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Discovery that Connects

From fundamental insights to better plants, sustainably grown, serving the world

Nihranz, Ayer, and Thomas awarded USDA NIFA fellowships

man in front of waterfallInvestigating the role of insect-vectored viruses in multi-trophic interactions
USDA AFRI-NIFA Postdoctoral Fellowship, $164,996
Chad Nihranz, Casteel lab, SIPS Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Section

This project will examine the impact of Potato virus Y on the emission of ecologically relevant plant volatiles that mediate multi-trophic interactions among potatoes, aphids, and their natural enemies. This project will also elucidate mechanisms that mediate these interactions to better understand the impact of viruses on the expression of volatile-related gene transcripts and their role in multitrophic interactions with the goal of improving current management strategies to reduce vector populations and virus spread within agricultural systems. The Casteel research program focuses on viral pathogens of plants, vector-borne plant pathogens, and molecular mechanisms of plant defense against viruses and vectors.


woman sitting in a chairAdvancing sustainability of apple scab management through integration of alternative approaches
USDA AFRI-NIFA Predoctoral Fellowship, $120,000
Katrin Ayer, Cox lab, SIPS Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Section
Apple scab, caused by the fungal pathogen Venturia inaequalis, is one of the most economically important diseases affecting apple. This project seeks to understand how the rate of fungicide application affects resistance in order to best slow development of resistance. An additional aim is to increase sustainability of fungicide applications through testing more integrated management strategies that rely partially on biologically-derived products rather than solely on conventional chemicals. The ultimate goal is to enhance sustainability and safety in agriculture for both apple growers and consumers. The Cox research program at Cornell AgriTech integrates basic and applied research to develop improved management strategies for fruit diseases of concern to New York producers.


headshot of blond womanUnderstanding the role of intercellular communication in vegetable crop grafting
USDA AFRI-NIFA Predoctoral Fellowship, $179,999
Hannah Thomas, Frank lab, SIPS Plant Biology Section

Grafting is a tool that allows beneficial traits from independent genotypes to be combined in a single individual, but the mechanisms that underlie graft formation remain elusive. Compatible graft combinations reconnect their vasculature through coordinated cellular patterning, while incompatible graft combinations exhibit failed vascular reconnections. This project will use tomato, its graft-compatible partner, eggplant, and its graft-incompatible partner, pepper to investigate the cellular mechanisms underlying graft-compatibility. To understand the role of intercellular communication in graft junction formation, this project will: (i) determine if plasmodesmata form at the graft junction interface, (ii) investigate the expression and mobility of known vascular patterning genes, and (iii) determine if necrosis in the graft junction impedes intercellular communication.

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