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CAHNRS Department of Horticulture Genomics Lab

Encouraging the Next Generation of Scientists

Sequoia Leuba (left) explaining her research at the recent Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Eighteen-year-old Sequoia Leuba was already a seasoned researcher when she came to work this summer in the lab of WSU horticultural genomicist Amit Dhingra. In ninth grade, while her peers were just starting to classify the unseen world of microbes, Leuba was conducting research at a University of Pittsburgh microbiology lab.

Read the rest of the article by Nella Letizia on WSU Agricultural Science News website.

Regenerating Pixie a crucial step in grasping grape genetics

PULLMAN, Wash. – Understanding the grape genome in all its vast variety will translate into sustainable viticulture practices and a deeper understanding of wine quality.

Wine grape growers have been plagued by an economically devastating pest, phylloxera, which has necessitated the replacement of almost all vines with new ones grown on pest-resistant rootstocks. Fungal diseases are not only an economic threat but an environmental one as well, since heavy fungicide treatments are required to beat back the spread of powdery mildew.

Getting a grip on grape genetics requires not just the sequencing of entire genomes but detailed pictures of which genes do what. To get that information, scientists need a way to quickly grow sample plants that have been genetically transformed. Transformation means that a particular gene is silenced or added to the organism in order to learn what effect the change has on the plant.

Read the article in WSU News.

Four Grad Students Funded for Wine Research

PULLMAN, Wash. – Some of wine drinkers’ favorite grape varieties are originally from the Rhone River Valley of France. Now, though, syrah, grenache, viognier and a handful of other varieties are grown in vineyards all over the world, including Washington state.

That’s why a U.S.-based organization, Rhone Rangers, recently helped fund the research of four WSU graduate students working on issues related to Rhone grape varieties. Read more at WSU News.

MCP Alternative Tested

An organic compound that has the potential to enhance storability of pears and apples is being patented by the Washington State University Foundation.

Glycinebetaine, a natural product derived from sugar beet molasses, is sold in Europe under the tradename Bluestim to help plants overcome the environmental stresses caused by heat, drought, or cold, and osmotic stress. It is also used to prevent cherry cracking.

Dr. Amit Dhingra, molecular biologist at WSU, has discovered that when the product is applied to pears 30 days before harvest, it can help delay ripening in storage but in a different way from MCP (methylcyclopropene), a product widely used in the tree fruit industry to preserve fruit quality. Read the rest of the article at Good Fruit Grower.

New program funds undergraduate science research

PULLMAN, Wash. – A new program, funded by the National Science Foundation, will give eight undergraduate students from across the nation the opportunity to study plant biologREU studenty in cutting-edge labs at Washington State University.

The Research Experience for Undergraduate program is accepting applications from students wanting real-world experience in plant genomics and biotechnology. Applications are due by March 30 and winners will be notified by April 25. To apply, or for more information, visit

Undergraduates accepted into the REU site will receive a $5,000 stipend for the 10-week session, free housing,and travel assistance to and from Pullman, Wash.

“We encourage students interested in everything from computer science to ecology to apply for this experience,” said Amit Dhingra, a WSU horticultural genomics professor and the leader of the new program. Read more at WSU News.

High-tech Nursery Launched

Dr. Amit Dhingra, genomicist with Washington State University, has set up a new company to produce fruit varieties, rootstocks, and nursery trees faster and cheaper through tissue culture. In addition, the identities of the plants are guaranteed through high-resolution genetic ­fingerprinting.

The company, called Phytelligence, is a spinoff of WSU. Dhingra and six of his graduate students at WSU developed micropropagation protocols as well as the technique and software for accurately verifying the genetic identity of the plantlets they produce. Read more at Good Fruit Grower.

WSU among first in nation with DNA sequencer

PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University is among the first in the country to acquire a DNA sequencing machine that will let researchers across the university assemble and characterize genomes with dramatically improved speed and accuracy. The technology promises to improve researchers’ understanding of the genetic blueprints of plants and animals and open new avenues for fighting diseases and improving the productivity of crops. See the video by Matt Haugen and read more at WSU News.

Dr. Dhingra featured in the ASPB Membership Corner

Dr. Amit Dhingra is featured in the American Society of Plant Biologists Membership Corner.

ASPB members share a common goal of promoting the growth, development, and outreach of plant biology as a pure and applied science.
This column features some of the dedicated and innovative members of ASPB who believe that membership in our Society is crucial to the

future of plant biology. Read more at ASPB News.

MCP Substitute Studied

Scientists at Washington State University have filed a patent application for a product that could be applied ­preharvest to pears to extend their storability as an alternative to a postharvest MCP (1-methylcyclopropene) application.

Dr. Amit Dhingra, a molecular biologist based in Pullman, said pears that have been treated with the new product are firm when they come out of controlled-atmosphere storage, but are able to ripen properly afterwards. Since it’s a natural compound, it should be suitable for use in organic production. The substance, which is not related to MCP, was discovered by scientists in his lab. Read more at Good Fruit Grower.

A New Slice out of the Apple

Rock Doc column March 2, 2011.

I often eat without thinking, either while listening to the news or writing. It’s a poor habit for several reasons, one of which is my ever-growing waistline.

But the next time you bite into an apple, I implore you to take just a moment to really savor its taste, aroma, and texture. Those characteristics vary a lot between a Granny Smith and a Golden Delicious, or a McIntosh and a Braeburn. The variation is one reason apples are a delight.

Apples come from an ancestor tree that had small and acidic fruit. We don’t know exactly how it was that people coaxed substantial improvement out of acid apples, but around 2000 B.C. people produced sweet apple stock. That was also when they began grafting branches from one tree onto another, a clever idea if ever there was one. Much later the Romans, who knew a good thing when they saw it, spread the sweet apple and grafting technology to many lands.

Now skip with me up to the present, because there’s some big news about apples. In the parlance of biologists, the full genome of the apple has recently been described. Read the full article by Dr. Kirsten Peters at CAHNRS News.