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Flash drying saves seeds.

Flash Drying Saves Seeds

Seeds from most major crops grown in temperate areas contain right amount of moisture to keep them viable until needed for the next growing season but not too much to promote mold and rot.

Over the past 40 years, scientists have developed the best storage techniques for these seeds so they can be kept not only for the next growing season, but for many years.

"We're fairly confident we can store seeds such as wheat in liquid nitrogen, which is minus 322 [degrees] F, for more than 100 years," says Christina W. Vertucci, of the Agricultural Research Service. "Unfortunately, we have yet to learn how to safely preserve recalcitrant seeds." Many tropical plant species produce hard-to-store seeds that have high moisture levels and can't survive dehydration like most seeds from temperate areas.

"Flash drying may solve the problem. We cut out the embryonic axis, or growing portion of the seed and blow compressed air over it to remove a certain seed moisture up to 100 times faster than normal drying. After 30 minutes of this drying, we store the embryos in freezers that are minus 112 [degrees] F. So far the embryos have survived for 6 months," says Vertucci.

While longer storage periods are needed to ensure that the technique actually works, she remains optimistic they will succeed.

Vertucci, a plant physiologist at ARS' Plant Germplasm Research Unit, National Seed Storage Laboratory, in Fort Collins, Colorado, says that the secret to long-term storage may be getting rid of the nonvital water but retaining the water that is essential for the survival of the seed.

Vertucci is working with Norman W. Pammenter and Patricia Berjak, plant physiologists visiting her laboratory from the University of Natal, Durban, South Africa. They had experimented with the flash drying technique on recalcitrant seeds of Landolphia kirkii. A viny shrub in its native Africa, L. kirkii sets seeds twice a year, making it readily available for research.

PHOTO : Christina Vertucci, a plant physiologist at the National Seed Storage Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado, prepares a recalcitrant seed for storage using a new flash drying technique. (K-4051-3)
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Author:Senft, Dennis
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Jun 1, 1991
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