New University Research Scientist Works To Preserve Potatoes For U.S. Food Supply

Masaki Shimono conducts research to mitigate disease during potato storage

Published online: Aug 15, 2022 Articles
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Masaki Shimono has joined the University of Nevada, Reno College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources as a research scientist, studying beneficial microbes to improve and mitigate disease in potatoes during storage.

Shimono has joined Patricia Santos, assistant professor of plant-microbe interactions in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, in her lab to conduct research for the food industry. Shimono, an expert in resistance mechanisms of plants against bacteria, is looking into how long-term storage conditions affect potatoes in terms of water loss and disease decay due to plant pathogens. Soft and dry rot, caused by bacterium and fungus, respectively, are two important diseases being investigated.

Shimono, working with Santos and her team, is treating these potatoes with different types of beneficial microbes, hoping to aid food manufacturers with efficient storage of potatoes for products such as chips in an effort to avoid waste of valuable produce and financial losses.

The two are also collaborating with Associate Professor Dylan Kosma and his lab team, who are helping to administer the treatments. The Kosma Lab is looking into how suberin, a plant biopolymer found in potato skin, can help protect tubers from their environment.

“I decided to study in the United States because of the unique agricultural practices,” Shimono said. “I was excited about the opportunity to conduct research in Nevada, especially on a vital crop such as potatoes.”

After receiving his doctoral degree at Tsukuba University in Japan, Shimono worked as a research associate at Michigan State University focusing on microbial interactions in the molecular pathways of certain plants.

This one-year project, which began last October, aims to mimic the conditions that potatoes are stored in after being harvested, which includes being in humid environments with temperatures around 50 degrees F. These average conditions are perfect for the development of diseases. Tuber water loss is an inevitable consequence of long-term storage periods, which causes potatoes to wrinkle and become damaged, making them unusable. 

Shimono and the Santos lab are hoping to continue this research once the initial analyses are completed.