Donald Huber, Ph.D.

Professor of Horticultural Sciences

Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

2003 Awardee

Donald Huber’s research is directed toward understanding and controlling the cellular processes responsible for ripening, aging and deterioration of horticultural crops after they have been harvested.

“In a broad sense, this involves study of the environmental and biological factors to which fruits and vegetables are exposed from harvest through retail sales, and how these factors might be manipulated to extend shelf-life while also ensuring high quality and nutritional properties,” Huber says.

This field of research, known as postharvest biology, has many parallels with the biology of plant stress and deals with the effects of continued development during storage, including fruits harvested prior to completion of ripening, bruising and other mechanical injuries, and low- and high-temperature injuries.

Huber’s particular interests address the processes responsible for fruit softening, as it occurs either during ripening or as an adverse response to low-temperature storage or ethylene exposure.

“Softening and deterioration of harvested produce involves, in part, the production of specific proteins that are designed to aid in loss of fruit structural integrity and, ultimately, seed dispersal,” Huber says. “Suppression of these proteins through identification and silencing of relevant genes can significantly extend the period of useful shelf-life in the retail and home environments.”

Proteins and genes of interest to Huber’s research program include those targeting cell walls, membranes, ethylene biosynthesis, and oxidative reactions.

In his 22 years with the university, Huber has published more than 115 articles in international scholarly journals and chaired 16 Ph.D. committees. Over the past six years he has attracted $600,000 in federal and industry funding.