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WIU student Sean Pollock works on heirloom tomato research in a Universitiy laboratory.
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The heirloom tomatoes for the cancer prevention research are grown in the WIU School of Agriculture's new greenhouse facilities.
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The USDA grant will allow the research study to expand the number of varities of heirloom tomatoes it can grow in the University's greenhouses.
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WIU Cancer Prevention Tomato Research Gets Boost from USDA Grant

October 16, 2018

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MACOMB, IL – An exciting faculty/student research collaboration to investigate the cancer prevention qualities of heirloom tomatoes will be enhanced with this week's news that two Western Illinois University faculty have been awarded a nearly $32,000 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant to expand the project.

The research, being conducted by WIU Assistant Professor of Chemistry Mette Soendergaard and Assistant Professor of Agriculture Shelby Henning, along with their graduate and undergraduate students, began in Spring 2018. The project was born when Soendergaard and Henning found they had similar research interests involving work with vegetables.

The study began with looking at a handful of varieties of heirloom tomatoes, which were grown in the University's new greenhouse facilities. The harvested tomatoes were then taken into the laboratories of WIU's Currens Hall, where they were sliced, freeze dried and ground into powder. The finished product was tested with a variety of solvents.

Henning said the grant will help him obtain better equipment for growing the tomato crop, including pumps, fertilizer, trellising materials, the water/fertilizer solution, analysis meters and growing media. The greenhouse tomatoes are grown hydroponically, in volcanic rock, instead of soil.

"The grant is also going to allow us to expand what it is we are looking at in terms of root stock and scion combinations," he said. "At this point, we have only looked at two heirlooms and a commercial standard grafted to four different rootstocks. We can now expand the scope of our research. I may even put some plants in the field, but still grown hydroponically. I'm excited for what possibilities the grant is going to allow for."

Soendergaard said the USDA grant will allow her and her students to expand their study to include more tomatoes and rootstocks.

"Overall, that means that we will have more confidence in our results, so that we may eventually share our data with farmers and the research community," she said. "Also, the grant provides a research assistantship for a graduate student. This student will get his/her tuition waived and receive a monthly stipend to work on the project."

The research project specifically studies tomatoes and the antioxidants they contain in terms of cancer prevention. Research goals include looking further into whether heirloom tomatoes have different disease prevention qualities than more commonly encountered, commercially grown varieties.

"We are trying to see whether we can grow the heirloom tomatoes efficiently and how it impacts the health benefits," said Soendergaard.

Additionally, Henning was awarded a nearly $46,000 USDA grant for a separate research project, "Variety Selection and Integrated Pest Management for Production of High-Value Crops in High-Tunnels in Illinois."

For more information on WIU's College of Arts and Sciences programming, visit, and for more information on WIU's School of Agriculture, visit

Posted By: Jodi Pospeschil (
Office of University Communications & Marketing