Diego Hernandez
Year: 2021
Faculty Advisor: Margaret Frank

“A prickly question: What are the genetic loci involved in the evolution of eggplant prickles?”

Project Summary:

Eggplant is a culturally and economically important crop from the vast Solanaceae plant family. Eggplant is consumed all over the world and is the third most consumed Solanaceae following tomato and potato. The Eggplant genome is estimated to have an approximate size of 1.17 Gb and roughly 36,000 protein coding genes. The domestication process, as seen in most crops, has lead to significant alterations to the eggplant genome. Understanding how these complex evolutionary changes affect phenotypic traits is essential to crop improvement. A major aspect of this endeavor is locating specific loci that are responsible for agricultural impactful traits in eggplant. 

The presence of prickles in certain eggplant cultivars proves to be a growing area of plant breeding interest, due to obvious immediate harvesting difficulties as well as post-harvest mechanical damage to packaged fruit. By examining the genomics and illustrating the evolutionary story of the prickle trait, significant loci associated this trait in eggplant may be uncovered. Over 100 eggplants from around the world representing the current genetic breadth of eggplants were grown and extensively phenotype and sequenced to characterize and define the prickle phenotype. Variant calling was conducted yielding over 7 million SNPs and insertion ‘deletion  differences among cultivars. Variant data was utilized to construct a phylogeny and perform genome wide association studies on various prickle phenotype parameters. Regions of interest were located on chromosomes 6 and 11. These regions will hopefully be the target of genomic investigation and potential targets for plant breeding. 

My Experience:

This summer I was able to completely immerse myself in the research process and understand what it means to be a researcher. I was introduced to essential laboratory skills, techniques, and practices. Professionally I was able to engage with colleagues in a multitude of disciplines at various levels in their respective careers. This gave me important insights into the diverse set of career paths and possibilities that can stem from research. Overall there was a moment during the conclusion of the summer in which I reflected back in amazement how much I had grown as a learner, mentee, and most consequently, as a scientist.  Thanks to this program I look eagerly onto the future years of study and research that I may be fortunate enough to experience.