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ARS Recognizes Scorza for Innovative Fruit Tree Improvement / February 7, 2001 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Scientists Ralph Scorza (left) and Richard Bell: Link to photo information


ARS Recognizes Scorza for Innovative Fruit Tree Improvement

By Judy McBride
February 7, 2001

BELTSVILLE, Md., Feb. 7—Ralph Scorza, a research horticulturist with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), will today receive the agency’s Scientist of the Year 2000 award for the North Atlantic area. He is being recognized for his pioneering contributions to tree fruit improvement.

Scorza, who conducts research at the ARS Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville, W. Va., is cited “for developing important new knowledge, for leadership in integrating basic and applied research, and for the application of innovative approaches to fruit tree improvement.”

Scorza and other ARS scientists of the year 2000 will be honored today at a 1:00 p.m. ceremony at the agency's headquarters in Beltsville, Md. As one of four “area senior research scientists,” Scorza will receive a plaque, a cash award and an additional $15,000 support for his research program.

“Dr. Scorza pioneered fruit tree biotechnology and is recognized nationally and internationally as a leader in this field. His innovative approaches have led to the first virus- resistant tree or woody plant developed anywhere,” said ARS administrator Floyd P. Horn. ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific agency.

During his 20 years with ARS, Scorza has developed new stone-fruit trees through both conventional breeding and genetic engineering. His most impressive success is a transgenic plum tree resistant to plum pox virus--one of the most serious diseases of stone fruits worldwide. Several years of field tests in Poland, Romania and Spain, where the virus is endemic, have confirmed the tree’s resistance. And it’s becoming important for U.S. growers. Plum pox virus was first detected on the East Coast in the fall of 1999, confirming Scorza’s foresight about the threat of this disease.

Scorza has also provided leadership and collaboration with ARS and university scientists

in producing the first transgenic clones of a major grape variety. In collaboration with other ARS scientists, he developed transgenic pear trees that remain dwarfed throughout their life--a major need for the pear industry--and has established a link with industry to transfer genes for resistance to fire blight--a devastating bacterial disease of pear trees in the East.

“He has shown that a true integration of biotechnology and horticulture is possible through a coordinated approach,” Horn added.

Using classical breeding, Scorza developed or co-developed 'Bounty' and 'Sentry'--two of the major peach cultivars now grown in the East. Income for New Jersey growers alone from these two varieties is about $2.5 million annually, with many trees not yet at bearing age. A new peach from Scorza’s research grows in a narrow, columnar shape. Now being tested in 12 states and three foreign countries, the columnar tree promises to change the shape of peach orchards into efficient, high-density production systems.

Scorza has been invited to speak at numerous meetings in the United States, Canada, Guatemala, India, China and throughout Europe. Last March, he taught an international course on fruit tree improvement in Zaragosa, Spain.

He has authored or co-authored 110 publications--including 62 scientific journal articles and eight book chapters. He is currently co-editing a book on transgenic food crops. The American Phytopathological Society’s plum pox web site ( carries a presentation by Scorza and his team to the society.

A member of the American Society for Horticultural Science, Scorza serves as associate editor for biotechnology for the ASHS journal.

He attended the University of Florida, receiving a bachelor’s degree in agronomy in 1972 and a master’s degrees in fruit crops physiology in 1975. He earned a doctoral degree in horticulture from Purdue University in 1979.

Scorza lives in Sherperdstown, W. Va., with his wife, Marsha, son Cameron, and daughter Pamela.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and raised in Ormond Beach, Fla., he attended Fr. Lopez High School. His parents, Enzo and Esther Scorza, live in Ormond Beach.

Contact: Beth Holt, ARS Appalachian Fruit Research Station, Kearneysville, W.Va., phone (304) 725-3451, ext. 326, fax (301) 728-7232,

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