The Biotechnology and Agroforestry Program of Dr. Thomas Zimmerman, applies basic plant sciences for the evaluation, development and conservation of tropical plant material. Plant breeding is used for improvement of Papaya and Sorrel.  Papaya is being studied for early production, disease resistance, fruit quality and tolerance of the local soil and climate. Resistance to papaya ringspot virus, a major problem in Papaya production, is being developed through the application of plant breeding and selection. The Biotechnology group has one of the largest collections of Sorrel germplasm (Hibiscus sabdariffa) with over 120 lines.  These Sorrel lines are used in breeding to develop and evaluate 2, 3 and 4 way crosses in an attempt to develop new day neutral crimson varieties.  Sorrel characteristics being studied include: calyx color, fruiting season, leaf shape, open calyx, spine-free fruit, wilt disease resistance, harvest snapability and flavor.

Extensive research has also been done on cassava; it is the 3rd largest source of carbohydrates  in the tropics and the main food source for over 500 million people. Cassava also contains cyanide. Click here to learn more about the cassava research done at UVI.

Virus-free Sweet Potato varieties are being maintained in vitro for a supply of clean stock plants.  Field trials of Sweet Potato are on-going to evaluate varieties for production, weevil resistance and tuberous root quality.  Pitaya varieties, related to the night blooming local Cereus cactus, are being evaluated for production and trellis systems.  The delicate but taste satisfying exotic fruit ranges in color from white to deep red with production from June through October.

Click here for more information on other projects the UVI Biotechnology department has workd on.

Students can also receive course credit by conducting research with the Biotechnology department or any of the other sub-departments of UVI's Agriculture Experiment Station. Our students have presented their research locally, and abroad as members of the Southern Region American Society for Horticultural Science (SRASHS).  


The use of native tree species in landscaping and urban forestry is the focus of agroforestry research. Water use efficiency and drought tolerance of native Virgin Islands trees are being evaluated.  Systems are also being developed to propagate rare and endangered tree species of the Virgin Islands through McIntire-Stennis research.