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The researchers measured the susceptibility of 60 genetically diverse genotypes of cacao to Phytophthora palmivora — a major cacao pathogen with global importance — by first collecting leaf samples from cacao trees at the International Cocoa Collection
December 6, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Chocolate-producing cacao trees that are resistant to a major pathogen were identified by an international team of plant geneticists. The findings point the way for plant breeders to develop trees that are tolerant of the disease. The method researchers used to rapidly identify resistance genes could be used for any trait that has a genetic link in any plant, according to the team’s leader, Mark Guiltinan, professor of plant molecular biology, Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences. He contends that the strategy represents a major step forward in the quest to develop disease resistance in long generational plants such as trees.

December 5, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Fourteen Penn State faculty members in areas ranging from physics and engineering to entomology and plant science have been named fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society. A lifetime honor bestowed upon members by their peers, a total of 443 individuals are being recognized for their extraordinary achievements in advancing science. “At Penn State we believe in the power of brilliant minds creating new possibilities through exploration, collaboration and innovation,” said Nick Jones, executive vice president and provost. “I commend our 14 scholars receiving this high honor and thank them for their continued dedication to the University’s research enterprise.”

Younger millennials give more thought and pay more attention to experiences rather than products, researchers say, so wineries should consider appealing to these patrons' environmentalism and preference for sustainability in tasting rooms and operations.
November 7, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Wineries in the mid-Atlantic region should consider recycling and encouraging their customers to bring bottles to their tasting rooms for refilling to distinguish their businesses from so many others, according to a team of wine-marketing researchers who surveyed consumers. With competition to attract visitors stiff and still growing among the hundreds of wineries in the region, connecting a winery’s brand to sustainable practices would attract more visitors to its tasting room, according to Kathleen Kelley, professor of horticultural marketing and business management in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. The strategy, researchers believe, would especially appeal to environmentally conscious younger customers.

Researchers used the Spring Creek watershed — which drains an area of about 150 square miles into Bald Eagle Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna River — for the project because it is one of the best-studied watersheds in the Chesapeake drainage.
November 7, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Using site-specific watershed data to determine the most cost-effective agricultural best management practices — rather than requiring all the recommended practices be implemented across the entire watershed — could make staying below the Chesapeake Bay’s acceptable pollution load considerably less expensive. That’s the conclusion of a novel, five-year study conducted by an interdisciplinary team of Penn State and U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers, who modeled and compared runoff and pollution from Spring Creek watershed in central Pennsylvania under two scenarios: using all of the best management practices ( BMPs) identified for a watershed and a customized, most cost-effective set of BMPs tailored for Spring Creek watershed.

A good example of cross-sectional images yielded by laser ablation tomography.
September 18, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A novel use of a custom laser system — developed in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences eight years ago — allows researchers to see how soil organisms affect plant roots. The discovery has implications for future breeding of more resilient and productive crops, according to an international team of scientists. “This research shows how we can use laser ablation tomography — often referred to as LAT — to visualize the anatomy of roots from several crop species, and see how soil organisms such as fungi, herbivorous nematodes and insects interact with these roots in three dimensions,” said Jonathan Lynch, distinguished professor of plant science.

Planting green involves planting main crops into living cover crops. An example shown here: Cereal rye is rolled and soybeans planted green in the same pass at Penn State's Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center
July 2, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Allowing cover crops to grow two weeks longer in the spring and planting corn and soybean crops into them before termination is a strategy that may help no-till farmers deal with wet springs, according to Penn State researchers. The approach — known as planting green — could help no-till farmers counter a range of problems they must deal with during wet springs like the ones that have occurred this year and last year. These problems include soil erosion, nutrient losses, soils holding too much moisture and causing a delay in the planting of main crops, and main-crop damage from slugs.

