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OCU Students to Work with Cornell University on Grape DNA Project

Oklahoma City University has been awarded a grant from the National Institute for Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA) Specialty Crops Research Initiative to help a team of 25 breeders, geneticists, economists and extension specialists from 10 universities who are working on a project to speed up the grape breeding process. The team hopes to hone in on the genes that are behind economically important traits such as powdery mildew resistance, cold hardiness and superior fruit quality.

 The $82,000 grant awarded to OCU is part of the first installment of a five-year overall grant to Cornell University at $1 million a year.

Oklahoma City University will help with some of the initial research. Students in the Oikos Scholars Program will work under the direction of philosophy professor Scott Davidson on questions that cannot be answered by a grape’s DNA.

Through a series of national surveys, they will gather information about consumers’ perceptions of desirable grape traits. This information will be used to set priorities for grape research and to help align the work with the desires of consumers.   

“Researchers focus on breeding for certain traits, but the people who are actually making and selling wines and juice, or shipping and storing table grapes might have other ideas about what would make an ideal grape,” said Bruce Reisch, Cornell grape breeder and project director. “And in the end, we need to know what traits matter to consumers.”

Reisch and Davidson credit their successful grant proposal to strong support from the participating universities and the table grape, raisin, juice and wine industries.

“This particular grant program requires a one-to-one match of federal dollars with non-federal dollars,” Reisch said. “The universities have ponied up a portion for the salaries of the people working on the grant, and the industry is contributing about $90,000 per year, much of which was coordinated through the National Grape and Wine Initiative.”

In addition to the award from NIFA, the project is supported by a matching contribution from OCU.

“I am very grateful for the support of our university,” Davidson said.  “This award will open a tremendous undergraduate research opportunity for our students. They will receive hands-on experience in administering and evaluating national surveys, and most importantly, the results of their work will have a real impact on science and society.”  

Read more about the research project at the link: