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Michael E Wisniewski

Research Plant Pathologist


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Dr. Michael Wisniewski
Innovative Fruit Production, Improvement and Protection
Research Plant Pathologist
Phone: (304) 725-3451 ext. 320
Fax: (304) 728-2340
Room 215



Curriculum Vitae

Education and Degrees

1983 Ph.D. Botany and Plant Pathology.University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH. Dissertation: Anatomical and Physiological Aspects of a Host-Pathogen Interaction: Cytospora Canker on Prunus persica L. Batsch.

1980. M. S. Botany and Plant Pathology. University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH. Thesis: The Ontogeny of the Inflorescence of Liquidambar styraciflua L. (Hamamelidaceae).

1978. B.S. Plant Science. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.


1983-Present: Research Plant Physiologist/Lead Scientist. USDA-ARS, Appalachian Fruit Research Station, Kearneysville, WV 25430. Duties include supervisory responsibilities for research on stress physiology of fruit trees, cold hardiness, and frost protection, host-pathogen interactions, biological control of postharvest diseases, microbiome, apple biotechnology.

Laboratory Personnel 

John Norelli
Timothy Artlip
Wojciech Janisiewicz
Erik Burchard
Jing Ma

Wisniewski Laboratory Publications

Google Scholar

Current Projects 

Regulating Cold Hardiness and Dormancy in Fruit Trees

Unpredictable cold damage to fruit trees is a major threat to industry profitability. Over the last 6 years, cold damage has accounted for almost half of the total value of insurance payments for crop loss to growers of the top five deciduous fruits. The overexpression of a CBF master regulator gene in apple can be used as a model system to better understand the genetic regulation of freezing tolerance, dormancy, and growth. Knowledge of these processes can lead to the development of strategies to adapt fruit trees to erratic weather patterns including midwinter freezes and spring frost events.


Ice Nucleation and Frost Protection

Despite the prevalence of freeze avoidance as an adaptive mechanism little research has been devoted in recent times to understanding the underlying mechanisms and regulation of freeze avoidance. We have developed the use of high-resolution infrared thermography to study how ice is initiated and propagated in plants in order to develop new frost protection strategies. One such strategy is the use of hydrophobic materials that can be applied to plants in order to block the formation of ice during frost events. The top picture illustrates the use on infrared thermography to monitor the freezing process in a plant. The bottom photo illustrates the application of a hydrophobic particle film to a tomato plant. When the uncoated (left) and coated (right) are subjected to freezing temperatures, the uncoated plant freezes and is killed at -2 °C (28 °F) while the coated plant remains unfrozen at -5 °C (21 °F) and is not injured. Currently, the project is also exploring other strategies of frost protection.


Identifying the Genetic Basis for Blue Mold Resistance in Apple

Malus sieversii from Central Asia is a progenitor of the modern domesticated apple (Malus × domestica). Several accessions of M. sieversii are highly resistant to the postharvest pathogen Penicillium expansum, a major cause of postharvest rots in apple during storage and marketing. Our project has identified genetic markers for blue mold resistance that can be used by apple breeders using marker-assisted selection. We are also conducting molecular studies to identify the specific genes in resistant and susceptible apple genotypes that respond to blue mold during the infection process in order to better understand the basis for postharvest disease resistance.


The Microbiome of Fruit Crops

Microbiome-based studies are revolutionizing our understanding of how organisms interact with the microbes that inhabit them (both epiphytes and endophytes). Our recent research documenting the microbiome of apples, revealed spatial differences in the composition of the microbiota. Our data indicates that specific microbes dominate stem-end and calyx-end portions of apple fruit, relative to either the peel or wounded tissues. A major project is underway to document the impact of management practices, genotypes, and the environment on the composition of the microbiome of apple fruit. Additional research will provide a model of the community–level interactome that exists within the apple fruit microbiome and how this affects disease resistance and the overall physiology of developing and mature fruit.