By Diane Nelson
The new year will bring next-level greenhouses to the University of California, Davis, where faculty and students are conducting innovative research to keep plants plentiful, nutritious and resilient.
“These state-of-the-art greenhouses will benefit public breeding on so many important crops,” said Helene Dillard, dean of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CA&ES). “Researchers will be able to precisely control temperature and light in the new facilities, which allows them to customize and replicate conditions for each and every plant, all under the same roof.”
The college currently has 151 greenhouses, all at maximum capacity and with aging technology and security. Five of the new facilities will be completed later in 2019. The college has plans to build several more high-tech greenhouses in the coming years.
UC Davis has played a major role in developing and improving many of the more than 350 plant commodities grown in California and throughout the world. The new greenhouses will support breeding, teaching and research on a diverse array of plant species, including cacao, which is rarely studied at public institutions.
In addition to the greenhouses CA&ES is constructing, Mars, Incorporated is building two greenhouses within the complex to house a large collection of cacao plants. Together with UC Davis faculty, plant breeders from Mars, Incorporated will work to improve and perfect the tropical trees, which are endangered by deforestation.
Chocolate grows on trees in the form of cacao beans that sprout on evergreens native to the Amazon rainforest. But cacao trees—like so many other plants in the Amazon—are threatened by deforestation. Already, some 20 percent of the Amazon rainforest—an area the size of California—has been lost to cattle ranching, logging and row-crop production.
Plant breeders will study how to keep the tropical trees productive and disease resistant in the face of a changing climate and dwindling rainforests. As with all UC research, the cacao breeding data will be publicly available.
“Bringing tropical-tree breeding to UC Davis is important both globally and locally,” explained Howard-Yana Shapiro, chief agricultural officer for Mars, Incorporated and a senior fellow with the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences. “UC Davis will be home to the largest cacao plant collection in the nation. The program will provide students a unique opportunity to work with tropical trees in a live environment.”
Dean Dillard agreed. “We are thrilled to see construction of the new greenhouses get underway,” she said. “These facilities will support the world-class breeding, teaching and research we need to protect our environment and feed our world.”