Our lab is interested in pursuing basic and applied research that leads to the thriving production of nutritious and delicious tree fruit. This includes using the power of genetics, genomics, molecular biology, and biotechnology to study plant development and physiology.
Our most developed projects at this time focus on plant architecture and flowering.
The architecture of a crop plant dictates management practices, planting density, the demand for labor, and the overall sustainability of its production. This is especially true for fruit trees in orchards.
For this project, we are studying how plants determine and regulate their shoot architecture. This knowledge could lead to the development of new management practices and cultivars that enable high density plantings that require less labor for pruning, training, and harvesting, enable mechanization, and reduce land, spray, and water use.
One of the ways we are working towards this goal, is to identify and determine the exact function of genes that regulate lateral shoot orientations. These genes, which include TAC1, LAZY1, and WEEP, are found throughout the plant kingdom, enabling us to use model organisms like Arabidopsis for our experiments alongside fruit trees such as apple, peach, and plum.
Damage to floral buds prior to fertilization greatly reduces fruit tree crop yields. In recent years, uncharacteristically warm winters followed by severe spring frosts have caused major losses in cherry, apple, and peach production. One way to lessen crop loss from frost damage is to breed trees whose flowers bloom later than the current varieties. Our lab is working with a team of researchers, including the Iezzoni and VanNocker Labs at MSU, to better understand bloom time in Rosacea species such as cherry and apple. We are using a multitude of approaches for this project and taking advantage of the heritable variation in bloom time that is naturally found in fruit trees.