Maya Nut: developing a storage protocol for a Central American famine food

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Maya Nut (Brosimum alicastrum) freshly harvested and roasted. Freshly harvested seeds as they are collected from the forest floor (pale brown, foreground) and after they have been roasted prior to being ground into a flour

Our recent findings have lead us to develop a protocol which enables the storage of Maya Nut (Brosimum alicastrum) seed for several months. Since September 2012 Anaité López (Instituto Nacional de Bosques, Guatemala), Tim Marks (Millennium Seed Bank) and Wolfgang Stuppy (The Millennium Seed Bank) have been working at the Millennium Seed Bank to develop a long-term storage protocol for the seed of the Maya Nut tree (Brosimum alicastrum). Maya Nut is a significant famine food for the rural poor in northern Central America but at the moment it is not possible to store the seed for more than a couple of weeks. Previous posts have highlighted the observation that this seed does not survive for long in the wild and this has been believed to be a consequence of the seed’s very thin papery coat which leaves it vulnerable to desiccation and fungal attack . 

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What we found, however, was that the seed is in fact remarkably resistant to desiccation. In order to understand this  we contacted World expert on seed morphology Wolfgang Stuppy (he has an amazing blog) . The above image  of a section through a seed shows how thin the seed coat is. Wolfgang’s research discovered that the seed is protected instead by the thick cuticle of the embryo itself, which is probably rich in suberin.

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Maya Nut embryo showing thick green cuticle. This cuticle also contains a white latex, presumably a deterrent to potential seed predators

It would therefore seem that Maya Nut seed viability is a consequence of the fungal infestations observed in its natural habitat and not as we thought due to desiccation. Knowing this prompted us to focus our storage strategy to  minimizing fungal infection and the fact that the seed is desiccation-tolerant provided us with a valuable tool to do so. By controlling humidity and temperature we have been able to design a storage methodology which enables the storage of seed for several months!

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