Salad Days

Posted on: Tuesday, May 16th, 2017 by Monica Hoel
Dr. Will Wadlington ('08) is doing research on spinach and lettuce that will leaf you impressed.

Will Wadlington ('08) recently shared a little tidbit:

“You may like to know I just accepted a new position as Lettuce Breeder, fyi.”

How could we not have follow up questions??

He recently defended his Ph. D. work in Plant Biology at the University of Illinois, and his current research is on spinach sex chromosomes. Working at Everglades Research & Education Center, Dr. Wadlington says they are doing research to determine how plants control whether they are male or female. “We don’t really know how plants do that, so I'm researching how spinach (my specialty) and also papaya use sex chromosomes to have male or female plants.  It's basic research to figure out how botany works.”

Turns out there’s an advantage to being able to change the sex of spinach: “I developed a variety of spinach that makes YY spinach (not XX not XY but with two Y's).  Breeders use those for seed production to make the most pollen.”

His next post-doc job will be working with lettuce. In particular, he’s looking at making lettuce more disease-resistant.  “Lettuce in the field gets pathogens sometimes and it can ruin a crop or make them ugly.  We are finding varieties that are resistant to common diseases so we can then breed naturally occurring resistance genes into major lines.”

The hope is for less food waste and higher quality produce – which is great for growers, but also for the environment. “Disease-resistant lettuce requires fewer chemical sprays when cultivated, so it's cheaper to produce, better for the environment, and great for the people that work in the fields and eat salads.”

Let-us all hope for Will’s success.


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