Furthering the research of plant pathologists in the Finger Lakes Region, biology and geoscience double major April Moffett ’21 conducted research on the fungal pathogen that causes apple scab in Associate Professor of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Kerik Cox’s lab at Cornell AgriTech this summer.
“This work is highly applicable to apple growers across the region,” Moffett says. “Management of this disease is currently regulated using frequent fungicide applications, which can lead to the development of fungicide resistance. If resistance develops, fungicide applications would no longer effectively manage the disease in orchards, which could be costly to growers considering the price of fungicides and that their fruit would most likely be unmarketable.”
As a research assistant, Moffett is working alongside two William Smith alumnae, Cornell School of Integrative Plant Science Ph.D. candidate Katrin Ayer ’16, who began working on the study of apple scab in 2016, and Cornell AgriTech technician Mei-Wah Choi ’16. This is the fourth year of the repeated measurement experiment.
The impact of apple scab development and its effect on quality apple yields led the team to hone in on SDHI fungicides, a newer class of single site fungicides. The researchers set out to identify how application rate affects the development of resistance in Venturia inaequalis, the fungal pathogen causing apple scab.
Using the SDHI fungicide Fluxapyroxad, Moffett and the team applied two different concentrations to two apple orchards each containing three varieties of apple trees, including Empire, Jonagold and Jersey Mac. “We collected V. inaequalis lesions from each replicate and then isolated conidia from these lesions. We then completed a sensitivity growth assay in which conidia were plated on three different concentrations of fluxapyroxad, and two control plates. After a week of incubation, we observed the plates under a microscope to measure conidial germination,” Moffett says – a process in which the apple scab spore is isolated in the lab and then monitored for growth under a microscope.
For Moffett, each day was different. “Some days we were in the field; other times we were in the lab. I also traveled to Vermont and Rexford, N.Y. to help Ph.D. candidate at Cornell Anna Wallis and research assistant John Spafford ’20 with Wallis’ research project regarding Fire Blight,” Moffett says.
At the AgriTech campus,”Once or twice a week we would go to our orchards and rate disease incidence, in which we were counting how many leaves or fruits had apple scab, and how severe the case was.”
Through each assignment, Moffett says she learned important skills and solidified her interest in pursuing a Ph.D. “I had never worked in a lab before this summer, and now a lab is the only place I want to be,” she says. Moffett also credits the mentorship of Ayer and Choi with helping her succeed. “The environment of our lab was very constructive and supportive; we all bounced ideas off each other and helped edit each other’s work.” Additional mentors included Ph.D. candidate at Cornell David Strickland and University of Madison student Jaime Spychalla.
Ayer welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with Moffett. “I am grateful for my liberal arts education from HWS and it has been invaluable during my graduate research at Cornell. I’ve been able to apply my knowledge from a diversity of biology courses to the specialized field of plant pathology. Continuing to connect with William Smith students post-graduation allows me to not only keep a connection with William Smith but also contribute to the community that fostered my personal growth,” Ayer says.
Moffett also took part in the Cornell Summer Scholars program which gave her weekly insight to a different topic in plant pathology, horticulture and entomology. Moffett says she would like to work with aquatic species in the future, thanks to “Aquatic Biology” with Associate Professor of Biology Meghan Brown.
On campus, Moffett is a puppy raiser and house manager for the Guiding Eyes for the Blind chapter at HWS. She is also a member of the Perfect Third a cappella group.