Dr. David Bertioli, Ph.D.
University of Georgia
David Bertioli is one of the world’s top experts on the genetics of the peanut plant. In 2019, Bertioli was the lead author of a groundbreaking study that mapped the entire genome of the modern, cultivated peanut, sequencing 2.5 billion base pairs of DNA.
Beyond this feat, Bertioli has extensively studied the modern peanut’s relatives: wild peanut strains and ancestor species. His exploration of wild strains led him to identify the genes that control factors such as resistance to fungal diseases, leaf spot and rust, and root parasites.
Both areas of study are providing essential tools for improving peanut crop yields, an area of great interest to Georgia’s $600 million peanut industry. Armed with the knowledge of the peanut’s DNA, peanut breeders – including Bertioli and his colleagues – are now better equipped to introduce the beneficial genes of wild species into the modern peanut plant.
Wild peanut species also have genes that promote larger crop yields or traits like larger peanuts or peanuts better able to withstand drought. While Bertioli is particularly focused on improving the peanut plant’s resistance to pests and diseases, his lab’s work with wild species can enhance the peanut crop in many other ways, too.
The Bertioli lab is introducing the beneficial traits of wild peanut species to the modern cultivated plant through traditional plant breeding techniques — such as controlled hybridization, chromosome doubling, and selection over multiple generations — alongside genetic analysis that draws on their knowledge of peanut DNA.
Bertioli’s work to develop more disease-resistant and pest-resistant peanut cultivars will benefit the environment as well as Georgia farmers, who grow about half the United States’ total peanut crop. And Bertioli’s international research collaborations in Brazil, Senegal, Australia and Uganda are improving the lives of millions of people around the world who depend on the peanut as a source of protein and nutrition.