New Storage for Hazelnuts
Barbara M. Reed has a new genetic insurance policy for hazelnuts.
Until now, seeds of hazelnuts, also known as filberts, would not sprout
after 6 months to a year in storage or after any exposure to liquid nitrogen.
But working with procedures used to preserve tropical seeds, Reed has
developed a technique to keep hazelnuts viable indefinitely.
"If a whole region were wiped out by Eastern filbert blight or another
catastrophe, the stored seeds would provide a crucial resource for
breeders," Reed says. "The seeds of nine primary hazelnut species
contain the genetic material from which new and better commercial cultivars can
Reed is a plant physiologist at the ARS National Clonal Germplasm Repository
in Corvallis, Oregon.
Turkey, Italy, Spain, Greece, and the Willamette Valley in Oregon are the
world's prime growing regions. Rich in vitamins B6 and E, hazelnuts are popular
roasted and in baked products.
Reed and M.N. Normah, a Malaysian scientist on sabbatical at the ARS
repository, discovered that a technique used by Normah to store finicky rubber
tree seeds also worked for hazelnuts.
"Although most of the seed dies, we found that the tip of the
embryothe part of the seed that will develop into the plant shoot and
rootsstays alive in liquid nitrogen," Reed says.
The embryo tip, known as the axis, can be cut out of the seed and grown into
a plant in tissue culture. Better still, Reed can store just the axes.
"This lets us store hundreds of each species in a small amount of
space," says Reed.
Another advantage: While seeds must be kept in a cool, moist environment for
8 weeks to break their dormancy so they will germinate, axes alone take only 2
weeks. This cuts the time and cost to regrow the plants.
The nine main species of hazelnuts have been bred into over a hundred
cultivars, or varieties. Reed and her colleagues propagate these cultivars by
cuttings, as trees, or in tissue culture.
Preserving the seeds and plants makes it possible for breeders to develop
additional new varieties. Or, if a cultivar or even a whole species were wiped
out in the wild, lost genetic traits could be recaptured.
-- By Kathryn Barry Stelljes, ARS.
Reed is at the USDA-ARS National Clonal Germplasm Repository, 33447 Peoria
Rd., Corvallis, OR 97333-2521; phone (541) 738-4216, fax (541) 738-4205.
"New Storage for Hazelnuts" was published in
the April 1995 issue
of Agricultural Research magazine.