Two Potato Scientists Join University of Idaho Faculty

Positions filled for Kimberly, Aberdeen sites

Published in the January 2009 Issue Published online: Jan 13, 2009
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The University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences has filled two key positions in its potato program.

Phillip S. Wharton, a senior research associate at Michigan State University, joined the faculty as potato plant pathologist at the Aberdeen Research and Extension Center in Idaho on Oct. 20. Sanjay Gupta, a research associate at the University of Minnesota, became a potato post-harvest physiologist at Kimberly, Idaho, in mid-November.

Wharton earned his Ph.D. in plant disease resistance in 1997 at the United Kingdom’s University of Reading. He spent the following two years as a post-doctoral researcher at Purdue University, where he investigated mechanisms of plant disease resistance in sorghum.

Since 1999, he has been employed by Michigan State University, where he studied the biology and epidemiology of diseases of cherries, blueberries, strawberries and grapes before concentrating his efforts during the past four years on late blight, Rhizoctonia, Fusarium dry rot and other diseases of potatoes and sugarbeets.

According to Wharton, the University of Idaho position was appealing because it allows him to expand his research on potatoes. “Idaho being the capital of potatoes, it was an opportunity that could not be missed,” he said.

In Idaho, Wharton expects to conduct research on black dot and pink rot, among other diseases, as well as on weather-based disease forecasting. In addition, he intends to set up Web sites that will allow him to deliver education to growers, producers and crop advisors, as he did previously at Michigan State University.

Gupta earned his Ph.D. in botany in 1997 at India’s Kanpur University, where he wrote his dissertation on chickpea seed development. He was a visiting scientist at Washington State University from 1991 to 1995, working on the physiology of photosynthesis and cold-hardy citrus fruit.

For the next few years, he improved chickpea and rice lines as a research fellow for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Canberra, Australia, and conducted post-doctoral research on starch metabolism in rice and on nutritional and disease-resistance improvements in chickpeas as a post-doctoral researcher at WSU’s Institute of Biological Chemistry.

Since 1998, Gupta’s efforts at the University of Minnesota have focused on potatoes, including genetic improvements to chippers, understanding the regulation of cold-induced sweetening and developing a rapid screening method for cold-sweetening resistance.

At the University of Idaho, Gupta expects his initial studies to include respiration in cold storage, screening for acrylamide and cold-sweetening resistance and sprout inhibitor evaluations.

He was drawn to the position because it offers new challenges within the same line of work and because Idaho potato scientists are among the most active groups in the nation. “I felt that I could contribute to the projects that they have,” he said.

As assistant professors in the Department of Plant, Soil and Entomological Sciences, both Wharton and Gupta will participate in the interdisciplinary Idaho Center for Potato Research and Education.

“The university and the potato industry are fortunate to be able to attract faculty members with the experience that Phillip and Sanjay bring to our potato team, said department head Ding Johnson.

“They will fill critical voids and bring novel educational backgrounds that expand the capabilities of our potato program.”