By STEPHANIE MAZEJKA

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

It is no secret that most produce eaten nowadays is Genetically Modified Organisms or (GMOs). Agriculturalists and plant breeders have practiced grafting, or modifying crops, since the 1970s, but now mostly everything we buy at the farmers market has been altered genetically. Grapes have been modified in such a way that a plant can produce seedless grapes. Bananas, once littered with tiny seeds, are now seedless. Typically used to make more people buy fruits and vegetables, genetically modifying organisms also serves to help organisms survive in conditions they usually could not. For UNH researchers, this organism was a species of melon.

Collected by Brent Loy, a professor emeritus of plant biology and genetics, and Janel Martin, a graduate student, the preliminary data of grafting, or implanting, melons into the roots and growth buds of hybrid squash has shown that the production of melons has increased.

But why is this important? Autumn is a hard time for plants, especially melons. Once Old Man Winter begins blowing his frosty breath down on Earth, melon vines have a chance of succumbing to Sudden Wilt, which damages the plant so that it cannot be harvested. Sudden Wilt is terrible for farmers, who cannot make profit from the affected fruits.

By agriculturalists implanting melon genes into the rootstock of disease-resistant squash, melons are able to flourish even in the temperatures in which they were once unable to survive. They even seemed to do better than before.

“The comparison between the grafted and non-grafted plants is striking when looking at the field,” said Martin. “The yield of the melons from the grafted melon plots was much higher than we anticipated as well as the uniform look and size to some of the melons harvested from the plots with the grafted plants.”

Not only will farmers be able to grow more melons over a longer period of time, but they will be able to produce more pounds of melon per harvest. The vines were even able to produce more fruit than standard non-grafted plants, as unmodified vines would only produce a few fruits before wilting. Grafted melons would continue to produce fruits even after a couple of fruits, extending their vines to cover more surface area. This expansion would also block weeds from growing, saving farmers more time from weeding.

Ultimately, these researchers wish to support New England melon farmers and lessen the effects of Sudden Wilt. Soil-borne diseases are common and difficult to combat and traditional methods harm the soil further and are very costly. As every native New Englander knows, New England climate is very harsh and creates only a short window of time to grow warm weather produce such as melons.

“If we can help increase revenue for farmers, and at the same time have local produce that may have a much lower ecological impact, it will be a win-win,” said Martin.

“I want my research to help create a more sustainable food system that will improve the quality of our food and the quality of life for those who produce and consume it,” he said.