History of Plant Cell, Tissue and Organ Cultures

Historically, Henri-Louis Duhamel du Monceau (1756) pioneered the experiments on wound healing in plants through spontaneous callus (unorganised mass of cells) formation on decorticated region of elm plants.

But the science of cell and tissue culture could be advanced after propounding the cell theory by Schleiden and Schwann (1839). Trecul (1853) observed callus formation in a number of plants.

Vochting (1878) suggested the presence of polarity as a key feature that guide the development of plant fragments. He observed that the upper portion of a piece of a stem always produced buds and the basal region produced callus or roots.

In 1902, a German Botanist Gottlieb Haberlandt developed the concept of culture of isolated cells of Tradescantia in artificial condition. Though his experiment failed to induce the cells to divide.

He did not succeed because by that time even auxin was not discovered. But he lent a foundation to plant physiology. He described the cultivation of mesophyll cells of Lamium purpureum and Eichhornia crassipes, epidermal cells of Ornithogalum and hair cells of Pumonaria.

Cell survived for 3-4 weeks. Due to this endeavour, Hamberlandt is regarded as the father of tissue culture. Basically, he suggested the concept of totipotency.

From 1902 to 1930 attempts were made for organ culture. Hannig (1904) isolated embryos of some crucifers and successfully grew on mineral salts and sugar solutions. Simon (1908) successfully regenerated a bulky callus, buds, roots from a poplar tress on the surface of medium containing IAA which proliferated cell division.

P.R. Gautheret at the University of Sorbonne, Paris (France) tried for several years to cultivate the isolated cells and root tips but failed. In 1939, he reported first the propagation of carrot by using indole acetic acid (IAA).

Then the possibility for cultivation of plant tissues for unlimited period was announced simultaneously by P.R. White (1939) and R.J. Gautheret (1939).

P.R. White (1939), an American scientist, reported first time the successful continuous cultures of tomato root tips in liquid medium and in vitro cultivation of viruses on excised roots.

During 1940 to 1970, suitable nutrient media were developed for culture of plant cells, tissue, protoplasts, anthers, roots tips and embryos. In vitro morphogenesis (i.e. regeneration of complete plant from cultured tissue) of plants was always successfully done.

In 1941, van Overbeek and co­workers used coconut milk (embryo sac fluid) for embryo development and callus formation in Datura.

The concept of cellular totipotency was further advanced in subsequent years by various researchers. In 1958, F.C. Stewart and J. Reinert obtained regeneration in callus tissue culture of Duccus carrota.

They took out small pieces of phloem of carrot roots and kept in liquid medium containing coconut water. The medium was shaken so that the cluster of cells could not be formed. Beside, some of cells multiplied arid formed 'rooting clumps'.

When these were transferred onto a semisolid medium containing similar nutrients, they developed into the new plantlets. When these plantlets were transferred to pots, they developed into a new plant.

The foundation of commercial plant tissue culture was laid in 1960 with the discovery, of G.M. Morel for a million fold increase in clonal multiplication of an orchid, Cymbidium.

In 1959, discovery of kinetin promoted by F. Skoog along with C.O. Miller and co-workers and demonstration of induction of regeneration of shoots in tobacco callus paved the way for multiplication of plant by tissue culture.

In 1960s, E. Cooking for the first time developed a method for isolation of protoplasts in large quantities using the fungal enzyme obtained from Myrothecieum sp.

In India, work on tissue culture was started during mid 1950s at the Department of Botany (University of Delhi) by Panchanan Maheshwari who is regarded as father of embryology in India.

Different tissue culture methodologies were involved for morphogenic studies involving ovary, embryo, endosperm, ovules, etc. At the University of Delhi, Sipra Guha Mukherjee and S.C. Maheshwari (1964-67) for the first time developed the haploid through anther and pollen cultures.

Discovery of haploid production was a landmark in the development of plant tissue culture.

In 1952, the Pfizer Inc., New York (U.S.A) got the US Patent and started producing industrially the secondary metabolites of plants. The first commercial production of a natural product shikonin by cell suspension culture was obtained.

The advancements made in cell and tissue culture technology are due to the development in composition of culture media.

Based on the success of plant cell culture techniques many recent advances have been done in the area of micropropagation, production of secondary metabolites and pathogen-free plants, genetic manipulation (e.g. in vitro pollination, somatic hybridation / cybridisation, induction of haploid, genetic transformation and production of transgenic plants).

The ability of tot potency of plant tissues can be exploited for:

(i) Rapid propagation of important plants,

(ii) Propagation of rare and endangered plants in which plants fail to grow from seeds,

(iii) Rapid propagation of new varieties of crop plants.

(iv) Production of virus-free crop plants, and

(v) Induction and selection of mutants.

During 1980, recombinant DNA technology made possible to transform artificially cultured plant cells by introducing foreign genes.

The gene revolution has made the second green revolution. Now it is possible to develop plants of desired genetic characters.