Genetics

Will County chokeberry seeds getting their closeup in genetic preservation program | Will-county

Chas Reilly Times correspondent

Violet is the Illinois state flower, but it’s been the chokeberry plants that have attracted some national attention.

Chokeberry seeds and genetic material from the Kankakee Sands Preserve in Custer Township as well as three other sites in the state were collected and taken to the North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station in Ames, Iowa, and the National Laboratory for Genetic Resources Preservation in Fort Collins , Colo., With the purpose of storing them in a national seed vault and for other study.

“The seeds from Kankakee Sands will be stored in a vault for safe keeping,” said Cindy Cain, public information officer of the Forest Preserve District of Will County. Other seeds taken from sites elsewhere in Illinois will be grown in a carefully controlled pollination environment. So they, too, can be stored and used for research and possibly be sent to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. ”

There are several reasons chokeberry seeds were chosen for the program.

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“The chokeberry plant, also called aronia, is desirable because it produces fruit that contains a high level of antioxidants and a hybrid of this fruit is used in commercial food production,” Cain said. “It is also a popular native landscaping plant that provides food and habitat for pollinators.”

The seed vault was also in need of chokeberry seeds from Midwestern areas.

“They had East Coast varieties, but not enough from the Midwest,” Cain said. “So they chose Illinois for its Midwestern plant varieties.”

The process began in May 2021, when US Department of Agriculture Horticulturist Jeffrey Carstens contacted the Forest Preserve District to apply for a special use permit for a variety of activities involving the chokeberry plants at the Kankakee Sands Preserve.

“It is very encouraging that our multiyear restoration efforts at Kankakee Sands have yielded materials that could be useful to other agencies,” Cain said. “This is why we do what we do. We’re preserving land and restoring it to foster and protect biodiversity. “

After receiving the permit, Carstens and a group from the National Germplasm System North Central Regional Station gathered the seeds as well as samples of the plant’s leaf tissue to be genetically analyzed.

“The leaf material from our chokeberry plants will be used by researchers now and the seeds will be stored for future use in case of natural or human-caused disasters,” Cain said. “Depending on how they were stored, the seeds could last up to 100 years, according to the seed vault staff.”

Special care was teken with the seeds and genetic materials.

“The leaf tissue samples were placed in packets with silica beads, freeze dried and tucked into sealed, air-tight packets that are now being stored in a room at 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit),” Cain said. “The chokeberry seeds are stored in resealable, thick-plastic, see-through packaging being kept at a cool minus 18 degrees Celsius (minus 0.4 Fahrenheit) in a large walk-in freezer.”

Cain said it’s fitting for the forest preserve district to participate in the seed and genetic material program.

Its “mission statement pledges that the district will protect and enhance Will County’s natural and cultural resources for the benefit of current and future generations,” she said. “This partnership is a perfect example of how that pledge is carried out.”

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