Blog Post: Screening for Success with Plant Tissue Culture

While most of our focus today as a company is in the preclinical drug discovery space, we do have technologies for other applications. One in particular is Visikol for Plant Biology which is designed to assist researchers with botanical microscopy and morphological imaging. This reagent is becoming a staple for many researchers in the plant biology space.

The security of our food supply is an increasingly important area of study in the new era of climate change, invasive species and pesticide resistant pathogens. The old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In agriculture, resistance is prevention and pesticides are the cure, but worryingly, our cures are becoming less effective.

Plant tissue culture and somaclonal breeding are two powerful technologies for relatively rapid creation of resistant crop cultivars. Plant tissue culture allows for progeny genesis every few weeks, year round, with low resource investment and low viability failure rates; a massive improvement for breeders from their traditional one or two generations per year and the classic case of uncertainty in success of progeny in nature. Clever new techniques in somaclonal variation have increased the rate and degree of phenotypic variation of progeny plantlets generated in tissue cultures. Researchers are increasingly utilizing these technologies to improve the effectiveness and cut the cost of cultivar development; Visikol for Plant Biology is helping them accomplish these goals

Powdery mildew and downy mildew are some of the most ubiquitous plant pathogens farmers face. In the cases of these fungal diseases the best available method in high rainfall regions is not chemical treatment but inoculation prevention by resistant cultivars. This resistance is a morphological change in the epidermal cuticle and cells walls of crop leaves which can be screened for rapidly by clearing tissue and visually inspecting the microscopic invasion progress of mildew hyphae.

Insect resistance is often incremental, with a small morphological change resulting in an marginal improvement. For example, when the corn rootworm or hookworm larva attacks an adolescent corn plants roots, it must first chew through the root cuticle to access the calorie rich vasculature tissue. Increases in cuticle thickness have a significant impact on the rate at which roots are compromised and this decreases in rate of diseases progression translates to higher crop survival rates and higher yields.

Traditional breeding for traits like this takes land, time, and high skill labor just to identify progress on a few generations of progeny a year. Tissue culture-based breeding reduces the cost and quantity of all these resources, but there are still significant innovations left to discover. The next step in increasing the impact of these technologies is to improve throughput of screening. Successful genetic alteration or chemical resistance can be screened chemically, but morphological improvement will still be assessed via microscopy by skilled technicians (at least until machine learning can catch up). To assist with this effort we have developed the Visikol for Plant Biology reagent which allows for easy and high quality botanical microscopy through tissue clearing.  

Author: Ian MacCloud

Michael Johnson