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NMSU Research Associate Professor Jennifer Randall and her team have cloned nearly 300 different genotypes of pecan. (NMSU courtesy photo) APR16

NMSU Researcher Develops Method for Cloning Pecan Rootstock

A newly developed method for cloning pecan rootstock may result in more successful yields for growers in the future.

Jennifer Randall, a research associate professor in the New Mexico State University Department of Entomology, Plant Pathology and Weed Science, is thrilled with this breakthrough, as pecan can be challenging.

“Pecan can be difficult to work with, and before I started, I was told that pecan cloning was impossible,” Randall said. “I’m excited, especially with the potential that it can mean to the industry and for research.”

07/15/2003: Pecan Orchard in Southern New Mexico  (Photo by Darren Phillips)
07/15/2003: Pecan Orchard in Southern New Mexico (Photo by Darren Phillips)

Pecan trees, grown in commercial orchards, have two main parts that are grafted together. The top part of the tree produces nuts and is genetically the same as other treetops in an orchard.

The bottom part is called the rootstock, and each rootstock is genetically different. The research process, which began in late 2012, involves cloning rootstocks to make them genetically the same.

The Randall Lab has cloned nearly 300 different pecan genotypes, or genetically different trees.

Randall, who has a doctorate in molecular biology from NMSU, said she and her team are trying to find the best genetic tree for specific environmental needs.

“When we find one, having everything genetically uniform can make a lot of differences in an orchard,” Randall said.

What that means for growers is that rootstock best suited for a specific orchard area could be cloned for ideal growing conditions. The

NMSU Research Associate Professor Jennifer Randall and her team have cloned nearly 300 different genotypes of pecan. This image portrays micropropagation, a tissue culture technique in which tissue is taken from a plant and grown in a laboratory to produce plantlets that are genetically identical to the parent. (NMSU courtesy photo) APR16
NMSU Research Associate Professor Jennifer Randall and her team have cloned nearly 300 different genotypes of pecan. This image portrays micropropagation, a tissue culture technique in which tissue is taken from a plant and grown in a laboratory to produce plantlets that are genetically identical to the parent. (NMSU courtesy photo) APR16

challenge in the Southwest is that the soil contains a large amount of salt. Randall said determining rootstocks that are able to grow in high salinity soils is advantageous, as the pecan tree can better survive and produce.

Identifying salinity tolerant and disease resistant rootstocks would be advantageous to pecan tree growers in the Southwest, as such trees may lead to more productive yields. However, the process is still in the research stage, so rootstock cloning is not yet commercially available. The next step is to conduct field trials.

“Next, we’ll perform a field study to see how they do in a real world environment, not just a laboratory in a greenhouse,” Randall said. “And now that we have this method, we can clone potentially any pecan.”

It takes seven to 30 years for a pecan tree to flower, but now that cloning is available, the flowering process can be expedited, as researchers are moving toward using genetic markers for pecan breeding.

Author: Kristie Garcia – NMSU

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