David Byrne, a Professor in Horticultural Sciences at Texas A&M University, currently holds the Basye Endowed Chair in Rose Genetics.
He grew up in the Northeast and did his undergraduate work at Rutgers University in the area of Plant Sciences. He worked summers with Dr. Frederick Hough and Dr. Catherine Bailey in the Tree Fruit (peach, apricot, apple, pear) Breeding Program and with Dr. Gojko Jelenkovic in the Blueberry and Strawberry Breeding Programs. While there he discovered that the chromosomes of the octoploid strawberry pair as if the plant was a diploid.
He did his graduate studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York in the field of Plant Breeding and Biometry with minors in Plant Pathology and Entomology. During this period he spent two years in Colombia, South America at CIAT (Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical, Center of Tropical Agriculture) where he studied mite and thrips resistance in the tropical root crop, cassava (Manihot esculenta).
In 1980, his first job after graduating was in California at the International Plant Research Institute, where he lead their cassava production and breeding programs. Unfortunately, this young company had financial issues so in 1983 he moved to Texas A&M University to assume the duties of Stone Fruit Breeder and teacher in the Department of Horticultural Sciences.
He has run the Stone Fruit Breeding Program since 1983. The objectives of this program was initially to develop yellow-fleshed peaches adapted to the low and medium chill zones of the world. Early medium chill releases such as ‘Texstar’, ‘TexKing’, ‘TexPrince’ and ‘TexRoyal’ extended the harvest season by 3-4 weeks in this zone.
Low chill work in south Texas (Weslaco) and in collaboration with programs in Thailand (Royal Project) has resulted in six yellow-fleshed peach releases: ‘Tropicprince’, ‘TexFirst’ and the Thai Tiger series of 4 low chill peaches released for use in Thailand. These are also available in the USA as ‘Tropic Zest’.
In the early 1990s, the program shifted its emphasis to expand its work to include the development of new products for this zone. To accomplish this, the program incorporated traits such as white flesh, sub-acid flavor, non-melting flesh, nectarine and flat shape into the breeding population. This involved collaborative work with Stone Fruit Breeding programs in Brazil, China, Japan and Mexico. This work has resulted in over 20 releases including the following released in the USA:
Royal Zest series, four yellow flesh peaches with traditional sweet-acid flavor
Golden Zest peach, a yellow, non-melting, medium acid, mostly yellow skin peach
White Delight series, four white flesh peaches with sub-acid flavor
White Zest peach, a white peach with traditional sweet-acid flavor
Flat Delight series, a white- and a yellow donut peach with sub-acid flavor
Smooth Texan series, three medium chill early ripening yellow nectarines
Smooth Delight series, three low to medium chill nectarines with sub-acid flavor
Smooth Zest series, two low chill nectarines with traditional sweet-acid flavor
Another 10 selections are currently being prepared for release.
In the early 1990s, working with Dr. Robert Basye a rose breeder and retired Professor of Mathematics, he began the Rose Breeding and Genetics Program which was recently enhanced by the donation of the breeding stock from the Father of the Miniature Rose, Ralph Moore. The focus of the program is to develop disease (black spot, cercospora, Rose rosette) resistant and heat tolerant roses.
He currently coordinates the national Specialty Crop Research Initiative program entitled ‘Combating Rose Rosette Disease”, the “Tools for Polyploids” planning grant, chairs the National Clean Plant Network for Roses and participates in the RosBREED II project which is discovering genetic tags useful for the breeding of roses and peaches. Ongoing projects involve the development and integration of breeding tools to utilize genomic information in polyploid crops and to rapidly phenotype plants for productivity and stress tolerance using remote sensing technology. The integration of these tools will lead to an accelerated development of sustainable crop varieties.