Dr. Yi Wang Joins the Department

Yi Wang is an assistant professor with a research focus on potato and vegetable sustainable production. The goal of her research and extension program is to conduct science-based applied research and collaborate with the potato and vegetable growers and processors to improve the resource use efficiency and sustainability of vegetable cropping systems in Wisconsin. Her major research areas are:

  • Investigate new irrigation technologies to improve the water-use sustainability of vegetable cropping systems;
  • Develop production recommendations for new varieties with higher water and nitrogen use efficiency;
  • Develop useful growth modelling tools to predict crop yield, quality, water balance, and nitrogen balance.

Yi got her B.S. in Biological Science from Nanjing Agricultural University in China, her Ph.D. in Potato Physiology from UW-Madison. She worked as an assistant professor at the Kimberly Research and Extension Center, University of Idaho before rejoining the Department of Horticulture at UW-Madison.

Are you smarter than an Otter?

On November 23rd, Faculty Associate, Claudia Irene Calderon, and Postdoctoral Fellow, Shelby Ellison, organized a carrot tasting with 12 three to five year olds from the UW Preschool Lab Otter class. The event took place in the DC Smith Conservatory where the children tasted orange, purple, red, white, and yellow carrots and learned about how the carrot color translates into the nutritional benefit it can provide when eaten.

Many of the children were excited to taste the different colored carrots and a few appeared to favor the less traditional purple types. In addition to tasting, the Otters enjoyed carrot themed story time, were able to pick out vegetable stamps, and enjoyed exploring the DC Smith Conservatory. The children returned to the UW Preschool lab with more carrots to sample and a nutritional fact sheet to share with their families.

Photos by Florencia Bannoud

 

Seed to Kitchen

Plant breeders partner with chefs for tastier produce

Have you noticed that more and more restaurants are featuring great-tasting, locally sourced foods on their menus? Now, through a UW–Madison horticulture initiative called “Seed to Kitchen,” chefs on the culinary cutting edge are working with plant breeders to grow produce with specific flavor characteristics their customers will love. –

Farm to Flavor dinner will feature plant breeding efforts

Farm to Flavor is a signature dinner experience and celebration of Wisconsin food that will be held on Thursday, September 15, 2016 from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. in the Mendota Room inside Dejope Hall. It brings together the plant breeders, farmers, and chefs responsible for creating a new local cuisine. These co-creators encompass the motto that food is made at the intersection of seed, farm, and kitchen.

Taste the results of collaborative plant breeding in small plates from Madison’s highly acclaimed chefs including, Jonny Hunter of Underground Food Collective, Tory Miller of I’Etoile, Dan Bonnano of Pig in a Fur Coat and Eric Benedict of Café Hollander. Guest speaker Ken Greene of the Hudson Valley Seed Library will kick off a dinner discussion about the intersection of crop varieties, culture and art. Questions about plant breeding, farming and food systems are welcomed throughout the dinner.

Prior to the dinner, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., a free plant-breeding showcase held at Allen Centennial Garden will give attendees the opportunity to meet leading plant breeders responsible for developing fruits and vegetables adapted for Wisconsin’s organic farms. While sampling the results, attendees will learn how collaborative plant breeding can increase productivity and the profitability of regional organic farms.

The cost to attend the dinner is $35 in advance and $40 the day of the event. Register athttp://bit.ly/2bh7dtv.

For more information, contact Julie Dawson at dawson@hort.wisc.edu or (608) 609-6165.

Carrot genomes

Carrot genome paints picture of domestication, could help improve crop 

Carrot color arrangement

Carrots derive their color from pigment compounds called carotenoids. Orange carrots are colored by alpha- and beta-carotene, while red carrots get their color from lycopene, yellow from lutein and purple from anthocyanin. These pigments also provide the nutrition found in carrots. PHOTO COURTESY OF PHIL SIMON, UW–MADISON, USDA-ARS

Sometimes, the evolutionary history of a species can be found in a fossil record. Other times, rocks and imprints must be swapped for DNA and genetic fingerprints.

The latter is the case for the good-for-your-eyes carrot, a top crop whose full genetic code was just deciphered by a team of researchers led by University of Wisconsin–Madison horticulture professor and geneticist Phil Simon. Simon is also a research scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, which helped fund the work. The study is published today in the journal Nature Genetics.

It tells a story of how the carrot has been touched by domestication and breeding practices and influenced by environmental and geologic change, and it fills in a family tree of relatives that otherwise appear distinct. It also reveals how carrots have become so good at accumulating carotenoids, the pigment compounds that give them their characteristic colors and provide them with their nutritional strength.

Photo: Phil Simon

Phil Simon

“The carrot has a good reputation as a crop and we know it’s a significant source of nutrition — vitamin A, in particular,” Simon says. “Now, we have the chance to dig deeper and it’s a nice addition to the toolbox for improving the crop.”

