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Introducing Cold Tolerance in Hazelnut

Regional Priorities Partnership Program (RP3)
Agriculture and Agri Food
Genome Centre(s):
Ontario Genomics
Project Leader(s):
Praveen Saxena (University of Guelph)
Fiscal Year Project Launched: 
Project Description: 

The Hazelnut, Corylus spp., currently considered a minor crop in Ontario, has gained tremendous interest in the horticulture industry as a highly desirable crop due to a guaranteed market demand. Our industry partner, Ferrero Canada, the manufacturer of the hazelnut-containing products Nutella and Ferrero Rocher, is the third largest confectionary group in the world, requiring approximately 40 per cent of the current global hazelnut supply. For many years, Ferrero Canada has attempted to source hazelnuts in North America. Unfortunately, the lack of suitable cold hardy cultivars for the Ontario climate has hindered the ability of Ferrero to expand domestic cultivation. For instance, catkins (male reproductive structures that are needed for nut-set) are short lived and sensitive to frost, making the Ontario climate exceptionally problematic. The fluctuations between warm and cold weather during early spring can be quite damaging for commercial hazelnut (Corylus avellana L.) cultivars preferred by Ferrero. This project will provide genomics driven indoleamine-based “stress-buster” solutions to mitigate the impacts of climate fluctuations on field grown trees enhancing the productivity, sustainability and profitability of Ontario’s agri-food sector. Our strategies to improve thermo-tolerance of desirable hazelnut cultivars will utilize the proven capacity of indoleamines to mitigate stress. Indoleamines are potent plant growth regulators which can enable stressed trees to survive and support energy expensive processes of flowering and nut set. Indoleamines are produced across all life forms, therefore it is also possible to employ the root microbial network to further enhance their effects via plant-microbe interactions. Thermo-tolerance of desirable hazelnut cultivars can be improved by modifying indoleamine metabolism through horticultural management strategies (e.g. mulching or fertilizers), as well as, a direct application of indoleamine solutions. Elucidation of the metabolic mechanisms of indoleamines will lead to the development of effective tools for improving the survival of trees exposed to temperature fluctuations commonly experienced in Southern Ontario. The Gosling Research Institute for Plant Preservation (GRIPP), established with a mission to preserve endangered and agriculturally important plant biodiversity through research, education, and service programs provides resources, expertise, and access to germplasm for commercialization. Ferrero preferred cultivars from GRIPP collection will be screened to validate our proof-of-concept that the deployment of indoleamine compounds across various plant organs counters abiotic and biotic stresses in vitro and in the field. This research will provide an immediate, low cost solution to growers for mass cultivation of diverse hazelnut genotypes. Ferrero’s commitment to acquire locally sourced nuts will provide direct economic benefits to the Ontario hazelnut industry.