Innovations For Food Security: Plant Tissue Culture Technology
Author: Shikhita Gupta and Nupur Agarwal
As the climate continues to heat up and the impacts of global warming grow more frequent and severe, farmers and farm communities around the world have been increasingly challenged. Agriculture is directly dependent on climate since temperature, sunlight, and water are the main drivers of crop growth and are highly vulnerable to changing climate impacts. These impacts can affect agricultural productivity both directly and indirectly. Directly, due to changes in temperature, precipitation (rainfall), and carbon dioxide levels, and indirectly, through changes in soil, distribution, and frequency of infestation by pests, insects, diseases, or weeds. Thus, affecting both the food security and livelihoods of those engaged in production systems and their value chains.
Image Source: NRDC, 2022
India has surpassed China as the world’s most populous nation and is highly vulnerable to climate change, therefore food security becomes even more important and critical. Why? Because equitable access to adequate and nutritious food is the precursor to health and ensuring a resilient population.
….and this is when Technology Takes Over!
Agri-innovations with diverse sets of disruptive technologies can ensure food quality and climate-proof the production, procurement, storage, and trade of agri-commodities. Technology can aid in eliminating productivity and profitability losses in food value chains and reducing agrarian concerns by removing manual errors and providing a fully integrated, digital model. Even bringing in AI and machine learning in farming practices can provide digital, rapid, and accurate quality testing of food that eliminates food wastage and provides 100% traceability.
But is there any technology that can directly address climate change and make farms tolerant to weather stress? Yes, there is! Plant Tissue Culture technology can help in the mitigation of greenhouse gases and can help in the propagation of newly developed plant varieties with desired traits that can withstand extreme temperatures and water stress.
Tissue Culture is the growth of tissues or cells in an artificial medium separate from the parent organism. It is the cultivation of plant cells, tissues, or organs on specially formulated nutrient media. Tissue culture has opened an exciting frontier not only in the field of agriculture but has also helped in the large-scale production of plants through micropropagation or clonal propagation of endangered plant species. Small amounts of tissue can be used to raise hundreds or thousands of plants in a continuous process.
Image Source: Rosslee, Plant Cell Technology 2020
Why Plant Tissue Culture Technology is important?
Plant tissue culture technology can play a very important role to build up a better future. Let us now look at possible solutions that different areas of plant tissue culture technology can offer:
Climate Resilient Crops — Adoption of Tissue Culture Technology to create climate-resilient crops, for example, early-maturing maize, heat-tolerant wheat, drought-tolerant legumes or tuber crops, varieties with enhanced salinity tolerance, or rice with submergence tolerance, all can help farmers to better cope with climate shocks.
Plant Breeding — Tissue culture technology plays a prominent role in the breeding and development of different generations of uniform plants in order to select and cross plants with desirable traits. This can significantly reduce the duration of breeding a tolerant variety.
Reforestation — Plant tissue culture is also being used for producing reforestation seedlings at a faster rate. Restoring areas post heatwave-related wildfires in Australia is a very good example of that!
Energy Crops — Certain plants can serve as renewable energy sources. If these energy crops are combined with the right kind of technologies to capture and store carbon, then it can be a negative emission technology. Recently, UK researchers have bred new fast-growing hybrids of the biomass crop ‘Miscanthus’. This will help growers to scale up production for biomass energy production needs.
Status of plant Tissue Culture in India
India is bestowed with knowledge, biotech experts with vast tissue culture experience as well as a low-cost labor force to help produce export-oriented quality planting material. All these factors make India a potential global supplier of an extended and diversified range of quality flora to the international market and, in turn, earn foreign exchange.
Image Source: HVHP Institute, 2019
APEDA is running a Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS) to help laboratories upgrade themselves to produce export-quality tissue culture planting material. APEDA also facilitates exports of tissue culture planting material to diversified countries through market development, market analysis, and promotion and exhibition of tissue culture plants at international exhibitions and by participating in buyer-seller meets at different international forums.
Sangam has been working with one such startup Pratyaksha Agrotech Private Limited which is preserving and developing medicinal and other valuable plants through tissue culture. They have one of its kind plant tissue culture laboratory and a state-of-the-art R&D facility for Agriculture Biotechnology in Silchar, Assam. They are involved in high-tech agriculture and Phyto-Pharmaceuticals and Biosynthetic Pharmaceuticals, producing seeds and plants for over 85 crops and over 28 Phyto-pharma. They are currently associated with over 1 Lakh farming families across Northeast India. Their private sector Plant Tissue culture laboratory is one of the only labs in North East India which also provides support to students and young researchers who want to research Plant Tissue Culture Technology.
Image Source: Sangam Team, 2022
But there is one question that comes to our mind here — Why is the North-Eastern part of the country a treasure for Plant Tissue Culture Technology?
Well, the northeast region of India is the richest storehouse of plant diversity in the country and supports about 50% of India’s mega-diversity. The region comes under the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot which ranks 6th among the 25 biodiversity hotspot of the world and most of the North-Eastern states have more than 60% of their area under forest cover and are blessed to have one of the most suitable Agro-climatic conditions in the world. The region is naturally endowed with several unique features like fertile land, abundant water resources, evergreen dense forests, high and dependable rainfall, and mega biodiversity. Therefore Plant Tissue Culture experts can use this treasure of the Northeast and with the right laboratory and research support can create better plant varieties that can help in both biodiversity conservation and creating a food-secure future!
When it comes to Plant tissue culture technology, its use throughout the world is not only a smart initiative for many commercial industries, but it could be used to improve the lives of thousands of people (if not millions) in developing nations around the globe. Agriculture employing tissue culture can not only offer higher, stress-tolerant, and pest-resistant yields but yields that carry heightened nutritional value. Whether for plant breeding, genetic preservation, research, distribution, conservation, agriculture, or for a nation’s food security, tissue culture is an essential feature of the plant world today and can support climate-resilient communities.
US EPA (2020) Climate Impacts on Agriculture and Food Supply | Climate Change Impacts | US EPA. Available at: https://climatechange.chicago.gov/climate-impacts/climate-impacts-agriculture-and-food-supply
Afolayan, A.O. (2014) Food security using plant tissue culture, Academia.edu. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/9381550/Food_Security_using_Plant_Tissue_Culture
Wikandari R; Manikharda None; Baldermann S; Ningrum A; Taherzadeh MJ; (2021) Application of cell culture technology and genetic engineering for the production of future foods and crop improvement to strengthen food security, Bioengineered. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34779353/
Rosslee, J. (2020) Tissue culture’s use in the agriculture of developing nations, Plant Cell Technology | Your partner in plant tissue culture. Available at: https://www.plantcelltechnology.com/pct-blog/tissue-cultures-use-in-the-agriculture-of-developing-nations/
Saikia, P. et al. (2017) Plant diversity patterns and conservation status of Eastern Himalayan forests in Arunachal Pradesh, Northeast India — Forest Ecosystems, SpringerOpen. Springer Singapore. Available at: https://forestecosyst.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40663-017-0117-8