Professor of Horticulture
Central Florida Research and Education Center
Dennis Gray uses biotechnology to develop more disease-resistant grapes and improved seedless varieties of watermelons. The in vitro regeneration systems he has developed for several species of grapes, as well as watermelon and cantaloupe, were the first step to genetic manipulation of these fruits.
Gray has since used these systems to insert genes for bacterial resistance into the Thompson Seedless variety of grape, which accounts for 40 percent of grape production in the United States.
This and other successes with genetic transformation of grapes has generated long-term funding from the Florida Grape Growers Association and the owner of several major wineries. “The funding I receive from our very small wine industry in Florida is several times larger than they have ever provided for research and is a sign of their commitment,” Gray says.
Gray’s research on the development of seedless watermelons aims to reduce the price of seeds for this fruit, which can cost as much as $2,000 per pound. “Dr. Gray’s work with seedless watermelon, which has produced leading cultivars in several years of field trials, has become a model for the integration of in vitro technology for crop improvement,” says Norman C. Leppla, director of the Central Florida Research and Education Center. “He also is the central figure in grape research in the state of Florida.”