by Haven Miller
The University of Kentucky and the University of Tennessee have merged their tobacco plant breeding programs through a unique partnership that is likely to be the only one of its kind in the nation. The partnership adds a world-renowned tobacco researcher to the UK faculty.
“I don't think there is another example anywhere in the country of a complete partnership between two land-grant universities in a major program area like this,” said Scott Smith, associate dean for research in the UK College of Agriculture. “ UK offers tremendous support in terms of its biotechnology program, and UT makes an equally strong contribution in terms of its traditional variety development programs.”
The merger brings to UK Robert Miller, currently on the faculty of UT-Knoxville. Miller is an internationally recognized tobacco plant breeder and geneticist. According to Smith, Miller is one of the most successful tobacco researchers in the world.“Probably half of the world market is controlled by varieties which Bob Miller developed, and that's extremely unusual for any crop or any plant breeder,” Smith said.
“Bob's continued research in tobacco culture, variety development and genetics will be applicable to both Tennessee and Kentucky tobacco producers,” said Don O. Richardson, dean of the University of Tennessee Agricultural Experiment Station . “His cooperative appointment is a win-win situation for producers across the burley belt.”
Although Miller joins UK as a faculty member in the College of Agriculture 's agronomy department, he'll conduct experiments in both Kentucky and Tennessee using UK and UT staff and facilities. According to Smith, Miller will focus on two priority areas.
“One priority is to continue to provide tobacco varieties that have greater resistance to diseases — blank shank and blue mold are diseases we're particularly hopeful of making progress on. The other major area will be incorporating biotechnology benefits into tobacco, which could include alternative uses for tobacco and new types of genetics for all sorts of different uses,” said Smith.
C. Oran Little, dean of the UK College of Agriculture, said the merger represents an opportunity to increase efficiency by combining resources at two major universities. “We're excited about the opportunities this brings to UK 's agricultural biotechnology program, as well as the future release of better crop varieties for Kentucky and Tennessee farmers,” said Little.