"Class 10,000" clean air areas, artificial lighting in culture rooms, expensive constructions including vinyl flooring to ensure extreme degree of cleanliness, use of giant electrically operated autoclaves / sterilizers and use of environment controlled greenhouse for hardening the plantlets are integral parts of the usally visualised model facility, considered to be "State of Art" for commercial micropropagation. Such a facility has high capital cost. Electricity requirement for running such facility are also high, which makes it costly for running expenses too. Resultant cost of production is high and only high value ornamental plant species make utilization of such facility commercially profitable.
An entirely different model of commercial micropropagation technology has been evolved in which large scale reliable production is possible with use of pre-treated polybags as culture containers, use of natural light, ambient temperature, ambient humidity and ambient air quality for culture incubation (in tropical and subtropical climate). Plantlets produced from such system are more robust, free from problems of etiolation and vitrification and can be easily hardened with least requirement of protection during hardening period. Open sun hardening of these plantlets make them best adapted for open field transplantation.
Capital costs as well as running costs of this new generation technology are comparatively very low, financial risks are least and flexibility is in built which allows for expansion as and when demand increases and within a short time.
This simplicity is, however, attained not by simply switching to equipment-saving set up, but by invoking sophisticated biological principles to make this shift feasible and after overcoming several logistic problems in actual routine handling and operations.
Implementation of this technology in conjunction with most stringent quality tests based upon DNA Fingerprinting and related technologies, immunology, virology, histochemistry, comparative vegetative anatomy etc. would make this an unequivocal and most competitive commercial production technology.
This is an advance over what is widely perceived to be " State-of-Art " technology. It will make commercial micropropagation of field and plantation crops highly profitable. Many essential features of this technology can be adapted to significantly improve efficiency of already existing "State-of-Art" facilities too.
Commercial micropropagation industry is considered as relevant to agribusiness as tissue culture has the capability to break the plateau in yield improvements reached by green revolution and has several exclusive practical applications leading to improvement in crop productivity which are not possible in conventional science. Agricultural crops offer potentially very high volume demand. However, high cost of production of tissue culture plantlets limits this application.
This problem has been addressed to by evolving a reliable Cost Effective tissue Culture Production Technology. This is entirely a new perspective in commercial micropropagation industry. Since it combines cost effectiveness, process efficiency, flexibility in scale-up and uncompromising quality considerations, this is an advance over " State-of Art" technology and is set to redefine strategic considerations and potential tissue culture applications. This will have long term effect on global micropropagation industry.
High cost of production of plantlets imposes severe limitations on plant species that can be selected and realization of prospective market volume. Unless the product is relevant to general agricultural crops and to average farmer, it is impossible to generate high volume market. It is here that Cost Effective Technology becomes most relevant.
Sugarcane, banana and potato are three crops capable of offering high volume market. Potential demand from teak, eucalyptus, bamboo, coffee, tea etc. will be a bonus and will further stabilize the foundations of commercial micropropagation. All this market has remained unresponsive to plantlets from "State-of-art" technology.
Regarding Global Trade in Commercial Micropropagation too, use of sophisticated facility for production of plants has not proven to be a guarantee of smooth trade between buyer and producer. Unreliability in supply and unpredictability of quality are still two main issues which are awaiting practical solution. Further, even in high value ornamentals, prices are high for the buyers and existing prices are not remunerative to producers due to high cost of production.
Obviously, it will be more prudent to opt for Cost Effectiveness in technique of production and devise sophisticated quality tests for attributes which have rational bearing on producivity of the plants. This will satisfy any reasonable buyer because he will get product quality to his stipulation and satisfaction and price of the plantlets will be far less. This approach will make producer as well as buyer more responsible and accountable; there will be no scope for doubtful products as well as for frivolous self serving rejections. Visible demonstration of quality on mutually acceptable tests for plantlets offered at lesser cost, will be a more sustainable way of keeping the global market vibrant.
At any rate, whatever be current notions in Commercial Micropropagation business today, an optimum combination of cost effectiveness and quality will always have a last word in global business.
Large number of commercial micropropagation ventures came up so far all over the world depended on concept that only such a facility can be considered as "State-of-Art" which uses sophisticated and environment control equipment and facilities. Use of giant electrically operated autoclaves / sterilizers "Class 10,000" clean air areas, centralized air-conditioning in culture room and other areas, artificial lighting in culture rooms, expensive constructions including vinyl flooring to ensure extreme degree of cleanliness and use of environment controlled greenhouse for hardening the plantlets are integral parts of this "State-of-Art" facility for commercial micropropagation. Such a facility has high capital cost. This increases interest burden too. Electricity requirement for running such facility are also high, which makes it costly for running expenses too. Resultant cost of production is high and only high value items like ornamental plant species make utilization of such facility commercially profitable.
