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In spring 2023, Chris Hernandez, assistant professor in the department of agriculture, nutrition, and food systems, received $50,000 from the UNH Innovation Fund to support the expansion of commercialization opportunities for UNH’s cucurbit breeding program. Hernandez, a researcher with the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station,?aims to develop new varieties of squash, pumpkins and melons that have improved characteristics, such as increased market yield, disease resistance and nutritional quality.?In addition, he will collect genetic data on key UNH breeding lines using DNA sequencing at UNH’s Hubbard Center for Genome Studies to preserve a vast collection of seeds and historical genetic information. He hopes to ultimately make breeding lines available for license to farmers in New Hampshire and worldwide.
Hernandez is continuing the long-standing work of Brent Loy, professor emeritus, whose research resulted in more than 100 new varieties of squash, pumpkins, gourds and melons sold in seed catalogs around the world. Loy is responsible for more than 50 exclusive licenses held by UNH. Royalties have generated more than $2 million for the university since the commercialization of these varieties began.
Cucurbit breeding was launched at UNH by A.F. Yeager and Elwyn Meader in the 1940s, beginning what is now the longest continuous squash and pumpkin breeding program in North America.
Hernandez's work is supported by the NH Agricultural Experiment Station through joint funding from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (under Hatch award number 7005800) and the state of New Hampshire.