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Plant Tissue Culture

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A planned initiative from a small-scale entity could help establish a large-scale unit in manufacturing of plant tissue culture

If you want to produce plants when a conducive climatic condition is not available, what would you do? Which process will help you if you want to genetically modify the productive properties of a plant?

Do you deem it possible to produce plants that are free from viruses and infection? The answers to all these questions lie in a technique called plant tissue culture (PTC). It is also known as micropropagation when it is used for propagating crop plants.

While we talked about this technique with technical experts and companies involved in this business, we found out that PTC has good prospects for business of various crops, apart from specific and patented breeds of different plants.

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What is plant tissue culture (PTC)?
Put in a simple term, plant tissue culture is a technique that helps regenerating a whole plant from a small tissue or a cell. This is achieved in a suitable culture medium under controlled environmental conditions. The outstanding advantage of PTC is that a plant can be developed from any part of the mother plant. However, when it comes to micropropagation for crops, meristematic tissue such as shoot tip is considered to be ideal. There are various plants and crops that can be propagated through PTC, but they often require different culture mediums and also different environmental conditions.

Nowadays, PTC is used on various types of fruits, flowers, medicinal plants and even trees. Here are some examples:

Fruits: Banana, pineapple, strawberry
Cash crops:
Sugarcane, potato
Spices:
Turmeric, ginger, vanilla, large cardamom, small cardamom
Medicinal plants: Aloe vera, geranium, stevia, patchouli, neem
Woody plants (trees): Teak, bamboo, eucalyptus, populus

Benefits of PTC
Rapid multiplication of plants
Limited requirement of mother plants
Uniformity of properties among the planting material
Disease-free planting material
Increased productivity
Non-dependence on environmental conditions

Business model
M. Thomas Jacob, President and CEO of LJ International, mentioned that a company involved in PTC can work on two fronts of business.

The first one includes catering to individual breeders who want their patented or particular species propagated. Many individual breeders from foreign countries provide the mother plant or the specimen to the companies and the copmanies propagate it. The mother plant or specimen is patented in the name of the individual breeders and it can’t be used by the company to sell to other customers. In case of LJ International, the company exports 90 percent of its production to customers in different countries.

On the second front, the companies will be asked to produce the mother plant also and then propagate it. In this scenario, the specie of the plant might not be patented by the individual breeders.

Apart from this, the companies can modify the properties of a specie that is not patented and launch the new specie in the market. The customers for this model could be plant breeders in foreign lands, agricultural departments and even farmers.

Market scenario
Dr. Shiv Kant Shukla, Dy. Manager, Biotech Consortium India Limited (BCIL) mentioned that India has a production capacity of 300 million plants per annum, of which around 70 percent is actually produced. According to Shukla, by conservative measures, the market size is estimated to be more than Rs 200 crore with an annual growth of 20 percent.

Indian laboratories and companies currently cater mostly to international markets. However, with increasing awareness about the advantages of tissue culture raised plants, such as improvement in yield and quality; there is a noticeable increase in the domestic consumption as well. The major domestic consumers of tissue culture raised plants include the State Agriculture Department, agri-export zones (AEZs), Spice Board, the sugar industry and private farmers. Apart from this, the paper industry, medicinal plant industry and state forest departments also constitute this market.

Establishing a a commercial unit
It is desirable to have a unit located in a moderated climate condition, because PTC is done under controlled climatic conditions, and extremity of environment adds to maintenance costs. An uninterrupted supply of water and power is also desirable.

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In terms of space and infrastructure, there are some areas that are indispensable in a unit:

  1. The most important work area is the inoculation room where the core activity takes place. It needs to be as clean as possible with minimal air disturbance.
  2. After this, the growth room or the culture room is an equally important area where plant cultures are maintained under controlled environmental conditions to achieve optimal growth. As there would be varieties of plants that would require different culture conditions, it is often advisable that there are more than one growth rooms.
  3. Then comes the washing and media preparation room where the culture would be prepared. The glassware washing area should be located near the sterilization room. Minimum number of doors and windows should be provided in this room.
  4. A separate area for the storage of chemicals, apparatus and equipments is also important for a manufacturing unit.

Financial considerations
The major challenge in starting a new PTC unit is the capital. The cost of establishing a commercial PTC unit is largely dependent on the production capacity of plants that the company intends to produce. For instance, a unit producing eight to ten million plants a year will ask for a capital of around Rs 5 crore.

For entrepreneurs who want to start on a smaller scale, setting up a hardening unit for secondary hardening process is a good option. Procurement of primary hardened tissue culture plantlets from established micropropagation units and undertaking secondary hardening would be an option that new entrepreneurs can adopt. As the business grows, they can increase their functions and establish a full-fledged micropropagation unit. According to a report prepared by BCIL, a secondary hardening unit with a capacity of three lakh plants per annum would have finance requirements of Rs10 to 20 lakh for fixed assets and Rs16 to 20 lakh for recurring costs per annum.

M. Thomas Jacob, President and CEO , LJ International
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What services does your company provide for tissue culture?
We provide contract production of customized patented varieties, initiation services to introduce elite mother plants into cultures, development of protocols for micropropagation of new products, and training of man power.

What are your target markets, both domestic and international?
Our PTC products are exported to countries like Columbia, Ecuador, USA, Holland, Germany, Spain, Italy, South Africa, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, and China, etc. We export 90 percent of our production to different countries.

What is the scope of business in plant tissue culture for Indian companies?
Plant tissue culture finds wide application in agriculture-related business and can be used effectively to mass produce elite clones of a variety of plants where other forms of propagation are not viable. As plants are produced in controlled conditions, production is not dependent on climatic condition. PTC is mainly used in the floriculture industry, but can also be used effectively in forestry and for propagating medicinal plants, etc.

At the same time, a good number of state and central financial assistance schemes are offered to encourage entrepreneurs in taking up this business. Ministry of Agriculture, Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), National Horticulture Board (NHB), Department of Biotechnology (DBT), and Small Farmers Agri-business Consortium (SFAC) are bodies that provide central financial assistance. Apart from this, individual states and financial institutes also offer schemes.

Need for certification
Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India has established a National Certification System for Tissue Culture Raised Plants (NCSTCP). This certification ensures that laboratories or manufacturing units are producing quality planting material through virus diagnosis and genetic fidelity testing. This certification also ensures that tissue culture raised plants are free from viruses and other fastidious pathogen and also that the tissue culture raised plants are true to the type.

From a business point of view, this certification ensures that the products and services of a unit have a wider appeal. Government bodies and departments do not use products from a company that has not been certified by NCSPTC system.

For more details about the procedure and guidelines of this certification, check this link: http://bit.ly/3dVFM8.

A bright future
With an estimated market growth of around 20 percent per annum, the future of PTC seems bright. More research and focus on developing technologies for cash-crops, medicinal plants and commercial plants can open the market to wider prospects.

As recommended by BCIL, collaboration and networking closely with research institutes would ensure that the manufacturing units are abreast with new technologies and changing trends.