Michael is a vegetable breeder that serves grower needs through improving disease and insect resistance as well as flavor in agroecologically based production systems.
The overall theme of my program is innovation of vegetables for adaptation for production in the Northeastern US and to be of improved quality and nutrition for consumers. I conduct much of this selection in Organic systems that represent a more natural environment. By working in a natural environment, I am better able to draw parallels between the artificial selection that takes place in plant breeding with the natural selection that has taken place during the evolution of crop progenitors. This process allows me to create new varieties that are contain otherwise cryptic factors that allow for crop production with fewer synthetic inputs and identify testable hypotheses regarding the genetic nature of these factors.
My focus is on the chemistry that underlies and mediates plant adaptation to the biotic environment with the consideration that humans are a part of this biotic environment that has co-evolved with plants. These studies take place with pepper, squash, cucumber, melon, watermelon, and snap peas with whichever tool is appropriate to the question be it genomics, genetics, molecular biology, field trials or analytical chemistry. The resulting germplasm and knowledge is shared with global partners that are dealing with the same issues in their diverse regions.
Outreach and Extension Focus
Plant breeding supplies growers with improved cultivars for flavor, sustainability, resiliency and yield. My outreach and extension mission is to work with growers to help provide them the seeds that allow them to overcome barriers and to engage the public to highlight the value that plant breeding provides them.
I am charged with preparing students for the post-genomic era of plant genetics. It is a foregone conclusion that this generation will be able to access any genotypic information about the plants in their world. It is my role then to help them understand the genetic basis of phenotype, inheritance, diversity, and natural versus synthetic changes of plant DNA in terms that will benefit them in them post graduation in whatever direction their career may take them.
Awards and Honors
- Grist 50: The 50 People You'll Be Talking About in 2016 (2016) Grist
- Featured in USA Pavilion “American Food 2.0” World Food Expo, Milan, Italy (2015)
- Honeynut Squash #39 on the Saveur 100 (2015) Saveur Magazine
- Organic Seed Alliance Faces of Public Plant Breeding (2012)
- Cavatorta, J., Moriarty, G., Glos, M., Henning, M., Kreitinger, M., Mazourek, M., Munger, H., & Jahn, M. (2012). ÔSalt and PepperÕ: A Disease-resistant Cucumber Inbred. HortScience. 47:427-428.
Presentations and Activities
- Thinking outside the crop: challenging market class concepts in vegetables. Horticulture Seminar. November 2016. Cornell University. Ithaca, NY.
- Creating Plant Breeding Populations for Organic Systems. Organic Seed Growers Conference. February 2016. Organic Seed Alliance. Corvallis, OR.
- Making up for lost time in Cucurbita molecular breeding. Plant and Animal Genome Conference. January 2016. San Diego, CA.
- Breeding for downy mildew resistance in cucumber. Cucurbitaceae. October 2014. Bay Harbor, MI.
- Comparative analysis of gene expression networks underlying winter squash fruit quality. Cucurbitaceae. October 2014. Bay Harbor, MI.
- The Future of Flavor: Looking Beyond Heirlooms. The 9th Annual Starchefs.com International Chefs Congress. October 2014. Starchefs.com . Brooklyn, NY.
- Pleiotropy in Breeding for Flavor in Vegetables. ASHS. July 2014. ASHS. Orlando, FL.
- Food Security through Valuing Food. Pioneer Student Plant Breeding Symposium. April 2014. Pioneer. Davis, CA.
- Developing Regionally Adapted Varieties. Organic Seed Growers Conference. January 2014. Corvallis, OR.
- Research update: Vegetable Crops. Organic Seed Growers Conference. January 2014. Corvallis, OR.