward meeting the challenges and pursuing the innovative opportunities that will help the Washington tree fruit industry in the future. I am particularly impressed with the industry’s level of innovation and the strong partnership that they have forged with WSU When many land-grant universities are experiencing cutbacks and reducing investment in extension, WSU is expanding-–especially in the area of tree fruit. Indeed, exciting things are happening at WSU.”

From molecules to markets, WSU has a long-standing working relationship with the regions tree fruit industry. Visit http://bit.ly/wsutreefruit for more information.

–Kathy Barnard

Produce Packaging Distributor Enables WSU Tree Fruit Industry to Expand

HR Spinner Corporation, one of the oldest produce packaging distributors in Washington, is supporting the state’s tree fruit industry with a $75,000 contribution for development of three acres of research orchard. One acre is located at WSU’s Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser, and the other two are at WSU’s Sunrise Research Orchard near Wenatchee.

“This investment helps to move us closer to completion of living laboratories for our scientists and students,” said Jay Brunner, director of WSU’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee. “We are grateful to H.R. Spinner for their support of WSU and tree fruit growers throughout the state.”

H.R. Spinner President Ed Jewett said the company’s gift is intended to benefit the entire spectrum of the tree fruit industry. “While our company focuses on packaging solutions, we absolutely recognize the importance of a healthy tree fruit supply chain, beginning with the planting of trees to the apple arriving to consumers,” said Jewett. “This investment reflects our support of the grower supply chain as well as the industry’s investment in research and extension.”

Washington apple and pear growers voted in September 2011 to make a historic investment of $27 million over eight years to advance tree fruit research and extension at WSU. It is the largest single gift in the university’s history and part of the Campaign for Washington State University: Because the World Needs Big Ideas, a $1 billion comprehensive fundraising initiative.

WSU faculty conduct a variety of cutting-edge investigations at the Sunrise Research Orchard. Watch a short video at http://bit.ly/vpbVE4 to learn about some of them.

–Kathy Barnard