Research in Organic Blueberry Production

Horticulture and Health
By Roman J. Miller, professor of biology

Research in Organic Blueberry Production by Professor Roman MillerResearch spanning 2014-16 includes three areas related to blueberries:

  1. horticulture quality
  2. product development
  3. health benefits

Several students will be able to work on specific aspects of these projects. Rising sophomores or juniors are given preference in selecting research participants. These projects carry academic credit and if completed may fulfill the research requirement for biology majors.

We’ll examine organic practices that enhance optimal blueberry production and quality. Focus will be on the blueberry production site at Knoll Acres. A website that describes this project more fully can be found at: www.knollacresblueberries.com. Field work done on this project during the summer months (May, June, July, and August) may be financially supported, depending upon grant funding. Field work may consist of blueberry plant care, assessing plant vigor, harvesting blueberries, measuring production, assessing production quality through antioxidant assays, brix levels, etc. A related project will examine the microstructure (histological) characteristics of blueberry fruits which will be done during the fall/winter semesters.

We’ll develop a “value-added product” for consumers using organic blueberries as the basis. Primary effort will focus on protocol development such as the optimal method of drying blueberries for inclusion as a product or ingredient for retail sale as well as developing other blueberry products such as blueberry vinegar, jelly, or baked goods. Pending grant funding, financial support may be available for work in this project area.

We’ll begin tracing the potential beneficial consequences of blueberry components (primarily anthocyanins, the primary antioxidant compounds in blueberries) in mouse development. Our mammalian model system examines and compares embryo development trends during the early periods of mouse pregnancy within several maternal treatment groups: control, binge alcohol, and binge alcohol + anthocyanins. Embryo effects — number, size, developmental stage, and selected organ parameters will be assessed. Much of this project will commence during the summer months of 2014, and be completed in the following academic semester(s).

Participating students must be available to work a minimum of two semesters and/or a portion of the summer to finish a project involving three parts or periods. Upon approval by the instructor, some may begin in the spring 2014 semester; others may begin during the summer months, and some may begin in the fall 2014 semester.

Typically the first period is spent on reading background literature, writing a short research proposal, and mastering a given technique. The second period of time is spent applying the research technique and recording data. The third period of time is spent writing up the research results initially as a report for the professor and also as part of a manuscript that will be submitted for publication.

Weekly group meetings are held; individual or pairs of students will be expected to average an additional five to six hours per week on their particular aspect of the project. Students who consistently give appropriate priority to their research project will reap great benefits!