USDA awards grant for strawberry research

DOVER — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture has awarded Delaware State University a $599,905 research grant to tackle the widespread problem of gray mold fungus, which affects the growth and quality of strawberry plants in the field and after harvest.
Dr. Kalpalatha Melmaiee, an Associate Professor in the University’s Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (within the College of Agriculture, Sciences and Technology), is the Principal Investigator of the research.

Dr. Melmaiee – who specializes in plant breeding and molecular genetics – will collaborate with a team of co-Principal Investigators, which include Dr. Rose Ogutu, Horticulture Extension Specialist and Dr. Lekha Paudel, Farms Management Specialist, both from the University’s Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Other co-principal investigators are Dr. Kim Lewers, Research Geneticist at USDA; Dr. Toktam Taghavi, Assistant Professor specializing in post-harvest physiology at Virginia State University; Dr. Jayesh Samtani, Assistant Professor and Small Fruit Extension Specialist at Virginia Tech..
The research team will work to identify elite strawberry lines species for gray mold tolerance, identify molecular markers, utilize natural volatile compounds for enhancing the shelf life of fruits, and communicate their findings to local strawberry growers.

While strawberries and produced and consumed worldwide, the United States is the second largest producer of the fruit. This research project is the first attempt to develop genome-wide associated maps and identify candidate genes in connection with this fruit.

The findings of this project can help speed up the breeding process in developing strawberry varieties that are resistant to gray mold disease. The project will also provide training to Delaware State University postdoctoral research associates, graduate and undergraduate students in modern plant breeding techniques.