Oregon State University

History of the OSU Seed Lab

It is hard to know what might have been in the mind and heart of Professor George Hyslop and others, when he started the Oregon State University Seed Laboratory in 1909 in a small room in the Agronomy wing of what was to become the Agriculture Hall. He started with a crank operated divider, a blower with airflow regulated by a screw valve and a few water-cooled germinators. Now, the OSU Seed Laboratory provides services to the seed industry in the US and around the world and is accredited by the International Seed Testing Association (ISTA).

purity-board ergovision
Purity testing with the traditional purity board in 1960. Purity testing with the Ergonomic Purity Station in 2009.

This was a time when there were very few seed laboratories in the nation and the Oregon Seed Industry was still in its infancy. When people talked about seeds in those days they were probably talking about wheat and potato seeds. Looking ahead to the next 100 years from that point in time, it would have been impossible to imagine the breadth, depth, and dynamism of the seed industry in Oregon and the nation. But they surely had a vision.

A hundred years later, Oregon is the leading grass seed supplier in the world and is known as the “grass seed capital of the world.” It ships seed across the country, Europe, Asia, and South America. Needless to say the OSU Seed Lab was not to watch the events from the fences; rather it worked shoulder to shoulder with its seed communities both in good and in difficult times. It made every possible effort to develop useful methods, organize educational services, and provide testing services to a dynamically growing agricultural community. After Seed Certification was established in 1918 and fully vested in 1937, the seed lab provided a testing service that is critical for certification tagging. Through the efforts of the Oregon Seed Growers League, the OSU Seed Lab moved to the Quonset Huts (brought in from what then was the Army military base ‘Camp Adair’) in 1945. In 1989, the seed lab moved again to its current modern building located on Campus Way. These changes made it possible to respond to the growing demand for testing and to accommodate newer and more modern equipment for testing.

quonset-hut seed-lab-today
The Quonset Hut was the lab's home for many years. Our current facility on Campus Way.

There are many contrasts between seed testing in 1909 and 2009. The laboratory started by providing purity and germination tests to its customers. Today, there are many more tests in various areas of seed quality to serve the needs of today's dynamic seed industry. In the purity area, the OSU Seed Lab offers regular purity testing for a wide range of crops and native species as well as US, Australian and Canadian crop and weed exams; noxious weed exams; pest and disease, soil, undesirable grass seed, and sod quality exams. The seed lab also offers testing to detect Orobanche species in red clover, and noxious weeds in compost, birdseed, and animal feed. Other tests include germination, viability by tetrazolium, fluorescence, grow-outs, seed moisture content, seed weight, vigor tests, ploidy by cytometry, immunoblot assay to detect endophyte in seeds, Clearfield® bioassay, varietal identification, and x-ray tests. In addition, special seed testing studies, research, and consultation are available based on customer needs.

old-germination ryegrass-germinator
 Germination facilities in 1960. Climate controlled chambers in 2009.

