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Agriculture

Unique among crop species, legumes produce their own nitrogen nutrient through a symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing bacteria collectively known as rhizobia. This nitrogen-fixing symbiosis is a complex system, and currently we know too few of the molecular players involved. This project will optimize two methods to reduce the activity of a given gene, and use these methods to screen for legume genes required for the function of the nitrogen-fixing symbiosis.

Here, we propose to use a model grass species, Brachypodium distachyon, to initiate discoveries that can help realize the potential of plant-based renewable energy sources. With the research proposed, we will be discovering the extent of natural variation in traits relevant to biofuel production and identifying candidate loci controlling these variable traits. Our use of natural diversity to identify phenotypes that lead to greater fuel efficiency, and to ultimately identify genes underlying desirable feedstock traits, will aid in the development of optimal plant feedstocks for biofuel.

The plum curculio is an extremely destructive key pest of stone and pome fruit in commercial orchards in eastern North America. In fact, in a survey of over 100 MA and RI apple growers (conducted in mid-April 2018 by J. Piñero) this insect pest ranked first in importance. Conventional growers typically apply broad-spectrum insecticides to control plum curculio. The main goal of this project is to evaluate the attractiveness of aromatic compounds to overwintered plum curculio and to other early-season pests.

Improving human nutrition without artificial fortification of food or use of supplementary mineral nutrients is important in reducing malnutrition. Malnutrition from deficiencies of mineral elements is reported to be on the rise worldwide, even in the United State; it is estimated that half of the world population suffers from mineral nutrient deficiencies, limiting their physical, intellectual, and mental health activities. The deficiencies appear to derive from diminished contents of mineral nutrients in foods of plant (vegetables, fruits) or animal (meats, milk, cheese) origins.

Massachusetts has over 1,000 growers producing greenhouse crops in 12 million square feet of protected growing space (2002 Census of Agriculture). Most of Massachusetts’ greenhouses are heated with either fuel oil or liquid propane. While there are no firm figures available, we estimate that total use of fossil fuels for greenhouse heat is equivalent to nearly 1 million gallons of fuel oil, with emissions in the range of 22 million pounds of CO2 annually.

We will evaluate the influence of rootstocks on temperate-zone fruit tree characteristics grown under varying environments using sustainable management systems.  This will help allow us to better assess the impacts of biotic and abiotic stresses on scion/rootstockcombinations in temperate zone fruit trees and to enhance the sustainability of temperate fruit farming through development and distribution of research based information utilizing eXtension.

The overall objective of this research is to use beneficial bacteria and fungi to improve medicinal and aromatic plant yields quantitatively and qualitatively. Specific objectives are:

The topic of nutrient density in food crops has been active among consumers, producers and the scientific community in recent years. Literature on food composition demonstrates that the mineral nutrient density of vegetables has fallen in the past 50 years. This decline is associated with two factors: declines in soil fertility and with the genetics of plant cultivars that accumulate yield at higher rates than they accumulate mineral nutrients.

Improving management of cucurbit diseases, especially cucurbit downy mildew (CDM), has been consistently identified by growers and processors in MA as a major research priority in the past ten years. In 2004, new strains of CDM arrived which had overcome resistance that was then standard in all cucumber varieties and adequately controlled the disease.

Utilizing food systems to improve nutrition without the need for artificial fortification of food or use of dietary supplements of mineral nutrients is important in ending malnutrition. Malnutrition from deficiencies of mineral elements is reported to be on the rise worldwide, even in the United States. It is estimated that half of the world population suffers from incidences of mineral nutrient deficiencies. These deficiencies limit the physical, intellectual, and mental health activities of the affected people.

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