Belgian scientists claim breakthrough in coconut cloning

Coconut palms grow slowly and are difficult to clone, but scientists at a leading Belgian university have claimed a breakthrough in cloning the world’s sixth most cultivated fruit.

The discovery of scientists from KU Leuven and the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT (The Alliance), multiplying seedlings faster and conserving coconut genetic resources in the long term, should help coconut growers. coco in countries like India to meet the challenges of the sector. , including deadly yellowing disease, climate change, sea level rise and obsolete plantations. “This will help preserve the biodiversity of coconut palms and meet the growing demand for coconuts and coconut products,” the scientists said in a statement.

“No one thought we could do it. But we persevered, ” said Bart Panis of the Tropical Crop Improvement Laboratory (KU Leuven) and the Alliance.

Panis and doctoral student Hannes Wilms did this, taking inspiration from another variety of fruit: the banana. From his work on bananas, Panis suspected that a certain plant hormone could also be successful in coconut trees. ” Coconut palms do not form side shoots. They put all their energy into a shoot that must grow as fast and as high as possible. This makes it very difficult to clone and store the plants, ”said Panis. For their research, scientists first extracted the coconut embryo from the coconut. They then applied the plant hormone to the meristem – or growth point – contained in the four-month-old seedlings. In this way, they managed to get the seedling to form not only one shoot, but several side shoots. They, in turn, succeeded in dividing these shoot clusters and allowing new side shoots to grow on them as well. Their findings were published in Scientific Reports in its September edition.

In an email interview with PTI, Wilms, co-author of KU Leuven, said that cloning coconut palms was not as easy as you might think.

“But our research found that with the right treatment, the palm tree can be forced to branch,” Wilms said.

The researcher said that the palm tree does not grow in Belgium, but as “ we are the laboratory for the improvement of tropical crops, we have a lot of experience in working with tropical crops ”. The project was initially presented as something difficult, ” which of course we wanted to address. ” ” The initial objective of our project was to develop a cryopreservation protocol for the safe long-term preservation of genetic resources of the coconut. For this, however, we need a lot of coconut shoots. As there are no coconut shoots available in Belgium, we had to develop a clonal multiplication technique. And the coconut was presented to us as a difficult crop that was not clonable by conventional methods. But my promoter who helped start the project said we would take the challenge, ” Wilms said.

Regarding the benefit of the app for coconut growers, he said the method they have now developed would be very interesting for micropropagation of hybrid palms or rare coconut palms like ‘thairu thengai’ ( coconut curd in India). But of course, it could be used to propagate existing dwarf and tall varieties.

When asked how coconut research would benefit farmers, Wilms said disease resistant / drought tolerant or tasty Elite coconut palms are expensive to plant, but could be worth it for the farmer in the long run. term.

However, purchasing such palms represents a significant upfront cost if you want to plant your entire field at once. But with our method, we could microprop the material and lower the cost of this elite material, thus improving the industry as a whole, providing farmers with cheaper and better material, ”he said.

Scientists have said that above all they want to preserve the genetic diversity of the coconut palm as efficiently as possible. Noting that it is very important to keep so many varieties of coconut palm because each variety has specific characteristics, they said that some are resistant to a particular disease or have better oil composition, while others are more resistant to heat, drought or storms.

Currently, the coconut palm is kept as a tree in the field collections. But some of these collections are threatened by the deadly yellowing disease, ” said Hannes Wilms, co-author of KU Leuven. “Our technique now also provides many shoots of the coconut palm which can be preserved for eternity by cryopreservation, in liquid nitrogen at a temperature of -196 ° C,” he said.

Panis said this is important for the future: if a new disease affects coconut production, there could be a variety in the genebank that is resistant to that disease and can be planted in the areas. affected.

He said that for today’s coconut production, too, the technique comes at the right time. “There is a huge demand for coconut. The existing plantations are old and need to be replanted in the short term, ” said Panis.

“Our technique therefore responds to the great demand for healthy plant material,” he added. The researchers have now filed for a patent. All that is needed is additional funds to protect the patent and further develop the technique. In this process, researchers will not lose sight of small producers. ” Because coconut production is often in the hands of small farmers, we will have a special clause included in the patent license to say that anyone who applies our technique will need to ensure that small farmers can purchase the plant material. at a reasonable price. ‘ said Panis.

(This story was not edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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