The knowledge gained from the study could also lead to the improvement of similar crops, from parsnip to the yellow-fleshed cassava, a staple food throughout much of Africa.

“This was an important public-private project, and the genomic information has already been made available to assist in improving carrot traits such as enhanced levels of beta-carotene, drought tolerance and disease resistance,” says co-author Allen Van Deynze, director of research at the University of California, Davis’ Seed Biotechnology Center. “Going forward, the genome will serve as the basis for molecular breeding of the carrot.”

Carrots have a long history as a domesticated root crop. The first cultivated carrots appeared 1,100 years ago in Central Asia. These carrots were — unlike their white wild ancestors — purple and yellow. The canonical orange carrot appeared later, in Europe in the 1500s, providing at the time an aesthetic subject for German and Spanish art. Even before domestication, wild carrot seeds showed up in 3,000- to 5,000-year-old primitive campsites in Germany and Switzerland.

The study cannot answer why the first crops were purple and yellow, though it can verify that it is not because of flavor. The genes for color and the genes associated with preferred flavors are not connected. But that colored carrots became popular is fortuitous: The pigments are what make them nutritious, and orange carrots are the most nutritious of all, Simon says. Carrots are the richest crop source of vitamin A in the American diet.

The new study reveals how that orange color happens. “The accumulation of orange pigments is an accumulation that normally wouldn’t happen,” says Simon, one of just a few carrot researchers around the world, along with another UW–Madison scientist, Irwin Goldman, who was not part of this study. “Now, we know what the genes are and what they do.”

Carrots are the richest crop source of vitamin A in the American diet. Vitamin A is an essential nutrient. PHOTO COURTESY OF PHIL SIMON, UW–MADISON, USDA-ARS

Carrots are the richest crop source of vitamin A in the American diet. Vitamin A is an essential nutrient. PHOTO COURTESY OF PHIL SIMON, UW–MADISON, USDA-ARS

The research team used the Nantes carrot — a bright orange form of the vegetable named for a city in France — to assemble and analyze the full genetic sequence, peering into the machinery that drove the carrot’s evolution, and the bread crumbs left through time.

The carrot genome contains more than 32,000 genes arranged among nine chromosomes, which code for pest and disease resistance, colorful carotenoids and more. Carotenoids, like alpha- and beta-carotene, were first discovered in carrots.

The researchers uncovered features traced to distantly related plant species, from grapes and tomatoes to kiwis and potatoes. Carrots more recently split from lettuce and they are in the same family as spice crops, like parsley and fennel.

The researchers also sequenced 35 different types of carrots to compare them to their wild ancestors. They showed carrots were first domesticated in the Middle East and Central Asia, confirming the Vavilov Center of Diversity theory, which predicts cultivated plants arose from specific regions rather than randomly.

They also learned that sometime between the Cretaceous and Paleogene periods — roughly around the time dinosaurs went extinct — carrots picked up genetic advantages common to other plants of the era that allowed them to thrive.

Additionally, the study confirmed a gene called Y is responsible for the difference between white carrots and yellow or orange ones, and that a variation of it leads to the accumulation of carotenoids.

“They could keep their crops ‘clean’ from a patch of wild carrots growing 50 meters away by choosing only the purple or yellow ones. Or maybe it was the food fad of the 10th century …”

Phil Simon

But it also identified a new, previously unknown gene that contributes to the accumulation of the colorful compounds. Both genes are recessive, which means two copies of each are needed for carotenoids to build up in the plant, which is actually a defect in a metabolic pathway that appears to be related to light-sensing.

Plants derive their own nutrition through light-sensing, or photosynthesis, but roots like carrots aren’t normally exposed to light and do not need photosynthetic pigments like carotenoids. “It’s a repurposing of genes plants usually use when growing in light,” says Simon.

It appears these genes were inadvertently selected for by early growers, and Simon suggests it may have simply been to aid early domesticators — likely to have been women — differentiate between wild carrots and the plants they intended to grow.

“They could keep their crops ‘clean’ from a patch of wild carrots growing 50 meters away by choosing only the purple or yellow ones,” says Simon, who jokes: “Or maybe it was the food fad of the 10th century, with orange in the 16th.”

Global carrot consumption quadrupled between 1976 and 2013 and over the last 40 years, breeding has led to more nutritious carrots with the selection of ever more intensely orange crops. In fact, carrots have 50 percent more carotene today than they did in 1970.

While most Americans are not deficient in vitamin A, it is considered an essential nutrient and deficiency is a problem in some U.S. communities and around the world. While the study may not solve the problem, it does highlight the opportunity carrots present to improve health and economic outcomes in other nations.

“Globally, we hand out vitamin A capsules, but why not have people grow their own?” Simon asks. “In one square meter you can grow a single crop of carrots per year to feed up to a half dozen adults. You can grow half now and half in six months to give you a sustainable source of vitamin A and a valuable crop in the marketplace.”

The study also reflects a shift in how plant breeders operate, by taking advantage of new technologies to answer basic questions about cultivated crops.

