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Recap: Summer Scholars Program 2016 

By Alex Koeberle

Summer Scholars
Mariama Carter presenting at the 2016 Summer Scholars Program Undergraduate Research Poster Session in Geneva, NY.

This summer, 29 undergraduate students from across the United States participated in the Summer Research Scholars Program at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station.  Working closely with professors, researchers, and graduate students in Geneva, each student conducted his or her own research, culminating with a poster session at the end of the nine-week program.  Here are highlights from grape-related research projects:

Grapevine powdery mildew: the role of light in asexual sporulation
Student: Mariama D. Carter (Iowa State University '16)
Faculty Mentors: David Gadoury (Senior Research Associate, Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology)

Production of the “seeds” or spores of the fungus that causes grapevine powdery mildew is sensitive to particular light wavelengths.  Prior analyses have suggested light-based regulatory systems controlling spore production.  Mariama investigated different types of light (i.e. natural sunlight, monochromatic blue, and monochromatic red) on Chardonnay leaves and found that both blue and red wavelengths are involved in sporulation.  This study provides a foundation upon which further research may allow us to disrupt the regulatory process, and suppress powdery mildews by supplying light at unexpected times, and in novel blends of colors, to protect grape crops from diseases such as grapevine powdery mildew.

"The Summer Scholars program provided students with a truly invaluable experience.  Along with solidifying my interest in plant pathology, this program exposed me to an area I had not given much thought, extension.  I have come to value science communication and would like to incorporate extension and outreach into my career objectives.  My plan is to pursue a doctorate degree in plant pathology. I would eventually like to use the knowledge gained in graduate school to address plant disease issues in developing countries."

Determination and characterization of a symptom determinant of Grapevine fanleaf virus
Student: Maddie Flasco (Otterbein University ‘18)
Faculty Mentor: Marc Fuchs (Associate Professor, Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology)

Grapevine fanleaf virus (GFLV) causes fanleaf degeneration in vineyards worldwide.  Once in vineyards, GFLV reduces crop yields, decreases fruit quality, and shortens grapevine lifespans.  Symptoms include fan-like leaves, yellow veins, shortened internodes, and mosaics.  Maddie examined RNA protein coding to better understand how GFLV symptom expression arises from virus and host interaction.  Her work will contribute to developing new management strategies for controlling GFLV in grapes.

“Before this summer, I planned on pursuing the medical field after my undergraduate career.  I had never heard of plant pathology, and now I am definitely looking to pursue this after I graduate.  I had no idea what to expect from this program, and in the end, it was one of the best summers I ever had.  I made friends that I otherwise would have never met and was exposed to a field that I can see myself enjoying as a career.”

Bacteria that affect grapevine health in the Finger Lakes region of New York
Student: Maddie Metten (University of Northern Colorado ‘16)
Faculty Mentor:  Tom Burr (Professor, Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology)

Bacteria on grapevines can cause disease and decrease economic returns.  Maddie was involved in two research projects this summer in the Finger Lakes.  She identified ice-nucleation active (INA) bacteria in vineyards, which stimulate ice crystal formation that enhance frost injury.  INA bacteria populations were highest on grasses compared to broadleaf plants providing information relevant to vineyard ground cover management.  Maddie also compared differences in virulence gene (vir) expression between Agrobacterium vitis, which causes crown gall on grapes, and A. tumefaciens, which causes the disease on other plants.  Resveratrol, a wound signal compound from grape induced higher-level vir expression in A. vitis than in A. tumefaciens.  These results will help inform future studies aimed at controlling A. vitis in grapevines.

“It was great to see science in action and get so much hands on experience in such a short amount of time.  The summer scholars program did an excellent job exposing me to real world issues in plant pathology while broadening my knowledge of what to expect in graduate school.”

Exploration of alternative hosts for grapevine red blotch-associated virus
Student: Victoria Poplaski (Oberlin College ‘17)
Faculty Mentor: Marc Fuchs (Associate Professor, Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology)

Grapevine red blotch-associated virus (GRBaV) has been detected throughout the United States.  It is likely spread through grafting and propagation material, but has also been found to be transmitted through the three cornered alfalfa treehopper (Spissistilus festinus).  S. festinus is not a grapevine pest, however, it can be found in cover crops sown in middle rows of vineyards.  Victoria tested different cover crops inoculated with GRBaV after several weeks to verify virus infection.  Her research will help understand GRBaV epidemiology.

“I thought that the Cornell Summer Scholars Program was an absolutely fantastic experience. I learned so much this summer and can narrow down what I want to do for graduate school.”

For more information on the Cornell Summer Scholars program please visit: Appellation Cornell Student Focus August 2015 and Cornell Chronicle Geneva scholars experience a summer of Cornell science

Alex Koeberle ’13 is a viticulture research and extension assistant, Section of Horticulture, based at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY.