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WSU’s On Solid Ground- Genome Research, Cherries, Canola

Posted by l.meyer | July 3, 2013

Fruit Genome Research Unlocks Produce Mysteries

Amit Dhingra, a horticultural genomicist at WSU, led the researchers who sequenced the double haploid Comice pear, Golden Delicious double haploid apple, almond and Stella sweet cherry genomes.
Amit Dhingra, a horticultural genomicist at WSU, led the researchers who sequenced the double haploid Comice pear, Golden Delicious double haploid apple, almond and Stella sweet cherry genomes.

Anyone who has bought a hard pear at the supermarket can probably attest to the fruit’s unpredictable ripening process. But that unpredictability, one of the many traits stored in the plant’s genetic code, could be a thing of the past now that WSU scientists have sequenced four new Rosaceae crop family genomes, including the Comice pear.

Amit Dhingra, a horticultural genomicist at WSU, led the researchers who sequenced the double haploid Comice pear, Golden Delicious double haploid apple, as well as almond and sweet cherry genomes. Double haploid refers to an organism with two sets of chromosomes created from a single grain of pollen. Genomes house DNA and determine, among other traits and functions, a plant’s appearance, health, and productivity, as well as the color and taste of its fruit. Ultimately, the sequencing will provide researchers with a better understanding of the Rosaceae family and how to address challenges from tree fruit pests, drought, and lack of nutrients.

The new information sheds light on biochemical regulation pathways for disease resistance, ways of protecting the food supply from environmental conditions, and that perplexing fruit ripening process. The genomes also help scientists understand how the fruit functions have evolved, such as why the peach and raspberry appear so different from each other when both are in the Rosaceae family.

Given that Rosaceae fruit production is a multibillion dollar industry in Washington, ” understanding the genetics of these fruits dovetails perfectly with everything else WSU is doing to ensure producer competitiveness,” Dhingra said. “Sustainability also means being able to grow food with minimal environmental impacts.”

Draft assemblies of the four genomes are being made available to the research community prior to publication via the WSU Genome Portal at http://bit.ly/13xXH7c. The data may be downloaded and used by those who agree to the terms of release.

Learn more about the WSU genomics lab and related research at http://genomics.wsu.edu.

-Rachel Webber

Cherry Field Day Shows off Latest Innovations

cherry1Cherry growers and industry representatives from across the Pacific Northwest gathered recently for the annual Cherry Field Day at the Prosser Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center (IAREC). Rows of the sweet fruit served as a backdrop for getting a look at some of the latest innovations that could propel the state’s cherry industry to even greater success.

Matthew Whiting, associate professor of horticulture, said it was rare for so many members of the industry to gather in one place. “Our annual cherry field day is one of my favorite events because it’s an invaluable opportunity to meet industry, get them into our research plots, and listen to their feedback about the projects we’re working on,” he said.

The field day drew attention to the changing landscape of tree fruit labor and the related shortages that companies are facing. Improvements in labor monitoring systems were displayed, showcasing new ways of weighing fruit and sending information to Internet cloud-based systems. The hope is that gathering data from harvesters more quickly will allow for more accurate payroll, scheduling, and shipping.

The labor monitoring system is just a part of what Whiting and his team work on at the Prosser research station. He thinks broadly about the impact that WSU can have. “Our role as scientists and researchers here is to support the development of the industry, make sure that they are profitable into the future, understand what it takes to have a successful orchard in the next generation, and keep providing that premium eating experience that Washington sweet cherries should be,” Whiting said.

Learn more about cherries and stone fruit physiology at http://cahnrs-cms.wsu.edu/StoneFruit/Pages/default.aspx.

-Matt Haugen

Winter Canola Becoming a Hot Topic

If the attendance at the last several winter canola tours is any indication, the interest in learning more about growing winter canola and other oilseed crops in the Pacific Northwest is continuing to expand.

Canola is a broadleaf crop that provides an opportunity to diversify the predominately wheat-based cropping systems in the region with the benefits of improved weed control, broken disease cycles, higher subsequent crop yields, and greater farm profitability. WSU and USDA-ARS faculty and staff organized tours near Bridgeport, Pomeroy, and Odessa with assistance from growers, industry, and the University of Idaho, and participated in another industry-led tour near Reardan. Topics included winter canola variety comparisons, weed and pest control, seeding dates, marketing, economics, tillage, and research and outreach updates from WSU.

Participants gather around canola, with its bright yellow flowers, for an up-close look at the effects of different management treatments.
Participants gather around canola, with its bright yellow flowers, for an up-close look at the effects of different management treatments.

Frank Young, USDA-ARS scientist, initiated the tours in response to questions from growers about his winter canola variety trials in north central Washington. Cereal rye is a significant problem weed in the wheat-fallow crop rotations there, so growers wanted to find out the details from Young’s research using canola and different herbicides to control the rye. “In this region, the opportunities for weed control in canola using chemistries other than those in a cereal-only rotation have not only resulted in reduced penalty fees for weed seeds in the wheat seed, but higher wheat yields,” Young said. “Growers in the low-to-intermediate rainfall zones are very interested in those benefits.”

The tour near Odessa featured a WSU field experiment with winter wheat stubble management treatments that involved burning, plowing, disking, and direct seeding. The research was funded by the Washington State Department of Ecology Agricultural Burning Task Force and led by Bill Schillinger, WSU Crop and Soils Science researcher. Most irrigated canola growers burn wheat stubble or make several tillage passes before seeding in an attempt to prevent the fungus Rhizoctonia from infecting the canola seedling roots, which can interfere with stand establishment and lower yields. Preliminary results have shown no Rhizoctonia in any of the treatments. Schillinger suspects that the canola fungus has not appeared because of fumigants that were applied to potatoes grown two years before the canola. “We will find out after harvest if the yields vary between the treatments,” he said.

Schillinger is encouraged by the recent news that he will be able to extend the study another two years with additional funding from the Ecology Ag Burn Task Force.

“These tours gave growers and industry an up-close look at how the varieties perform at different locations, as well as opportunities to hear about other canola production details and network with experienced canola growers,” said Dennis Roe, oilseed extension specialist at WSU. “We are planning to increase the number of locations for variety trials this year, and will continue to offer field tours and other educational events about canola production in the Pacific Northwest.” After attending three of the tours, Mike Poulson, aide to Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, commented that “the progress in canola research and production in the last five years is impressive.” Given that progressive history and the current strong market, “I believe canola has established itself as a viable mainstream crop in Washington.”

For more information about canola production or oilseed events, visit http://css.wsu.edu/biofuels or contact Karen Sowers.

-Karen Sowers