Imaging technique could help develop hardier oat varieties

By Anna Bonar

- Last updated on GMT

David Livingston says developing a winter-hardy oat variety, however, is a complex task that will require further research
David Livingston says developing a winter-hardy oat variety, however, is a complex task that will require further research

Related tags Wheat Cereal Poaceae

Oat growers should be able to better understand freezing in oats and develop hardier varieties thanks to a novel imaging technique, says its developer David Livingston from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The results​ of his work recently published in Environmental and Experimental Botany​ journal show that ice forms in the roots and portions of the crown. The images also showed that ice in the crown is only visible in the lower and upper parts with the middle portion being ice-free.

“We were surprised to learn that ice crystals inside the plant were only in the lower and upper portion of the crown and that large crystals seemed to be missing from the center of the crown,”​ Livingston told Milling & Grains.

“This was surprising because the center of the crown is less tolerant of freezing.  We suspect that there is, in fact, ice in the center of the crown but the crystals are too small for us to visualize using our technique.”

Livingston, who works in the Plant Science Research Unit in Raleigh, NC, was able to look at plant structure both above and below ground thanks to high-resolution digital photos of slices. His photos were later given a 3D perspective.

Implications for growers and the food industry

“We are working very hard to develop a new oat variety that is more winter-hardy but we are finding that winter hardiness is far more complicated than we thought.  Our research is telling us that there are specific regions of the plant that are much hardier than others. So we need to be looking at those specific regions when we attempt to pick more winter hardy plants,” ​said Livingston.

Developing winter hardy oats could mean farmers would see a higher yield and earlier harvest, which could create an opportunity to plant a second crop in the summer, he explained.

“Moreover, farmers will be able to plant winter oats further north, presumably closer to millers and to end users of the crop. This will of course mean lower transportation costs.”  

Why oats?

"The reason we decided to look at freezing tolerance in oat is that it is the winter cereal crop with the least amount of freezing resistance. Under the same conditions most oat plants will be killed by temperatures that are about 6 to 8 degrees warmer than wheat," ​he said.

Livingston plans to look at wheat and rye (most winter hardy cereal crop) next to see if ice formations follow the same pattern as in oats.

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