Some of the highlights and anecdotes from the OSU Seed Lab’s history

  • Initially it was managed cooperatively by the USDA and the State of Oregon. Its objective was to serve the Northwest region of the USA and California. In 1954, the management was transferred to the Dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences, Oregon State University, which is its current home in Corvallis.
  • In 1929, the fluorescence test was introduced to distinguish perennial from annual ryegrass. This test became a key test to certify these species. The test is still in use but has some limitations. For this reason, in the late 1990’s, a grow-out test was introduced by the OSU Seed Lab to determine the plant type produced by fluorescing seedlings. Since early 2000, a DNA based test is being searched.
  • “During WWII, the lab tested a large number of vetch samples, which were planted across the nation for green manure (source of nitrogen), because the sodium nitrate used in those days as fertilizer, had been used up to make explosives for the war. Needless to say the lab got backlogged.” (Verbal communication with Louisa Jensen in 1997).
  • In the 1960's, along with the USDA team of engineers, the lab was instrumental in developing a range of tabletop equipment for testing. Some of the models produced at that time were manufactured by various companies and are still being used in many labs today.
  • The laboratory is active in research and teaching. It was the home of seed science and technology leaders with well-known reputation such as Louisa Jensen, Don F. Grabe, Te May Ching, Ed Hardin and Rodger Danielson.
    workshop-1985 training
    OSU Seed Laboratory providing workshops and training services.
  • Many students went through OSU and were inspired by the vision and the mission of the university and the seed lab to work in seed research, teaching and development. Some former students are: Cadmo Rosell from Uruguay who joined the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization; Carlos Briciani from Chile who joined the Organization of American States; Larry Copeland of Michigan State University; Dennis Tekrony of University of Kentucky; Loren Weisner who joined the National Germplasm Center in Colorado; Ruben Sader and Ronaldo Andrade from Brazil and many others. Adriel Garay went back to Peru and countries in Central and South America before settling down as the current manager of OSU Seed Lab.
  • Chromosome counting was used as a method to differentiate ploidy levels. With the global and faster moving seed industry, this method reached its limit. In 1999, the laboratory introduced the Flow Cytometry as the standard method to determine the amount of DNA in plant cells. This method is now used to differentiate seeds with different ploidy levels and is widely used for ryegrass by breeders and growers.
    diploid-tetraploid flow-cytometer
    OSU Seed Laboratory used the chromosome counting method in the past. Ploidy by cytometry was introduced as an alternative method to the chromosome count.
  • In the early 2000’s, the lab developed what has become known as an Ergovision Inspection Station in cooperation with Mater International. This equipment uses a high quality microscope, high quality fiber optic light, and automated movement of seeds through the viewing area. It provides an ergonomic work position. After using it, analysts did not want to go back to the traditional purity board.
  • The end of the last century was the information age. A state of the art database and electronic programs were developed in partnership with the OSU Seed Certification Program. Now customers can enter their sample information directly on the web and access test results in the same way. Most of the larger companies can also print their test reports and certification tags at their own offices if they so desire.
    office-1948 modern-database
    Office work in 1948. State of the art database is used in 2009.
  • Since 2005, the lab has been busy working to develop Uniform Blowing Procedures (UBP) for grass seeds. It started by introducing the concept of Uniform Master Calibration Samples to find the air velocity needed to make the optimum separation. This was done for Orchardgrass and Kentucky bluegrass in AOSA. Seeing that this method will be needed in the future, work is in progress to develop similar user-friendly methods for other species.
  • Today, the OSU Seed laboratory is ISTA accredited and can test seed for international export and issue the “Orange International Certificate” or “Blue International Certificate.”  This helps its customers in today’s global seed market.

Highly committed people led this lab to become one of the leading labs in the nation. They were Norma Waddle (1910-17), Grace M. Cole (1917-19), Agnes Ryder (1919-22), Bertha C. Hite (1922-29), Leatha D. Bunting (1929-30), Grace Cole Fleischman (1930-38), Louisa Kanipe Jensen (1938-68), Ed Hardin (1968-80), Rodger Danielson (1980-96) and Adriel Garay (1997 to present).

These contributions would not have been possible without the support from a broad community. These include seed growers, seed cleaners, seed dealers that trust this lab to test their samples; the agricultural community and other seed users who used our test reports to determine the quality of seed they were planting; the seed laboratory communities who worked with us shoulder to shoulder; the scientists and professionals who challenged and stimulated new concepts and methods. Finally, thanks to all the analysts who provide tender loving care and dedicated attention to each and every sample tested.

I am humbled and honored to be the one to bring this lab to its 100 years.

Adriel Garay, Ph.D., Lab Manager

Contact Info

The OSU Seed Laboratory is an AOSA and ISTA member lab and is ISTA Accredited Laboratory US07.

3291 SW Campus Way
Corvallis, OR 97331
Phone: 541-737-4464
Fax: 541-737-2126

Hours: 8-5 Mon - Fri
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