Elsa Petit

Professor Elsa Petit

Lecturer, Stockbridge School of Agriculture


Ph.D. Plant pathology, University of California, Davis, 2005
M.S. Agronomy, Bordeaux, France, 2000

Research Area: Evolution and Ecology, Genomics and Genetics, Plant Environment Interactions
Office: 206 Bowditch Hall

In my research, I combine my expertise in viticulture, plant pathology, ecology, evolution and genomics to understand microbial ecology in wild and agro-ecosystems with the goal of improving the sustainability of agricultural practices.

My research program is centered around two projects:

Project 1: Microbiome of grapes

The cold climate wine industry has recently boomed in the Northeastern America after the successful breeding of cold-tolerant grape varieties.  Vineyards harbor a wide variety of microorganisms that play a pivotal role in grape quality and will contribute significantly to the final aromatic properties of wine.  If essential beneficial microorganisms have been identified in traditional wine cultivars, in contrast little is known about cold-climate cultivars.

This project investigates how microbial communities vary according to climate changes and different farming practices from organic to conventional in vineyards of Northeastern America.  This will help in the discovery of fungal and bacterial species essential to wine and soil quality and guide future sustainable farming practices.

Project 2: Evaluation of the viticultural and wine attributes of promising emerging grape cultivars and genotypes for New England

Pruning and removing shoots, leaves and fruits early in the season is a common practice in viticulture and is thought to have beneficial effect on fruit juice quality (sugar, acidity) and disease control.  Yet, these practices are laborious and costly and their beneficial effect is not proven for newly bred grape varieties adapted to cold climate.  This project quantifies, for these different thinning methods, the labor costs, impact on juice quality (sugar content, acidity) and disease control on the cold tolerant variety Frontenac.  Results will provide winegrowers with a real measurement of the cost and benefit of such practices.