Glass Houses

Greehousese are home to CAES scientists' earth-shattering research

Greenhouse research is a vital part of University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences scientists’ work.

University scientist Esther van der Knaap’s research on tomatoes — and their development from a tiny to a very large fruit — requires a greenhouse.

“We need a greenhouse facility where we can grow the plants under the same conditions in different seasons,” van der Knaap, UGA Athens campus horticulture professor, said. “Therefore, we need good climate control to obtain similar results regardless of whether the plants are grown in summer or winter.”

Peggy Ozias-Akins, a UGA Tifton campus scientist and director of the UGA Institute of Plant Breeding, Genetics and Genomics, was instrumental in the university’s work in sequencing the first peanut genome. She uses greenhouse research for genetic crossing, disease phenotyping, reproductive development studies and transgenic line analysis.

“It’s very important to keep our greenhouses functioning properly so we can have healthy plants,” Ozias-Akins said.

UGA-Tifton plant pathologist Tim Brenneman conducts winter trials through greenhouse research. Cold temperatures don’t allow peanut plants to grow in the field. In the greenhouse, Brenneman screens plants for disease resistance, evaluates seed treatments, characterizes the movement or residual activity of fungicides in plants, and inoculates mycorrhizal fungi on pecan trees. Mycorrhizal fungi — truffles, in this case — are part of a beneficial relationship between the fungi and the plant in which the fungi improve the mineral nutrition of the tree.

The controlled environment of the greenhouse is an advantage for scientists because they can manipulate the conditions under which their plants are being grown, Brenneman said. In the field, researchers have to deal with unpredictable weather patterns daily.

“Detailed studies on the effects of temperature and moisture have to be done in the greenhouse as studies on specific isolates of airborne pathogens would be immediately compromised under field conditions,” Brenneman said. “These facilities can never replace field studies, but they greatly complement them and allow us to work more efficiently in the field.”

Greenhouses enable controlled experiments, which lead to developments in the crop and horticultural sciences, and are essential to the future of UGA research.

By Clint Thompson

A greenhouse at the UGA Tifton campus Coastal Plain Station is verdant in the September light.

UGA scientist Peggy Ozias-Akins examines a peanut plant with a student in her greenhouse lab.