Nicole Waterland wants to make travel easier – for plants, not people – and her research on how to do that has brought recognition from the American Society of Horticultural Science.

“During shipping and retailing, plants may be exposed to harsh environmental conditions, including high temperatures and irregular watering, which cause rapid drying and plant wilting,” said Waterland, an assistant professor of horticulture at West Virginia University.

That stress on bedding plants and put a significant dent in the $4.2 billion floriculture industry.

Waterland was the lead author on a paper on mitigating travel stress in bedding plants; the ASHS recognized the paper as the Outstanding Extension Publication of 2010.

The paper summarizes Waterland’s research on the effectiveness of a concentrated version of a naturally occurring substance, abscisic acid (s-ABA), as a means of increasing drought tolerance in bedding plants. She conducted the research and authored the paper with the assistance of colleagues from Valent Biosciences Corp. and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster.

The research was conducted as part of Waterland’s dissertation work at The Ohio State University. In addition to exploring the potential of s-ABA, Waterland also studied specific enzymes related to plant senescence, the biological changes that occur after an organism reaches maturity. Understanding those biological changes and the factors that may accelerate them will become increasingly important.

“We are experiencing unprecedented environmental extremes of heat and drought,” Waterland said. “One of the major factors contributed to this phenomenon is thought to be elevated carbon dioxide, causing global warming. Global warming has begun to show unpredicted and potentially devastating consequences in crop production and it is imperative to develop ways of protecting plants from such disaster.”

A first step toward achieving this goal is to understand the mechanism of plants’ response to environmental changes.

“The main interests of my research are to elucidate the mechanism how plants respond to environmental stresses such as drought and heat at the molecular level, to develop ornamental crops tolerant to these stresses through biotechnology, and to investigate the effects of elevated carbon dioxide on plant development, including flowering time and longevity.”

The information obtained from Waterland’s research will be useful not only to increase basic knowledge about factors that stress crops, but also to address questions that are relevant to the industry.

“Cooperation with industry is very important,” Waterland said. “We benefit from each other. The horticulture industry is a great supporter of research.”

The industry’s scope and interest in academic endeavors make it a promising choice for undergraduate and graduate students, Waterland added.

“There is a lot of opportunity for students in horticulture,” Waterland said. “The industry is always looking for well educated and trained students with good communication and problem solving skills in a variety of positions.”

Many horticultural companies have research and development sectors with a wide range of duties.

“The industry is looking for fresh young minds to develop new products or production methods to increase sustainability and cost efficiency,” Waterland added.

Opportunities for horticulture students at WVU are growing at an accelerated rate. Construction of a new, state-of-the-art, $8.8 million greenhouse is well under way on WVU’s Evansdale Campus. The WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design also received its first named professorship to support an outstanding faculty member in its Division of Plant and Soil Sciences, home to the horticulture program.



CONTACT: David Welsh; Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design

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