Breakthrough produces better nut
USDA researchers partner with OSU to develop a Spanish peanut that's good for heart health
Story by Faith Kelley
The development of a new peanut plant by USDA researchers in partnership with OSU is cracking interest from farmers and food industry giants.
USDA peanut breeder Kelly Chamberlin and plant pathologist Rebecca Bennett, along with OSU plant pathologist John Damicone, have developed OLé, a Spanish peanut variety with high oleic acid content.
“We always have a bit of a struggle trying to name our peanut varieties,” Chamberlin says. “You want something catchy, something the farmers will remember. Since it’s a Spanish peanut, we went with OLé with a capital O and L, to designate high oleic acid content. Also, OLé means joyous and terrific.”
OLé peanuts were developed using traditional hybrid breeding. OLé is resistant to several fungal diseases, which reduces pesticide use and offers farmers extensive savings on chemical treatments. Eliminating harmful pesticides and fungicides allows natural pollinators, such as bees, to live longer and return to the crops.
The oleic acid found in OLé peanuts is a beneficial fatty acid associated with good health and provides a longer shelf life. Oleic acid is a helpful monounsaturated fatty acid that can improve blood pressure, better heart rate and lessen diabetes symptoms. Linoleic acid, naturally occurring in peanuts, spoils the nuts much faster than those with high oleic content. Normally peanuts have close to equal amounts of these two fats, but high oleic peanuts have 10 to 20 times more oleic acid than linoleic acid. High oleic peanuts such as OLé have up to 10 times the shelf life of traditional peanuts.
Peanuts typically self-pollinate, meaning they fertilize themselves. In Chamberlin’s research, they produce new peanut breeding lines by cross-pollinating flowers from two different peanuts. For example, taking pollen from the high oleic plant and fertilizing it with the low oleic flower incorporates the high oleic trait into the progeny seed, while retaining desired traits from the low oleic parent.
“Say we’ve got a peanut that’s high oleic, we’ve got one that’s not, and the high oleic peanut doesn’t really have other attributes we like,” Chamberlin says. “We want the one that we do like to be high oleic. Along with the high oleic acid amounts, the hybrid peanut will yield well and produce a quality product.”
Growers like the new variety because of its disease resistance and potential for high yield and grade.
The partnership between OSU and the USDA is intricate. The USDA facility is located on OSU land, as most USDA Agricultural Research Services facilities are tied to land grant universities. Chamberlin and Bennett worked with OSU’s Damicone and other OSU professionals to develop and release OLé.
“The reason for our partnership is we have resources the university doesn’t, and they have resources that we don’t,” Chamberlin says. “For example, I’m a peanut breeder and the only one in the state working for the producers in Oklahoma. My program also serves producers in Texas and New Mexico.”
A majority of Chamberlin’s fieldwork is done on OSU land at the Oklahoma Agricultural Extension Service Experiment Station in Fort Cobb, Oklahoma. The station’s personnel help plant her plots, take care of her plants while she’s away and later harvest them.
“It’s a very close partnership — I couldn’t do anything I do without them, and they wouldn’t have any peanut varieties released without me,” she says. “We work hand in hand.”
Commercial production for OLé is scheduled for 2016. Last year, the USDA and Chamberlin produced foundation seed through OSU’s Oklahoma Foundation Seed Services. All USDA peanut varieties are exclusively licensed to sell through OSU.
“To produce the seed, they sell the seeds to buying points around the state,” she says. “Then, those people sell it to the farmer. So this year, we’re just at the stage where the buying points are producing the seed. Next year they’ll be selling it to the farmers for production.”
There are several criteria to meet before releasing a peanut variety to a farmer. For instance, the attributes of the peanut, such as disease resistance, must be established before release. This is where plant pathologists Bennett and Damicone come into play to determine the disease resistance among the varieties. In addition to the high oleic trait, OLé peanuts have genetic resistance to Sclerotinia blight and pod rot, two fungal diseases that cause profit loss in Oklahoma and other peanut growing regions.
Once the varieties are approved and farmers start production, they sell the peanuts back to the buying points.
“The buying points will keep some of that peanut seed, and then they’ll put the rest into the market,” Chamberlin says. “They sell it in the United States and export markets.”
While OLé peanuts are gaining popularity due to their long shelf life and healthy oil content, the snack and candy industry are interested as well. With a richer and nuttier flavor than the average peanut, OLé has a bright future in the food industry.
“Hershey has shown a huge interest in OLé and has tested seed that I sent them for use in their candy products,” Chamberlin says. “All results were extremely favorable regarding taste, size, uniformity, nutritional content and oleic acid content. USDA and OSU are not partnering with them, but they plan on acquiring as much OLé as they can to use in their products.
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Uploaded December 1, 2015