As part of its programme designed to genetically enhance forestry species, Neiker-Tecnalia has committed itself to somatic embryogenesis to obtain "elite" trees that will adapt to the new environmental conditions resulting from climate change. This innovative method to create clonal plants also allows forest productivity to be increased and the growing demand for forestry products to be thus met.
Somatic embryogenesis is based on the development of embryos using non-sexual cells. When these cells have been stimulated, they begin to behave as if they were sexual ones, which allows new genetically identical individuals to be created; in other words, clones. The technique allows a large quantity of clonal material to be obtained.
Improvements in the stages of the process
Neiker-Tecnalia's tissue culture team has developed the protocols needed to obtain the pine clonal plant and has optimised each of the five stages in somatic embryogenesis. The first of them involves selecting the initial tissue in order to obtain the first embryogenic cells suitable for in vitro multiplication in a controlled environment. The second phase consists of the proliferation of the embryogenic tissue and the preserving of the embryogenic masses in an optimum state. This is the point at which the cryopreservation of the embryogenic masses at a low temperature (-196 ºC) can take place; this allows the genetic resources to be preserved until they are needed and, what is more, allows the tissue to be kept in a young state until the corresponding field trials take place.
The third stage is the maturing of the embryogenic tissue to obtain somatic embryos that display the same characteristics as zygotic embryos; in other words, those that come from sexual reproduction. The next stage consists of the germination of the somatic embryos. In this phase the first root that will turn the embryo into a somatic plant develops. The final phase focusses on acclimatising the somatic plants in ex vitro conditions in greenhouses where the atmosphere is controlled.
Profitability and sustainable management
Somatic embryogenesis is tremendously important for the forestry sector as it is directly related to economic profitability and sustainable forestry management; it allows plants of better quality to be obtained, and individuals and threatened species to be reproduced or preserved by preserving their germplasm for the future. Neiker-Tecnalia has become one of the leading research centres in this technique and its specialists have published over 25 papers on this subject in specialised journals over the last ten years. Furthermore, the research work has been used to write up three PhD theses relating to this method of plant propagation.