Dan Stearns, J. Franklin Styer Professor Emeritus, left, is congratulated by Roger Phelps, member of the National Association of Landscape Professionals' Academic Excellence Foundation Board. Stearns was named Outstanding Educator of the Year.
April 24, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Dan Stearns, J. Franklin Styer Professor Emeritus, who served as the inaugural professor and program coordinator of the landscape contracting program in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, recently was named Outstanding Educator of the Year by the National Association of Landscape Professionals during its annual conference in Fort Collins, Colorado. The organization represents an industry of nearly 1 million landscape, lawn care, irrigation and tree care experts. The award recognizes educators who have been passionate supporters and tireless ambassadors of the landscape industry; who have contributed time, energy and enthusiasm to their programs; and who show dedication to the education of future industry leaders. “Dan Stearns exemplifies what it means to be an engaged and committed educator,” said Erin Connolly, professor and head of the college’s Department of Plant Science. “He gave his best to students, instilling in them the knowledge and confidence needed to make their mark in the industry. Those students — and Penn State — have been enriched by his talents and genuine interest in elevating others.”

For this study, at the University's Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center, researchers grew two nearly identical lines of sorghum.
April 5, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Compounds produced by sorghum plants to defend against insect feeding could be isolated, synthesized and used as a targeted, nontoxic insect deterrent, according to researchers who studied plant-insect interactions that included field, greenhouse and laboratory components. The researchers examined the role of sorghum chemicals called flavonoids —specifically 3-deoxyflavonoid and 3-deoxyanthocyanidins — in providing resistance against the corn leaf aphid, a tiny blue-green insect that sucks sap from plants. To defend against pests like the aphids, sorghum has evolved defenses that includes biosynthesis of secondary metabolites, including flavonoids to poison the pests.

Rachel Milliron, a master's degree student when the study was conducted, now a Penn State Extension educator specializing in agronomy, identified multiple strategies that farmers can use to produce forage with fall manure and protect water quality.
April 3, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Dairy farmers in the Northeast can improve water quality and boost the profitability of their operations by changing the timing and method of applying manure to their fields in the fall, along with planting rye as a cover crop between corn crops — or by double-cropping rye and corn, according to Penn State researchers. In a two-year study at Penn State's Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center, researchers compared the effects on nitrogen conservation of three field-management options that could be implemented by farmers, to determine whether new strategies would yield environmental and crop-production benefits.

The mystery involved a spontaneous gene mutation that causes red pigments to show up in various corn plant tissues for a few generations and then disappear in subsequent progeny. Image: Surinder Chopra Research Group/Penn State
January 18, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In discovering a mutant gene that "turns on" another gene responsible for the red pigments sometimes seen in corn, researchers solved an almost six-decades-old mystery with a finding that may have implications for plant breeding in the future. The culmination of more than 20 years of work, the effort started when, in 1997, Surinder Chopra, professor of maize genetics at Penn State, received seeds from a mutant line of corn. At the time, Chopra was a postdoctoral scholar at Iowa State University, and he brought the research with him when he joined the Penn State faculty in 2000.

Farmers in Angonia, Mozambique, happy with the performance of new varieties of common bean developed by an international partnership of plant scientists that included researchers in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.
November 29, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In the culmination of more than a decade of research on root traits conducted by Penn State plant scientists, about three tons of seed for common bean plants specifically bred to thrive in the barren soils of Mozambique will be distributed there Dec. 11. Farmers, nongovernmental organizations and seed companies in eight villages across the central region of the country in southeast Africa will receive seed for bean plants that possess an enhanced ability to acquire the essential nutrient phosphorus. The distribution is a joint event led by the Mozambican Institute of Agrarian Research (IIAM), with support from Penn State, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the McKnight Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Soybean was a logical crop on which to conduct the research. It is the most widely grown legume in the world.
November 13, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — By temporarily silencing the expression of a critical gene, researchers fooled soybean plants into sensing they were under siege, encountering a wide range of stresses. Then, after selectively cross breeding those plants with the original stock, the progeny "remember" the stress-induced responses to become more vigorous, resilient and productive plants, according to a team of researchers. This epigenetic reprogramming of soybean plants, the culmination of a decade-long study, was accomplished not by introducing any new genes but by changing how existing genes are expressed. That is important because it portends how crop yields and tolerance for conditions such as drought and extreme heat will be enhanced in the future, according to lead researcher Sally Mackenzie, professor in the departments of Biology and Plant Science at Penn State.

