What’s in Season from the Garden State: The Basil Battle – New Cultivars on the Horizon to Beat Downy Mildew

Professor James E. Simon and plant breeding Ph.D. student Rob Pyne in the basil greenhouse. After years of crosses and evaluations in fields and greenhouse, they are well down the path to developing a sweet basil variety resistant to the destructive downy mildew pathogen. Photo by Jack Rabin.

Professor James E. Simon and plant breeding Ph.D. student Rob Pyne in the basil greenhouse. After years of crosses and evaluations in fields and greenhouse, they are well down the path to developing a sweet basil variety resistant to the destructive downy mildew pathogen. Photo by Jack Rabin.

For the past seven years, a familiar scenario has been playing out on farms and in gardens across the U.S. A healthy, fragrant crop of sweet basil begins to display yellowing leaves. Upon closer inspection, the undersides of the leaves show signs of a menacing grayish sporulation. It is only a matter of time before the basil plant and others in proximity succumb to this new disease of basil, downy mildew.

Neither a fungus or a mold, downy mildew is the common name for a group of highly specialized plant pathogens called “oomycetes” that infect and feed off of living host plants. Each downy mildew is specific to its host plant. For instance, downy mildew of impatiens, another recent scourge, is specific to impatiens, while basil downy mildew affects only basil – with the most popular type, sweet basil, being the most susceptible.

Basil downy mildew favors heat and humidity, and by mid to late summer, when there is enough inoculum, the disease is widespread in our region. According to Extension Specialist in Vegetable Pathology Andy Wyenandt at Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, basil downy mildew can’t overwinter in our region and can only survive the winter in southern Florida and Texas, where it is a year-round threat. The rapid spread to northern states during the growing season is through the planting of infested seed, by importing southern-grown plant material, or via weather patterns coming from southern states. [Read more…]

Better Tasting Strawberry Developed at Rutgers Makes Its Debut

99-204-01 Snyder trial May 31 2013_-9It’s been ten years in the making, but the team that has launched the Rutgers Scarlet Strawberry (RSS) knows they have a winner. Coming from retired plant biology professor Gojko Jelenkovic’s 20 years of testing hundreds of varieties to develop a better tasting strawberry, the RSS is the first of several new varieties that are coming to market after several years of field trials on New Jersey farms conducted by Agricultural Agents Pete Nitzsche and Bill Hlubik. Read more at Rutgers Today.

Ph.D. Student David Jespersen: From Psychology to Plant Science

David Jespersen taking field samples at the University of Georgia–Griffin agricultural research station in Summer 2014 as part of a collaborative project to better understand the underlying genetics that control heat tolerance in grasses. Photo: Courtesy of David Jespersen.

David Jespersen taking field samples at the University of Georgia–Griffin agricultural research station in Summer 2014 as part of a collaborative project to better understand the underlying genetics that control heat tolerance in grasses. Photo: Courtesy of David Jespersen.

David Jespersen, doctoral student in plant biology, received the Graduate School–New Brunswick Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research for his exceptional research accomplishments at the Spring Awards ceremony on April 23. He was one of six awardees chosen among all graduate students campuswide.

A mere six years earlier, David graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the School of Arts and Sciences—far removed from the world of plant science. So, how did he get from studying psychology to being on the verge of completing his dissertation research on identifying heat-tolerance traits and genes in bentgrass and helping to develop heat-tolerant bentgrass and other species, all the while earning several significant accolades for his achievements along the way?

“I’d taken a few electives in plant science as an undergraduate and found that I had a growing interest in plants, and in my final undergraduate semester I went to talk to the graduate program director about pursuing a master’s degree in plant science,” explains Jespersen. “As it turned out, instead of pursuing a master’s degree, I turned my attention to a Ph.D. instead, with the encouragement of Prof. Huang.” [Read more…]

Unearthing a Buried Treasure, Part II: Student’s Vision for Trail Renovation Enabled by Fellow Students

Eliot Nagele by one of two man-made ponds that are part of the trail.

Eliot Nagele (SEBS 2015) stands by one of two man-made ponds that are part of the trail.

The Arbor Trail is located behind the University Inn and Conference Center on the Douglass Campus. Rutgers purchased the property in 1965. The Inn is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and the trail had its grand re-opening on Rutgers Day 2015 on April 25, as part of the Inn’s anniversary celebration.

In 1908, armed with a degree in mechanical engineering, young Sydney Bleecker Carpender began his business career with the Brunswick Refrigerating Company, a manufacturer of refrigerating and ice-making machinery. Carpender became the company’s vice-president and general manager in 1911, at age 27. That same year he had a manor built on his family’s property in New Brunswick for him and his wife, the former Louise Johnson, daughter of one of the founding brothers of Johnson & Johnson. A horticultural enthusiast, Carpender created a unique man-made landscape on the estate complete with rolling meadows, ponds and a wooded trail established with select landscape plantings and trees. [Read more…]

Rutgers Launches New Fostering Program for Rescue Horses

Pictured with Dr. Sarah Ralston is Bling, a “sweet and sassy” 6-year-old unregistered Arabian mare who is being fostered from the Arabian Rescue Mission.

Pictured with Prof. Sarah Ralston is Bling, a 6-year-old unregistered Arabian mare who is being fostered from the Arabian Rescue Mission. Photo by Carey Williams.

Creating a sustainable equine teaching program on a suburban university’s campus requires considerable ingenuity since keeping a horse on campus is very expensive. Maintaining a herd dedicated for teaching and outreach can easily cause a budget to go in “the red.” However, the Department of Animal Sciences on the Rutgers Cook Campus came up with a creative solution, which involves “fostering” horses from equine rescue/placement programs and seeking sponsors to help pay for their per-diem costs. Some of the fostered horses will be available for adoption after the Ag Field Day Horse Show on Rutgers Day in late April, leaving a core herd of four horses for teaching and outreach throughout the year.

This new and exciting addition to the department’s Equine Teaching program is called the Rutgers University Teaching Herd (RUTH): Fostering Horses for Teaching and Extension. The eight horses in RUTH will allow faculty to expand students’ hands-on learning experiences and service in outreach. The horses will be dedicated solely to outreach endeavors, such as clinics and treadmill demonstrations, and teaching activities in didactic (classroom-based) courses like Horse Management and Comparative Anatomy and experience-based classes including Horse Practicum and Animal Handling, Fitting and Exhibition. In the latter course, students learn how to groom and train horses for in-hand exhibition on Ag Field Day. [Read more…]