Researcher Spotlights

Gail Taylor

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Gail Taylor is the John B. Orr Professor of Environmental Plant Science and Chair of the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis. She conducts research at Desert REC.

What led you to become a plant scientist?

I was first inspired by plants as a very young child – in my grandmother’s vegetable garden. During the second world war, like many people in Europe, she dug up her whole garden and turned it over to food production – but she never turned it back and grew most of the vegetables for the family. She also didn’t own a fridge or freezer so I learned about preserving and pickling and how to use the cellar to keep things cool!

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What brought your work to Desert REC?

My research group works on leafy greens – particularly lettuce and the Desert REC is ideally placed to grow our research crops in realistic ‘commercial’ winter conditions, which complements field research we may do in Salinas and Davis during the spring and summer.

What do you hope to learn from your research at Desert REC?

Despite very sophisticated washing systems, microbes cling to the surface of lettuce leaves in their millions, including bacteria and fungi, as a biofilm that is a special ecosystem in its own right. These are mostly harmless and can even have positive effects at protecting the crop from other pests and pathogens, but if things go wrong human pathogenic bacteria can colonize the leaves, disrupt the ‘good’ microbiome, and cause illness. Our research is trying to understand the genetic basis of the relationship between leaf and microbes, and enable better breeding targets for safer food in the future.

What is your favorite part about conducting your research at Desert REC?

Is it bad to say I like the local food?? But of course, the team is super-efficient and grows us a brilliant crop. They are responsive to all of our management needs and honestly, this is the place where we have had the very best experimental trial material

What is your favorite plant and why?

Tough question – I have to say my other leafy green which is watercress. It’s the most nutrient-dense leafy green and packed full of vitamins and chemicals that prevent cancer – everyone should eat it – regularly!

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