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Plants from Test Tubes: An Introduction to Micropropagationby Lydiane Kyte
Tissue culture was first used on a large scale by the orchid industry in the 1950s. Some fortuitous early discoveries opened the door to tissue culture for quality orchids, where previously growers had struggled with unpredictable seed or difficult-to-propagate, virus-infected stock. Later, it became clear that any plant would respond to tissue culture as long as the right formula and the right processes were developed for its culture.
With the widespread acceptance of the technique in the nursery business, it is surprising how many people are still not aware of plant tissue culture. Some people ask, when they hear or read about tissue culture, What is it? How is it done? Who is doing it and why? You may ask, Can I do this myself? or, Should I even try? What are the costs of building a laboratory? What are the potential financial returns? Some want to know who invented it or where it came from. This chapter and the ones that follow are designed to help answer some of these questions.
Although the science of botany has become increasingly complex with the explosion in the field of biotechnology, the procedures of tissue culture are not complicated. A piece of a plant, which can be anything from a piece of stem, root, leaf, or bud to a single cell, is placed in that tiniest of greenhouses, a test tube. In an environment free from microorganisms and in the presence of a balanced diet of chemicals, that bit of plant, called an explant, can produce plantlets that, in turn, will multiply indefinitely, if given proper care. The medium (plural, media) is the substrate for plant growth, and in the context of plant tissue culture it refers to the mixture of certain chemical compounds to form a nutrient-rich gel or liquid for growing cultures, whether cells, organs, or plantlets.
Gardening is one of the most popular hobbies. Conventional gardening is limited by the seasons of the year, but tissue culture knows no season. Gardeners who propagate by tissue culture will delight in year-round micropropagation. If successful, they may find they have even more plants than anticipated. Excess plants can be shared with friends or offered for sale, and many ventures that start out as hobbies may turn into businesses.
The hobbyist or amateur gardener need not feel restricted in tissue culture pursuits for want of a transfer hood and a laboratory or any other fancy equipment, such as is required by commercial operations. Small-scale tissue culture is often carried out without benefit of a laboratory or special equipment. It can be done by almost anyone in almost any house. Material can be transferred on a desk or table in a clean, dust- and draft-free room of a home. Transferring cultures in a homemade chamber, with a glass or plexiglass front and just enough room for gloved hands to enter, is a reasonable method for the hobbyist. Furthermore, commercially available premixed culture media, plus a pressure cooker, forceps or tweezers, a paring knife, a few test tubes or jars, household bleach solution, and a lighted shelf, along with a lot of determination, are enough to bring about exciting discoveries for the amateur tissue culturist.
In contrast to the hobbyist, the commercial grower is compelled to make tissue culture a profitable enterprise. Growers with limited resources who must make a living from a small operation are finding that a large number of plants can be propagated by tissue culture with a minimal amount of space and outlay of capital. Oftentimes growers employ tissue culture techniques for one or two cultivars consistent with their operation, and then build a reputation for these cultured specialties. A few such plants that have made reputations for growers include carnations, ferns, iris, fruit-tree rootstock, orchids, and rhododendrons.Whether the motivation for growing plants by tissue culture is profit, research, or personal satisfaction, the potential is there to produce a significantly greater number of healthier plants in less space, with less labor, and at less cost than by other means of vegetative propagation. The potential of plants is far greater than we know. It is as if the grower were a potter, little knowing what could be molded from the clay.
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