Texas A&M AgriLife Research works to provide objective, evidence-informed scientific information about food supplies including an expansive array of fruits and vegetables. AgriLife Research conducts these studies with the mission of improving health among our citizenry and positioning agricultural producers to provide healthy foods. This page explores a selection of ongoing research and impactful strides by AgriLife Research faculty, who continue to advance the science of nutritious, economically sustainable fruits and vegetables.
Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientists at the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center in Bryan-College Station are using a “table-to-farm” approach to create a safer, healthier and more sustainable melon supply chain in the U.S. by considering consumer preference at the dinner table. The center has conducted extensive studies and surveys showing that looks, taste and nutritional value are the three main factors consumers consider when purchasing melons. So, the team is focusing its melon breeding efforts on satisfying consumer demand. Specifically, the team seeks to develop new melon cultivars with enhanced nutrition and flavor.
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Carlos Avila, Ph.D., a Texas A&M AgriLife Research associate professor with the Texas A&M Department of Horticultural Sciences, Weslaco, and his team at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research Center at Weslaco are focused on enhancing the quality of nutrient-dense spinach through a market-driven approach with key stakeholders, incentivizing and promoting spinach production and consumption in the state of Texas. By collaborating with stakeholders at different stages of the value chain, leafy green products are being improved to satisfy producer to consumer standards and tastes. Enhanced spinach cultivars must be better-looking, tastier and increasingly nutritious, with a longer shelf life, augmented resistance to environmental threats in the field, greater yield and, thus, increased commercial value. Avila’s research team has discovered, for example, that by increasing the Vitamin C content in spinach, they can improve agronomic performance while providing an increasingly nutrient-dense product that is healthier for consumers.
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Carlos Avila, Ph.D., a Texas A&M AgriLife Research associate professor with the Texas A&M Department of Horticultural Sciences, Weslaco, and his team have developed a new line of tomatoes that are more flavorful and nutritious; firm with a longer shelf-life; visually appealing and resistant to “yellow shoulder”- a physiological disorder characterized by discolored regions under the skin that reduce fruit quality and therefor consumer acceptance. Avila and his team believe that this new cultivar is the “holy grail” in tomato improvement and that the successful characterization and introgression of the traits into commercial cultivars has the potential to revolutionize the tomato fresh consumption industry.
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Dark Sweet Cherries
Dark sweet cherries could be next in line for the title of “superfood.” Giuliana Noratto, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Research associate research scientist in the Department of Food Science and Technology, Bryan-College Station, works to understand the nutritional benefits of these pitted fruits, which might include offsetting risks associated with obesity and even modulating breast cancer tumor growth in mice.
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A Texas A&M AgriLife Research study has led to the discovery of the first curative and preventive bacteriophage treatment against the pathogen Xylella fastidiosa, which causes the deadly Pierce’s disease in grapevines. A bacteriophage therapy is a precision treatment of bacterial infections that use viruses that only infect and kill the bacterium. Bacteriophages are considered a promising alternative to antibiotics for treating infections in humans, animals and plants. The work to develop a bacteriophage treatment for Pierce’s disease was led by Carlos Gonzalez, Ph.D., Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology professor, and member of the Texas A&M AgriLife Center for Phage Technology in collaboration with Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd.
The treatment has been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, with the commercial name XylPhi-PD, is registered with the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, CDPR, and is approved for use in organic production by the Organic Materials Review Institute, OMRI. The product is now marketed in the U.S. by Otsuka subsidiary A&P Inphatec, LLC.
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Organic Specialty Crop Development
At the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Vernon, Waltram Ravelombola, Ph.D, Texas A&M University Department of Soil and Crop Sciences assistant professor, leads a new program to develop specialty crops that are suitable to organic systems in Texas and beyond. His team focuses on developing plants with stronger yields, higher nutritional value, and better tolerance to stresses like heat, drought, salinity and diseases. Ravelombola focuses on cowpeas for multiple uses, lentils, legumes, guar and organic barley. He is now establishing research trials at the Vernon Center.
Urban Controlled Environment Agriculture: Vertical Farming
At the Texas A&M AgriLife Center in Dallas, Genhua Niu, Ph.D., Texas A&M University Department of Horticulture professor, has written the book on large-scale agriculture in controlled environments. That book is Plant Factory: An Indoor Vertical Farming System for Efficient Quality Food Production. Niu’s urban horticulture program at Dallas conducts studies on the sustainability of growing plants in controlled environments at scale. Her team seeks to develop technologies and management practices for efficient use of electricity, water, fertilizers, and other resources in large-scale controlled environment agriculture.
More about Niu’s work in AgriLife Today
More about Fruits and Vegetables
Kevin Crosby, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Research professor with the Texas A&M Department of Horticultural Sciences, Bryan-College Station is working with a team of scientists across Texas, New Mexico and Arizona to develop new agronomic technologies and practices for hot peppers that will minimize environment stress impacts and reduce production costs – helping to reverse the downward trend the U.S. hot pepper industry has seen in recent years due to increased competition from imported peppers . These new practices will help optimize production, product quality, marketing efficiency and profitability helping to boost the industry and create a sustainable supply of safe, high-quality peppers that will allow growers to remain competitive.
BetaSweet, the maroon carrot developed by Leonard Pikes, Ph.D., former Texas A&M AgriLife Research horticulturist and director of the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center, Bryan-College Station, lives on as one of AgriLife Research’s most notable vegetables since it’s development in 1989 and release to commercial markets in 1998. Originally, the carrot was developed to be a novelty in the home garden of Aggies, but researchers soon realized its nutritional benefits and cancer preventative properties that made it an ideal commodity for markets across the U.S. Sometimes referred to as a purple carrot, BetaSweet is still a popular vegetable today enjoyed by consumers for its flavor, health, nutrition and presentation. It can be found at specialty grocers and as the focus of discussion on gourmet and cooking and nutrition-focused websites.
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Released in 1983 and named after the planting month and date, Oct. 15, the onion known simply as the 1015 by producers was developed by Leonard Pikes, Ph.D., former Texas A&M AgriLife Research horticulturist and director of the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center, Bryan-College Station. The onion is still renowned by farmers in the Rio Grande Valley and by consumers nationwide. The Y in the name stands for yellow and it is a large, sweet and disease resistant onion. It is especially loved by consumers due to its low level of pyruvate, which is what causes the eyes to water when it is sliced. Bhimu Patil, Ph.D. leads the Texas A&M AgriLife Research Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center today and builds on Pikes legacy by continuing onion research at the center.