UHD associate professor of Biology and Microbiology Lisa Morano's research into deadly grapevine diseases and their causative bacteria could save the Texas wine industry and the wine industry worldwide millions of dollars each year.
"This research has great financial concerns for Texas vineyards because replanting vines after an infection can be economically devastating for growers," Morano said.
She works with UHD students to research the interaction of microbes with grapevines and the genetic make-up of the grapevine disease, called Pierce's disease, and its causative bacteria, Xylella fastidiosa.
"We are working to genetically fingerprint Xylella fastidiosa cultures from Texas and across the United States in an effort to understand how the bacteria spread," Morano said. "This information will determine how we address the problem going forward."
Six to 10 undergraduate UHD students assist Morano each semester on this research. The students are able to gain hands-on experience in the lab and contribute to published research papers and journal articles.
"They work so hard and I love working with them here," said Morano. "I'm doing a little piece of a larger puzzle and my students get to do real work that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to do in a larger school."
Morano says her dedication to students comes from a love of teaching and the ability to use research as a way to engage students and supplement classroom education. For her efforts, Morano was named recipient of the 2007 Faculty Award for Excellence in Scholarly and Professional Activity and the 2010 Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching.
"I came here (to UHD) because I love teaching and it's my primary goal," Morano said. "I am able to follow scholarship that interests me but also bring it into my classroom and use it as a teaching tool."
Morano's interest in this research field stems from a wine-influenced background. She grew up in California, the largest wine-producing state in the United States, earned a bachelor's degree in biology from the University of California Irvine and a doctorate in plant ecology from the University of California Davis in the Department of Viticulture and Enology.
She now channels her background and research projects into improving and aiding Texas vineyards, growers and wine makers.
"I could study the Texas wine industry for the rest of my life and never run out of work to do," Morano said.
In addition to researching, Morano teaches undergraduate level courses in the UHD Department of Natural Sciences including General Microbiology and Environmental Biology. She also serves as the Environmental Sciences academic coordinator, the Honors Program coordinator and was previously the faculty coordinator for the UHD Environmental Club.
"We have small class sizes and a great faculty at UHD," Morano said. "I love working here and love what I do."