Researcher Cameron Stephens, a former graduate student in plant science, is shown in the laboratory with dollar-spot fungus isolates from Pennsylvania golf courses. Researchers tested isolates from more than 40 Pennsylvania golf courses to assess fungicid
October 25, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Dollar spot — the most common, troublesome and damaging turfgrass disease plaguing golf courses — is becoming increasingly resistant to fungicides applied to manage it, according to Penn State researchers. An aggressive and destructive disease caused by the fungal pathogen Clarireedia jacksonii, dollar spot overwinters in plant tissues, often re-emerging in multiple epidemics throughout the year over the spring, summer and fall. The symptoms on highly maintained, closely mown turf typically consist of small patches of bleached plants that are unsightly and can affect playability of putting greens or fairways.

Penn State graduate Curtis Frederick is enjoying a career as a senior agronomist at Sterman Masser Inc., a large, family-owned potato company, in Sacramento, Pennsylvania.
September 25, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Curtis Frederick really digs potatoes. And that's a good thing considering that the 2009 graduate of Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences is enjoying a career as a senior agronomist at Sterman Masser Inc., a large, family-owned potato company, in Sacramento, Pennsylvania. "Having grown up on a potato and grain farm in Pennsylvania, I had a long-held interest in a combination of science and agriculture, but my exact career path was not clear," said Frederick, who majored in horticulture with minors in biology and agronomy. "Penn State provided the opportunity to explore options in many ways."

Mark Guiltinan, J. Franklin Styer Professor of Horticultural Botany.
September 21, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Mark Guiltinan, professor of plant molecular biology in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, recently was named the J. Franklin Styer Professor of Horticultural Botany. The Styer Professorship, created in 1990 by an endowment from late Penn State alumnus J. Franklin Styer, is intended to supplement departmental support for outstanding faculty and further the scholar's contributions to teaching, research and service.

Both conservation scenarios simulated in the research decreased nitrous oxide emissions by reducing denitrification, but the scenario that included manure injection, shown here, retarded 91 percent of the nitrogen volatilization that occurred in the broad
September 14, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — If the majority of dairy farms in Pennsylvania fully adopt conservation best-management practices, the state may be able to achieve its total maximum daily load water-quality target for the Chesapeake Bay, according to researchers. That is the conclusion of a novel assessment of the simulated effects of implementing a conservation dairy-farming system on all dairy farms in the Spring Creek watershed, a small drainage in Centre County. In the simulations, the conservation dairy-farming systems — which have been developed and tested by Penn State researchers over the last decade — produce the majority of the feed and forage crops consumed by their cattle, use no-till planting, have continuous diversified plant cover, and have one system to employ manure injection.

Hannah Hunsberger, a senior majoring in plant sciences, spent 10 days in Ireland studying agriculture there as part of an embedded course she took last spring.
August 13, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Growing up on a dairy farm in Mifflintown, Hannah Hunsberger never thought much about agriculture beyond America. That all changed during a mission trip to Haiti with her church. "While I was in Haiti, I met with a number of local farmers, and it really opened my eyes to the world of agriculture outside of the U.S.," she said. "It made me realize that I wanted to do something in a field I’m passionate about and make a difference for farmers at home and abroad." That ambition led her to Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, where she is a senior majoring in plant sciences with minors in international agriculture, agronomy and horticulture.

A smallholder farmer harvests Acacia pennata (Cha-om) shoots from her "living fence" in Cambodia.   Image: Penn State
June 7, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In a perfect world, everyone would have access to nutritious, affordable food. However, as Rick Bates knows, there is no such thing as utopia when it comes to food security, as millions of people around the world have limited food resources. One of those places is Cambodia in Southeast Asia, one of the world's poorest countries, where the rural poverty rate is 24 percent, and 40 percent of children younger than 5 are chronically malnourished, making them vulnerable to significant health problems.

Rob Crassweller, professor of horticulture and extension tree-fruit specialist in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.
May 22, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Rob Crassweller, professor of horticulture and extension tree-fruit specialist in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, has received the 2018 American Society for Horticultural Science Outstanding Extension Educator Award.

Jonathan Lynch, distinguished professor of plant science in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, has been named the 2018 winner of the Dennis R. Hoagland Award.
May 16, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Jonathan Lynch, distinguished professor of plant science in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, has been named the 2018 winner of the Dennis R. Hoagland Award for his work in improving scientific understanding of crop productivity and plant nutrition to improve production and food security.