Development of a molecular test to determine the vitality status of Norway spruce (<i>Picea abies</i>) seedlings during frozen storage
In boreal forest regions, a great portion of forest tree seedlings are stored indoors in late autumn to prevent seedlings from outdoor winter damage. For seedlings to be able to survive in storage it is crucial that they store well and can cope with the dark and cold storage environment. The aim of this study was to search for genes that can determine the vitality status of Norway spruce ( Picea abies (L.) Karst.) seedlings during frozen storage. Furthermore, the sensitivity of the ColdNSure™ test, a gene activity test that predicts storability was assessed. The storability of seedlings was tested biweekly by evaluating damage with the gene activity test and the electrolyte leakage test after freezing seedlings to −25 °C (the SEL diff-25 method). In parallel, seedlings were frozen stored at −3 °C. According to both methods, seedlings were considered storable from week 41. This also corresponded to the post storage results determined at the end of the storage period. In order to identify vitality indicators, Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) was performed on bud samples collected during storage. Comparing physiological post storage data to gene analysis data revealed numerous vitality related genes. To validate the results, a second trial was performed. In this trial, gene activity was better in predicting seedling storability than the conventional freezing test; this indicates a high sensitivity level of this molecular assay. For multiple indicators a clear switch between damaged and vital seedlings was observed. A collection of indicators will be used in the future development of a commercial vitality test.