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Impact, Seed Potatoes, Genomics

Posted by | March 28, 2007

Did You Know?

The College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences and Washington State University Extension created a Web site in 2002 to inform lawmakers about research, extension and teaching efforts that benefit the lives of their constituents. The site, “Washington State Impacts,” contains brief reports outlining why projects were undertaken, what WSU faculty have done, and what the actual or expected economic, environmental, or social impact of the project might be. The site is searchable by county, state legislative district, congressional district, sources of funding, by text and many other ways.

While the site was designed principally for lawmakers and legislative aides, the digested information has been utilized by others for reports, speeches, presentations, and by reporters seeking story ideas. The site contains about 350 reports on a wide variety of topics. Take a look at

On Solid Ground is a weekly, electronic newsletter for the friends and stakeholders of the Washington State University College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS), WSU Extension and the WSU Agricultural Research Center.

Potato Knowledge is Potato Power

Growers in the Columbia Basin and elsewhere can improve yields and increase profits by paying attention to how seed potatoes are handled and stored. The research of Rick Knowles, professor, and Lisa Knowles, assistant research professor, in WSU’s Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, demonstrates that productivity is affected by the heat-units that seed potatoes accumulate at the end of the growing season and in storage.

Variations in temperature, said the Knowles in a peer-reviewed paper, which accumulate as degree-days, “translate into variable productivity among the corresponding commercial crops. Seed growers can potentially add value to their seed lots by certifying the number of degree-days as an indication of age. Stem number per seedpiece increases with degree-days, particularly at higher temperatures, and tuber set and size development change substantially and predictably with stem number.”

The value of a commercial crop is dictated in part by tuber size distribution. The tuber size distribution can be optimized for a particular market by manipulating the degree-day accumulation by seed to give a desired stem number. Alternatively, the Knowles are developing biochemical and molecular markers for prediction of stem numbers in seed lots prior to planting. Growers can then compensate for suboptimal stem numbers by changing in-field spacing to alter plant competition, thereby manipulating tuber size distribution for maximum crop value. With six years of data under their belts, the Knowles’ research packs a powerful economic impact; stem-number management could potentially mean hundreds or even thousands of dollars per acre additional income for growers.

For more information, please visit the Potato Information and Exchange ( and Potato Post-harvest Evaluation (

The Fruit of the Future

It takes the new science of bioinformatics to find the needle of knowledge in the haystack of information created by a genome map. In search of the needles that will guide tree-fruit breeders, WSU bioinformaticist Dorrie Main is combing through the haystack of the rosaceae family. Rosaceae includes one of Washington’s largest crop – apples – as well as cherries, peaches, berries and nuts. In terms of economic volume, rosaceae is the third most important plant family in the U.S. and other temperate regions of the world. Its aggregate wholesale value in the United States is approximately $7 billion.

The meaningful needles pulled from the haystack are then turned over to horticultural genomicists Amit Dhingra and Cameron Peace, both assistant professors and scientists in the WSU horticulture department. The two genomicists work with growers to identify desirable traits for variety development.

“Growers are the real scientists,” said Dhingra. “They have all sorts of knowledge gained in the fields and orchards that guide us in our research. Basically, though, what we’re all looking for are new varieties that can resist stress — the stress from pests, diseases, climate, and so on. The growers know what they want. We want to help them get to the fruit of the future.”

For more information, please visit the Main Bioinformatic Lab (