people sitting at tables listening to speakers in a conference room

At a conference at the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania (MAICh) on June 12, ELIADA project partners reported on the utilization and promotion of the genetic material of Greek olive varieties. These scientists and innovators emphasized that the protection of this material is more imperative than ever as we face the effects of climate change.  

Researchers and experienced olive oil producers presented the innovative methodologies applied by the project, as well as key results to date.

Dr. Panagiotis Kalaitzis, Studies/Research Coordinator for the Department of Horticultural Genetics & Biotechnology at MAICh, provided an overview of his team’s work on detecting olive cultivars that are tolerant to abiotic stress (flooding, salinity, cold, and drought), as well as presenting his experimental procedure of in vitro cultivation of olive plants in specific media that promote their growth (rooting and shooting).

Using Koroneiki and Kalamon cultivars as a rootstock, Dr. Kalaitzis and his team aim to produce olive cultivars that are resistant to abiotic stress. A 90-day salinity stress experiment with two tolerant cultivars (Arvanitolia, Lefkolia) and two sensitive varieties (Koroneiki, Gaidourelia) was designed in order to test morphological and physiological changes in the trees, as well as the expression patterns of Prolyl 4 Hydroxylases and Arabinogalactan 2 Proteins. Aerenchyma formation was observed in roots of the sensitive cultivar Koroneiki, which could be used as a marker of tolerance to salinity.

Dr. Polydefkis Hatzopoulos, a professor in the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Department of Biotechnology, at the Agricultural University of Athens, presented his work on drought stress that is being applied to young olive trees with polyethylene glycol. His team has observed that some cultivars show greater tolerance than others. Dr. Hatzopoulos also talked about applying VirusInducedGeneSilencing of Oleuropein β-Glucosidase (OeGLU) in olive plants; this is an enzyme engaged in the biosynthetic pathway of secoiridoids in olive trees. Reduction of OeGLU transcripts resulted in the absence of both upstream and downstream secoiridoids. This is significant because it provides information on the regulation of the polyphenol content in olive fruits.

Mr. Eftychis Androulakis, inventor and producer of the healthy high-phenolic Pamako olive oil brand and other brands now sold in pharmacies in some European countries, described innovations he applies in the olive mill of his partner, Mr. Michael Marakas. These include a new washing and drying system for olives in the mill which uses a reduced quantity of clean water and lowers the temperature of the olives by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius as it cleans and dries them--an important step, since lower temperatures and dry olives yield higher quality olive oil. Mr. Androulakis also reported on an olive depitter/crusher he adapted to remove most of the olive peel, contain no plastic or rubber parts, keep temperature stable, and more, which also helps him produce higher quality, healthier olive oil that brings a higher price.

Dr. Konstantinos Blazakis, postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Horticultural Genetics & Biotechnology at MAICh, discussed his OliveID invention, which is an image-based tool to identify olive cultivars using a numeric analysis of the size, shape, and structure of olive leaves, fruits and pits. He explained how this new tool can help characterize and discriminate between cultivars, as well as establishing relationships among them, based on strictly defined mathematical specifications, contemporary computer programming techniques, and innovative automated algorithms that are more accurate than simple visual observations. This tool could be useful to farmers, millers, buyers, authorities, researchers, and others in the food industry. A smartphone application is being developed, and data on many cultivars are already freely available in a database at MAICh.

Find out more about the Department of Horticultural Genetics & Biotechnology at MAICh on their LinkedIn page.

Thanks to Eleftheria Figgou for the photos that appear with this article.

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