For a greener tomorrow
The little ones at this nursery all seem happy, healthy, and well looked after. And they are all perfect clones of each other. As if they all come from test tubes! The fact is that they do. Welcome aboard TERI's MTP (Micropropagation Technology Park) where millions of saplings are born, multiplied, raised, and seasoned to weather the world out there.
A new approach
The picture of India's agricultural health makes a gloomy statement. The acute need is to achieve higher productivity by developing superior-quality planting material. This was met when the DBT (Department of Biotechnology), Government of India, created TERI's micropropagation park for mass propagation of cash crops and forest species. Though traditional breeding helped improve the quality of crops, its tedious and time-consuming nature (specially in the case of forest trees and other perennials that take several years) prevented it from gaining wider acceptance. Micropropagation, on the other hand, has come to be seen as a far more effective way of producing high-quality planting material of various species within a short period of time. This is done by selecting elite genotypes from the natural population of a species and culturing them under germ-free conditions to produce millions of identical plants. The benefits have been multifaceted ever since – greater output, economy of time and space, freedom from seasonal constraints, clone uniformity, and disease-free nature of the regenerants. The Park, therefore, bridged the yawning gap between academic research and its application in the field.
Grey, not green
Our forests have been destroyed, thanks to development (the much-used-and-abused term), population pressure, and temperamental weather that brings vicious cycles of droughts, floods, and so on. The cash crops do not fare any better either. Farmers in developing countries like India attempt to compete with their international counterparts who have access to infrastructure like the latest equipment, better irrigation facilities, fertilizers, and, to top it all, technologically advanced seeds. Though conventional methods of propagation have been used to tide over these conditions, they were lengthy and had certain inherent limitations. There was need for a supplementary technology that could provide our farmers better-quality products and even be used in tandem with the current practices. For the propagation of forest species too, a more accurate and faster technique was needed.
Micropropagation–the much–needed answer
Micropropagation, simply put, means producing identical plants by culturing plant tissues or organs under sterile conditions. For mass propagation of forest species, the DBT set up two tissue-culture pilot plants in 1989, one of them being at T ERI's facility at Gual Pahari, Gurgaon. In December 1997, the Gual Pahari plant was upgraded into an MTP to give it a larger mandate–mass produce economically important plant species, including forest trees, fruit and cash crops, medicinal and aromatic plants, and so on.
Greening our forests, reclaiming wastelands, and increasing the yield of several economically important cash crops are some of the achievements of TERI's MTP. And this is how plant biotechnology came of age.
The Park has state-of-the-art infrastructure ranging from modern laboratories and latest equipment, to greenhouses and polyhouses. By December 2003, TERI had supplied over 12.8 million plants to various state forest departments, non-governmental organizations, agro-based companies, and private growers (Table 1). Micropropagation protocols for mass propagation of over 70 different species are available at the MTP (Table 2).
Table 1 Number of plants dispatched from TERI's facility between April 1991 and December 2003
|Type of plants||Number of plants dispatched (in million)|
|Medicinal and aromatic||0.47|
|Ornamentals and miscellaneous||5.15|
Table 2 Some of the plant species for which tissue culture protocols are available at TERI's Micropropagation Technology Park
|Forest species||Foliage plants||Flowering plants||Fruits||Vegetables||Medicinal and aromatic plants||Miscellaneous|
|Anogeissus pendula||Callistemon||Carnation||Banana||Asparagus||Aloe vera||Hops|
|Anogeissus latifolia||Dieffenbachia||Chrysanthemum||Strawberry||Ginger||Bacopa (Brahmi)||Sugar cane|
|Bambusa bambos||Ficus spp.||Dahlia||Citrus||Leek||Centella asiatica||Turmeric|
|Dendrocalamus asper||Hosta||Gerbera||Potato||Geranium (scented)|
|Dendrocalamus strictus||Nandiana||Pelargonium||Pogostemon cablin (Patchouli)|
|Eucalyptus tereticornis||Philodendron||Plumbago||Rauwolfia serpentina (Sarpgandha)|
|Eucalyptus camaldulensis||Pogonantherum||Rose||Chlorophytum sp. (Safed musli)|
|Paulownia fortunei||Syngonium||Thalictrum||Swertia chirata (Chirata)|
TERI's highly aseptic laboratories produce microbe-free plants that make the international transit for these plantlets smooth. Large-scale field demonstrations by TERI prove reassuring for forest officials, private growers, breeders, seed company officials, and others who invest in its expansive services. Amongst other things, the MTP supplies superior-quality tissue-cultured plants, conducts contractual research/production of plants, inoculates tissue-cultured plantlets with efficient mycorrhizae biofertilizers; offers post-delivery field care; and even helps entrepreneurs set up laboratories, greenhouses, and so on.
The MTP promises good-quality plants with clonal uniformity. It helped popularize strawberry cultivation in non-hilly areas by mass-multiplying day-neutral varieties obtained from overseas and making them available to growers at affordable prices. Cash crops have particularly been helped. More than 2.7 million plantlets/microtubers/ minitubers of different potato varieties (low-sugar content and high dry matter) specially meant for making potato chips were supplied to the industry and farmers. Planting different varieties of tissue-cultured sugar cane has produced more tillers than the conventional plants. A large number of tissue-cultured plants of vanilla produced at the MTP and hardened at TERI's satellite facility in Guwahati have been distributed through the Spices Board of India in the seven north-eastern states to popularize and increase the acreage of this valued export earner.
Though the cost of tissue-cultured plants is variable (it can range from 5 to 15 rupees, depending upon the species and the number of plants required), they prove to be the right choice because of their high quality. After all, identifying superior plants amongst a population and mass-cloning them is a step forward in reducing pressure on limited land resources and an endeavour to green the earth faster and better.