Entrepreneurs as well as Financial Institutions and policy makers presumed that these investments are inevitable and integral part of micropropagation ventures to ensure trouble free quality production. Several ventures established commercial micropropagation facilities of above kind at very high costs.
Despite sophistication at high cost, reliability of production (i.e. achievement of rated and targeted production without trouble shooting) is seldom achieved. Contamination continues to be a major problem in "State-of-Art" facilities besides high cost of production. In absence of reliability in production, supply commitments are affected. Despite all its sophistication, survival percentage in greenhouse hardening is also unreliable. Due to novelty of the product and ignorance of farmers on importance of integrated nutritional management, survival in field upon transplantation and yield performance are also not assured and uniform. Many export consignments are known to get rejection on quality grounds. Thus, "State-of-Art" facilities generated huge financial burden without ensuring fail-proof operations.
Upon rational analysis, it was realized that a large part of this technology is irrelevant and redundant. Except for the fact that the sophistication in environment control delayed contamination problems, no special quality is expected to be induced in plants which would increase its productivity potential. In fact, plantlets grown in controlled and comfortable atmosphere would be less amenable to sustain harsh field atmosphere. Thus a technology which will ensure reliable production of high quality plantlets in minimally controlled ambient atmosphere would reasonably produce more robust plantlets at less cost. Standardization of such a set up was aimed at by us.
It was through meticulous R&D for three years that an improved model of technology was standardised which can be implemented in least possible capital cost and running cost in tropical and semi-tropical areas. Typically, a "State-of-Art" facility of a capacity of 5 million plantlets of sugarcane involves capital cost of about 0.8 million US $. With Cost Effective Technology developed by us, same can be established in about 0.2 million US $. Due to huge difference between capital costs and since Cost Effective approach doesn't require high electricity consumption, net result is comparatively very less cost of production.
In this approach, meristem tip culture (tip of 1 mm or less in size) and enhanced axillary proliferation are used to ensure clean and varietaly stable cultures. This ensures culture purity and high reliability and practical feasibility of this system. Suitably pre-treated polybags are used as culture containers, throughput of upto 1600 cultures per eight hour shift in laminar clean air flow unit have been achieved in sugarcane (against usual conservative rate of about 150 cultures in conventional system). Natural light, ambient temperature and ambient humidity are used for culture incubation. Simplest culture room can be a terrace covered on top with transparent sheets. In such a facility, culture bags can hang on ropes without a necessity of culture racks. Cultures of sugarcane have been maintained for years together, even upto tenth year in a row, in this system.
Plants produced in such a facility are very strong because they are exposed to high intensity natural sunlight and are already acclimatized to natural cycles of day and night and low humidity. There is no scope for etiolation and vitrification, the factors which seriously adversely affect hardening efficiency. They are already hardened to some extent and require comparatively less protection for full hardening. They can be exposed to full open sun conditions in a few days only and allowed to fully harden to field conditions.
Incidentally, there are very few quality control tests, which are available / practiced even in "State-of-Art" technology, which would be useful to serve as reliable indicators of built-in qualities of the plants. Such tests need to be evolved and applied to test quality of plants, irrespective of whether they are produced in a conventional model or new one. Such tests can be evolved in course of time based on DNA Fingerprinting and allied technologies, immunology, virology, histochemistry, comparative vegetative anatomy etc. Such tests will establish consumer confidence in the plantlets. Theoretically, there is no scope for low quality plantlets in Cost Effective Technology of Production. In fact, they would at least be equal to or better than those produced in "State-of-Art" technology, for they are already submitted to rigorous ambient conditions in their formative stage itself. However, validation of principle on the basis of compliance to stringent quality tests has its own value and importance.
This extreme simplification is not achievable by just practicing tissue culture in absence of expensive equipment. Development of suitable culture, suitable medium and several procedural and handling details make it possible. Together, it constitutes Cost Effective Tissue Culture Technology standardised by us.
Just as cheaper and more efficient computers are an advancement over their former generation technology, simplification and cost reduction achieved by this model of technology is an advanced Second Generation New "State-of-Art" Model over the First Generation "State-of-Art" (conventional) technology.
Obviously, the new second generation model of "State-of-Art" technology is most useful to those who use it right from beginning. However, its operative techniques can be partially adopted by the established former generation "State-of-Art" units to improve the process efficiency. This will reduce their running cost. As soon as the established facility is full, further expansion can be made according to the new second generation model.
It is also possible to formulate turn-around models for the old first generation "State-of-Art" ventures which have closed down or are facing prospective closure.
Consultancy is available from authors of this paper to the entrepreneurs for establishing venture using the Cost Effective Technology described above.
Dr. V.A. Savangikar and Dr. Chitra Savangikar
R&D and Consultancy in Commercial Plant Tissue Culture,
A-6, Patil Presidency, Patil estate, Vise Mala, Nashik-422 005.
Fax: 0091 253 571064
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