Researchers at the University of Guelph are making plant reproduction faster and cheaper, and the results could lead to major advancements in both commercial farming and the field of plant preservation.
Using innovative micro-propagation techniques, Dr. Praveen Saxena and Dr. Max Jones of the Gosling Research Institute for Plant Preservation (GRIPP), are essentially cloning plant material for crops like apples and hazelnuts.
“Plants are very unique in that they have this amazing power of vegetative reproduction,” Saxena, director of GRIPP, explained. “You can make cuttings and if you root them, there’s the plant. That basic property is within the plant. And to specialize it further, think about it this way, we can take a small bud from a tree. And this bud is brought into culture and what culture means is, that it’s a Petri dish that contains all of the components that are required for a plant to grow. So it would have sugar, hormones and vitamins, and that’s where the research goes, (determining) what this bud needs. So from one bud there could be two, from two to four, from four to sixteen, and exponentially it grows. So in laymans terms, the bud is being grown in an artificial environment to multiply and it can continue (for decades).”
In fact, there are many plants in the GRIPP lab that were initiated some 20 years ago, Saxena said, and they continue to be propagated until they are needed in the field.
And that’s where the preservationist mandate comes in.
“It’s very important that we can look at extremely vulnerable populations of plant species,” Saxena said. “We don’t even know what is being lost. Everyday plant species are being lost as a result of agriculture, land reduction and environmental changes and what not, and most of the time we are not even aware if the plant was medicinal or not, or it has some properties that could have provided new food and all of that. So for us, it is of great significance.”
And there are commercial applications as well, Saxena said.
“The technology that we developed for propagation and conservation is often very useful for commercial crops. Especially the crops that are difficult to propagate, and there is need to multiply plants faster. So we are working on apples for example, apple root stocks at this point, and the idea is that we could provide apple root stocks to growers in Ontario and in the long run we will be working with many different food crops.”
The project recently received funding from the University of Guelph’s 2015 Gryphon’s LAAIR (Leading to Accelerated Adoption of Innovative Research) program.
Now, they are looking at switching from gel-based tissue cultures to a water-based solution, which could increase the scale of the reproduction process.
The lab is also partnering with Harster Greenhouses in Dundas, Ontario to produce specialized container and shelving systems -the tissue cultures need to be rocked periodically- and are creating prototypes using 3-D printing technology.
“The partnership with industry is important because we want to make sure what we’re developing will meet their needs,” Jones told Aginnovation Ontario last month. “The long term goal is for this technology to meet our Canadian propagation needs and to give Canadian growers an advantage by producing disease-free plant stock more quickly and efficiently.”
For more information, visit www.gripp.ca.