Russia’s Far East has long since been
famed for the diversity of its flora and fauna. Numerous legends and myths
are associated with such exclusively Far Eastern plant species as ginseng,
Schisandra, Amur velvet and others. Again, those plants were always regarded
not only valuable, but “invaluable” and rare. “Rare” implies limited in
stock, not designed for everyone, and not inexhaustible forever. As a result,
soon the adjective “disappearing” was also added to the two previous ones.
For this reason, development of technologies allowing to obtain from plants
their miraculous strength without chopping, mowing and lifting everything
on end has become urgent long ago, and the biotechnology of plant cells
could remove some of the problems involved.
The desire to overcome the unfavorable situation had stimulated in the early nineteen-eighties the development of tissue culture of valuable and rare Far Eastern plants, a new research trend for the Institute of Biology and Soil Science, F. E. Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences. Methods were studied for speeding up selection of agricultural cultures, techniques for multiplying rare species and cell cultures of medicinal plants. Despite our remoteness from Russia’s leading biological centers and the shortage of funding, this research trend developed rapidly to yield unique results from the very start.
If you isolate a plant cell from a
whole plant to place it on nutrient medium containing salt components,
vitamins, hormones and a source of carbohydrates, it would start dividing
to form callus culture. Subsequently, the calluses could be multiplied
to obtain an unlimited amount of biomass. The main difficulty in the researcher’s
way would be the fact that cells in artificial conditions would start to
rapidly divide and grow, but in this case unable to produce secondary metabolites,
i.e. biologically active plant substances. This is where the most important
and difficult work in regulating and stabilizing biosyntheses and involving
cell and molecular selection would begin.
In 1992-1993, the Institute of Biology and Soil Science started work related to plant genetic engineering. A gene of rhizogene bacteria (rolC) was built into the DNA composition of ginseng strain cell 1c. This gene led to numerous variations in morphological, hormonal and biosynthetic characteristics of ginseng cells. The initial ginseng cells into which the gene was transferred originated from the stalk. After transformation, they could form roots, leaves and even flowers. Transgene roots have very interesting properties. In some samples, their ginsengoside content was up to 6% to substantially exceed that in natural ginseng roots.
The transgene culture of Aristolochia manshuriensis Kom is a source of a valuable preparation with cardiotrophic effect preventing development of myocardial infarction and effective in post-infarction rehabilitation.
Work in the area of genetic engineering biotechnology of producing plants was started only recently, but in our view it has a highly promising future.
A novel research trend involved the development of methods for microclonal reproduction of rare and disappearing plants. Microplants of ginseng, Aristolochia, Myosotis, Metaplexis, gynostemma, meadow rue, rhodiola, codonopsis and some other Far Eastern rare flora were obtained in culture in vitro. The creation of such a plant “pool” would help preserve species disappearing in nature. As methods for restoring natural ecosystems are developed, these pools would be used to reintroduce typical plants into their natural habitats.
Thus, we succeeded in laying down the ground of this novel and promising research trend. We look into the future not without optimism, for in the Russian Far East we would then have developed pharmaceutical and perfumery industries oriented to research-consuming and ecological biotechnologies. Precisely today, the Administration of Primorye has found the strength and possibilities to fund a key project for creating a preparation for treating serious skin diseases on the basis of cell culture from red-root Lithospermum. An agreement has been reached concerning its commercial production.
VICTOR BULGAKOV, D. Sci. (Biology), Leading Researcher, Laboratory of Boiotechnology, Head of Group for Genetic Engineering Biotechnology, Institute of Biology and Soil Science, Far East Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences.
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