Background: Quinoa is an increasingly popular seed crop frequently studied for its tolerance to various abiotic stresses as well as its susceptibility to heat. Estimations of quinoa pollen viability through staining methods have resulted in conflicting results. A more effective alternative to stains is to estimate pollen viability through in vitro germination. Here we report a method for in vitro quinoa pollen germination that could be used to understand the impact of various stresses on quinoa fertility and therefore seed yield or to identify male-sterile lines for breeding.
Results: A semi-automated method to count germinating pollen was developed in PlantCV, which can be widely used by the community. Pollen collected on day 4 after first anthesis at ZT5 was optimum for pollen germination with an average germination of 68% for accession QQ74 (PI 614886). The optimal length of pollen incubation was found to be 48 hours, because it maximizes germination rates while minimizing contamination. The pollen germination medium’s pH, boric acid, and sucrose concentrations were optimized. The highest germination rates were obtained with 16% sucrose, 0.03% boric acid, 0.007% calcium nitrate, and pH 5.5. This medium was tested on quinoa accessions QQ74, and cherry vanilla with 68%, and 64% germination efficiencies, respectively. Conclusions: We provide an in vitro pollen germination method for quinoa with average germination rates of 64 and 68% on the two accessions tested. This method is a valuable tool to estimate pollen viability in quinoa, and to test how stress affects quinoa fertility. We also developed an image analysis tool to semi-automate the process of counting germinating pollen. Quinoa produces many new flowers during most of its panicle development period, leading to significant variation in pollen maturity and viability between different flowers of the same panicle. Therefore, collecting pollen at 4 days after first anthesis is very important to collect more uniformly developed pollen and to obtain high germination rates.