Monday, 16 September 2013

The low-down on cryopreservation

Orchid experts know that cryopreservation of seeds can make orchid propagation easier.

Read a fascinating article offering a detailed inside view on the technical process within a university department.

Visit the cryopreservation lab, which sounds like something the script from a sci-fi movie. Woman scientist Dr Uma Rani, trained in UK, has taken her knowledge back home to Malaysia to find better ways of preserving seeds.

Orchid seeds are microscopic, not feasible for commercial or individual growing because they do not have the layer of nutrient-rich endosperm (food supply) that conventional seeds have.

Orchids are epiphytes, plants that form mutually beneficial relationships with other plants, like trees, and the job of the endosperm is usually done by the layer of moss on trees that nourish the seeds to encourage growth.

Commercial orchid propagation is done via tissue culture (cloning using cell aggregates of the original plant) instead of seeds, because these orchids are removed from their natural habitat.

Difficultires arise when you buy a bottle of haphazardly-shaped cloned plantlets from nurseries – they can be puzzling to organise and transfer into pots.

People often waste plantlets when isolating them into more fertile ground and competition between them while in the bottle also hampers the chances of maximising the efficiency of the growing process. Even the survivors have a short shelf-life.

Dr Rani is working with artificial seeds which aim to function as natural seeds to make orchid propagation easier and more efficient.

The technology of synthetic seeds had never before been utilised on a commercial level, making Dr Rami’s venture a first. It is highly applicable in preserving other plants as well and she’s had success with preserving oil palm lines.

But there’s more to the research. Oddly enough, the end-product of Uma’s project is good news for both hobbyists and entrepreneurs alike as, to the former, these artificial seeds are user-friendly and are pleasing aesthetically, especially when sold in glass trinkets, as pet plants.

For the latter, the products can even be marketed as live curios to the public, apart from the benefits they reap from maximising production capacity for the export industry.

In reality, the seeds can last indefinitely in liquid nitrogen, just like in sci-fi stories, but not on a shelf.

According to the report, Dr Rani firmly believes they can be preserved for an even longer period as the study goes on, and larger commercial support alongside public interest in her quest could someday unlock the mystery of the actual shelf-life of these crystal-clear balls of life, calculated in years instead of just days.

Caption: Seeds of orchids, plate 2 of 3 by J.G.Beer (1863) published on Beitrage zur morphologie und biologie der familie der orchideen. Vienna, Austria: Druck und Verlag von Carl Gerold's Sohn. Date: Date     1863. Author Dalton Holland Baptista

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