Development of High Quality Vegetables with Adaptation to Texas and Beyond
The vegetable breeding program priorities are to develop new cultivars of melons, peppers, tomatoes, carrots and onions with enhanced quality, stress tolerance (heat and drought) and disease resistance. In addition, we conduct fundamental research in the areas of genetics, molecular biology and plant genetic transformation. In collaboration with the VFIC we have worked on projects such as genetic transformation of melon and molecular marker analysis, both to enhance beneficial phytochemicals and disease resistance. During the past five years we have developed and screened over 8000 novel breeding lines of these crops. Screening has involved assessment of field performance, yield, earliness, disease resistance, drought/heat tolerance, and quality.
Thousands of samples have been analyzed for phytochemical content at the VFIC core labs. Major achievements include release of 7 varieties of pepper, melon and tomato to Texas and U.S. industry collaborators, as well as commercial licensing of 10 pepper inbred lines through the TAMU OTC. In addition, efforts to license additional pepper lines and 12 melon inbred lines are underway. In conjunction with plant physiologists and the VFIC, we have studied plant genetic mechanisms of stress tolerance, particularly to heat and drought. This includes development of enhanced root systems and examination of high temperature tolerance of pollen and stigma receptivity for improved fruit set. We represent the only public University muskmelon breeding program remaining in the U.S., and one of just 2 public University pepper breeding programs. We are uniquely positioned to conduct screening of diverse breeding lines of these crops in 4 distinct environments across Texas, while simultaneously assessing fruit quality in the VFIC phytochemical analysis lab and with the support of Texas AgriLife Uvalde (carotenoids) and Weslaco. Our molecular marker lab also permits us to expedite introgression of single gene traits into our elite breeding lines by marker-assisted selection.