Dr. Phil Simon is a USDA, ARS Research Geneticist and Professor of Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. His research in vegetable genetics and breeding has focused on fresh market carrot improvement, targeting improved flavor and nutritional quality, nematode, disease and abiotic stress resistance, and genetic mapping of these and other traits. He leads the USDA breeding effort in the development of widely used carrot germplasm with improved flavor and nutritional value, novel purple color, and root-knot nematode resistance. To complement his breeding effort, along with students and collaborators, he has developed breeding tools, including co-leadership in the sequencing of the carrot genome, and he has collected carrot, Allium, and other vegetable germplasm in ten collecting expeditions. Phil has undertaken related plant breeding research including the first production of true seed in garlic, and the development of cucumber and melon germplasm with orange color and elevated carotene content.
Modern carrot improvement began with the discovery of cytoplasmic male sterility in the 1940’s and 1950’s, which is essential for hybrid breeding. As an outcrossing diploid with substantial allelic diversity available in both cultivated and wild germplasm, that diversity has been important for improvements in marketable yield, disease and pest resistance, flavor and appearance that contribute to modern high-value carrot products like “baby” carrots. Modern breeding to improve carrot nutritional content, attributable to carrot’s orange carotenoid pigments that are precursors of vitamin A, has been particularly successful with the current contribution of carrot to the US diet today approximately 50% higher than in 1970. Substantial improvements in breeding for pest resistance and for adaptation to warmer climates have also been realized. Current efforts expand carrot breeding in developing the crop for a wider range of biotic and abiotic stress, and for new conventional and low-input markets. The recent sequencing of the carrot genome provides a foundation to accelerate the genetic improvement of the carrot crop.