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Tissue Culture Explained!

We’re living in technologically tantalizing times, and with all of these scientific strategies slipping into our daily lives it can make common practices seem complicated and confusing. So, in this week’s blog, we’re tackling the topic of tissue culture. No need to nab your buddy Webster, we’ll walk you through the jargon for a clearer understanding of what tissue culture is and how it affects the plants you know and love.

Simply put, tissue culture is the growth and maintenance of tissue under laboratory conditions. In these sanitarily strict conditions, a small piece of tissue can be grown out into a fully formed plant. Most of the techniques for culturing are based on the source material used, some of which are:

-          Seed Culture: Tissue from a plant grown in vitro (under glass) is placed in an artificial environment (usually a nutrient fluid in a sealable container) to grow and multiply.

-          Embryo Culture: A sexually produced embryo (living tissue inside seed), from either ripe seed or unripe/failed to germinate seed, grown in vitro.

-          Protoplast Culture: A single cell without cell walls is cultured to regenerate those walls, causing it to divide and form a callus (see below).

-          Callus Culture: Cells are cultured (grown) in a medium to produce a callus (a mass of cells that is unspecialized, unorganized, and dividing) that is later encouraged to differentiate into various organs.

The baseline benefit of tissue culture is growing those small pieces of tissue into innumerable iterations of a plant; more so than traditional cloning. This allows for successful propagation of rare, sterile, and challenging plants.

So what does all of this mean for our familiar foliar friends? Direct cloning is generally the aim of micropropagation, meaning that each plant will be an exact clone of the parent. While somatic hybridization (a process in which protoplasts from different species are combined) opens the possibility of variants and hybrids; commercial horticulture is first and foremost focused on producing genetic replicas of particular plants. Not to mention that it can take several generations to develop stable hybrids. Generally speaking, any mutations that might occur through tissue culturing would be searched for in the lab before being shipped to the greenhouse, and certainly noticed before plants are mature enough to sell. Rest assured that your tissue culture grown plant at home is the same plant as one grown through traditional cloning techniques.

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