115 Surge Lab - Geneva
The research in my lab is focused on breeding, genetics, genomics, and physiology of shrub willow bioenergy crops. Shrub willow (Salix spp.) produce high yields of woody biomass when grown as a dedicated short-rotation crop on marginal or underutilized land. Willow stems are harvested every three years and the plants resprout after each cutback, making willow fields productive for more than 20 years. I direct the largest willow breeding program in North America and collaborate with colleagues across North America on studies of willow biomass composition, willow crop management, and regional yield trials.
My long-term research goals include maintaining and strengthening the willow breeding program, so that it can invigorate and sustain a dramatically expanded commercial willow bioenergy enterprise that will have significant impact on stimulating agricultural productivity, improving the environment, and strengthening local economies. I also aim to develop this system as one that can build upon our basic understanding of perennial woody plant physiology, the genetic basis of biomass production, and the domestication of perennial bioenergy crops. Included among the goals I hope to achieve over the course of my research career are: 1) To produce and commercialize new varieties of willow bioenergy crops that display improved and consistent yield across a wide variety of sites with resistance to pests and diseases; 2) To develop and utilize genetic and genomic resources and approaches for the study of Salix that will improve our understanding of perennial bioenergy crop domestication, comparative genomic organization in the Salicaceae, and networks of gene regulation that control key traits in woody biomass crops; 3) To explore the diversity of willows assembled from natural collections and produced through controlled hybridization and to identify and exploit species and individual genotypes that display traits well-suited for environmental engineering and horticultural applications; 4) To gain an understanding of the genotypic variation and environmental regulation of variations in woody biomass composition, especially as it relates to the efficiency of conversion to biofuels and to heat and power.
While my group’s basic research on willow genomics and applied willow breeding program are critical to support the long-term viability of shrub willow energy crops, the true value is realized only when results are disseminated and improvements adopted by industry stakeholders. There has been very little commercial deployment of the crop in North America, and there are very few experts available to provide extension and education to growers, policymakers, bioenergy industry professionals, and consumers. Thus, a critical component of my day-to-day efforts is to develop extension materials, provide information that may stimulate further commercialization of willow energy crops, and help coordinate educational opportunities for growers, while also building a cohesive team of willow expertise to support the industry. I will strive to participate in conferences and trade shows frequented by growers and extension educators, such as Empire Farm Days, the USDA-NRCS Big Flats Biofeedstock Day, Ag Progress Days, Cornell Cooperative Extension in-service training, and other regional events to present both foundation information on the cropping system and latest results from applied research. I will cooperate with collaborators to regularly revise and improve the Willow Grower’s Handbook, including the latest information on tillage practices, weed management, recommended herbicides for specific weed targets, characteristics of commercial willow varieties, and disease and pest identification and management. The applied research results from the Cornell willow team are published online via the Willowpedia web site (http://willow.cals.cornell.edu/) and Willowpedia Channel on YouTube. The Willowpedia site will be linked with academic and commercial willow sites around the world to provide a comprehensive information resource. We have produced Willowpedia-branded fact sheets for widespread distribution to growers. We will initiate a new annual field day event at the NYS Ag Experiment Station in Geneva to describe the willow cropping system to interested growers and landowners, featuring annual research and extension reports from willow researchers, nurseries, and entrepreneurial growers invited from across North America. E-mail distribution lists for the automated distribution of regular Willowpedia newsletters and newsflashes will be implemented and managed using the Constant Contact marketing service. Professional online networking among willow energy crop experts and stakeholders will be vigorously encouraged through LinkedIn and online meetings and Webinars.
I started teaching PLBR4030 Genetic Improvement of Crop Plants in the Fall semester of 2010. I am extremely enthusiastic about teaching this course, as I have worked my entire scientific career as a plant geneticist and physiologist, but in teaching plant breeding can bring that into the context of applied crop improvement. This course is aimed at advanced undergraduate students in the plant sciences and beginning plant science graduate students who have not already had a course in plant breeding. It provides coverage of the foundation concepts of plant genetics and a comprehensive overview of traditional and molecular plant breeding. This course can serve as a gateway to advanced plant breeding graduate courses, with discussions of quantitative genetics, breeding strategies and goals, linkage and trait mapping, molecular marker technology, genetically modified crops, selection methods, and intellectual property management. I utilize a combination of the chalk board in lectures to highlight and outline key concepts for note taking, together with PowerPoint slides to integrate examples of concepts through images and case studies, incorporating cutting edge research examples from peer-reviewed publications. I invite peridoic guest speakers and encourage topic exploration through class discussion of research papers. I maintain active communication with students and provide supporting course materials using BlackBoard, which can also provide online course logistical organization.