“It tells us things about the genome we expected but didn’t know before,” says Simon. “Each crop has a story to tell.”

The study also includes co-authors from Michigan State University and around the world, including Poland, Spain, Italy, Turkey, China and Argentina. It was funded by several seed companies and the carrot industry, as well as the National Science Foundation, the Polish National Science Center and the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education. The authors declare no competing financial interests and Simon explains that industry funds make the work possible.

Reposted from: http://news.wisc.edu/carrot-genome-paints-picture-of-domestication-could-help-improve-crops/#sthash.le7Xxay2.dpuf  by Kelly April Tyrell

 

Open Source Seed Pledge

2014-04-16_13-05-20This week, scientists, farmers and sustainable food systems advocates will gather on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus to celebrate an unusual group of honored guests: 29 new varieties of broccoli, celery, kale, quinoa and other vegetables and grains that are being publicly released using a novel form of ownership agreement known as the Open Source Seed Pledge.

The pledge, which was developed through a UW-Madison-led effort known as the Open Source Seed Initiative, is designed to keep the new seeds free for all people to grow, breed and share for perpetuity, with the goal of protecting the plants from patents and other restrictions down the line.

“These vegetables are part of our common cultural heritage, and our goal is to make sure these seeds remain in the public domain for people to use in the future,” says UW-Madison horticulture professor and plant breeder Irwin Goldman, who helped write the pledge.

Goldman will release two carrot varieties he developed-named Sovereign and Oranje in the spirit of the event-at a public ceremony Thursday’s public ceremony, which is set for 11 a.m. on the front lawn of the UW-Madison’s Microbial Sciences Building, 1550 Linden Drive.

Listen to Wisconsin Public Radio’s Interview with Dr. Goldman. 

The Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) was established in 2011 by public plant breeders, farmers, non-governmental organization staff and sustainable food systems advocates from around the nation concerned about the decreasing availability of plant germplasm-seeds-for public plant breeders and farmer-breeders to work with.

Many of the seeds for our nation’s big crop plants – field corn and soybeans – are already restricted through patents, licenses and other forms of intellectual property protection. Increasingly, this is happening to vegetable, fruit and small grain seeds. Members of OSSI worry that this trend could lead to a time when there’s no longer any valuable plant germplasm available for public use.

“These vegetables are part of our common cultural heritage, and our goal is to make sure these seeds remain in the public domain for people to use in the future.”

Irwin Goldman

“Already, many public breeders don’t have the freedom to operate. They can’t do what they want to do as often as they would like,” says Jack Kloppenburg, UW-Madison professor of community and environmental sociology and author of “First the Seed,” who has provided much of the guiding vision for the OSSI group.

Early on, inspired by the open source software community, which freely shares and collaborates to improve their products, OSSI members starting exploring how to develop open source licenses for seeds-but came upon numerous roadblocks along the way.

This spring, eager to get things moving forward again, Goldman and Kloppenburg convinced many in the group to embrace the simplest option they had discussed: the Open Source Seed Pledge.

Unlike the comprehensive open source licenses the OSSI group originally tried to develop, the pledge is very concise. It’s so short it will be printed on all OSSI seed packets.

“It’s almost like a haiku,” says Goldman. “It basically says these seeds are free to use in any way you want. They can’t be legally protected. Enjoy them.”

By opening the packet, a person signals their commitment to keep those seeds-and any future plant derivatives bred using them-in the public domain.

“It creates a parallel system, a new space where breeders and farmers can share seeds,” says Kloppenburg. “And, because it applies to derivatives, it makes for an expanding pool of germplasm that any plant breeder can freely use.”

Even with the new pledge available, Goldman, who breeds beets, carrots and onions, still plans to license many of his new varieties the traditional way through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation(WARF), the patenting and licensing arm of the UW-Madison, which has been supportive of his interest in open source seeds. It depends on the situation, he notes.

If Goldman develops a new variety that he’d like to see large seed companies incorporate into their breeding programs-for instance, a new carrot with improved disease resistance-he’ll most likely work with WARF to release the seeds using a traditional license.

But Goldman is thrilled that he now has an alternative option, for when he wants to share new varieties with fellow public plant breeders-or small seed companies.

“There are economic opportunities here,” he notes. “You can sell these open source seeds just like you’d sell any other seeds. The difference is that the recipients can actually do stuff with them, which is kind of fun.”

Because the Open Source Seed Pledge has not been tested, it’s unclear what its legacy may be. For now, OSSI members are enjoying their recent accomplishments and hoping for the best.

“Who knows what will happen, but even if the pledge does nothing more than help raise awareness about what’s going on with seeds, that’s progress,” says Goldman.

And the group hopes for much more.

Some would like to finish the job of developing a more comprehensive open source license for seeds. Others want to bring international partners on board.

“This is the birth of a movement,” says Kloppenburg. “Open source means sharing, and shared seed can be the foundation of a more sustainable and more just food system.”