Researchers from CIRAD and its partner Ecom Agroindustrial have mastered a cutting-edge propagation technique, cell suspension, for Coffea arabica. This key stage in the propagation of in-vitro plantlets through a process known as somatic embryogenesis will make it possible to produce the millions of coffee plantlets required to meet market demand for high-quality selected varieties.
CIRAD said the pioneering work “opens up new possibilities for the propagation of plants and varieties on an industrial scale. It will also mean considerably higher income levels for many producers.” Somatic embryogenesis is an in-vitro culture technique that makes it possible to regenerate large quantities of true-to-type plants (via clonal reproduction) using only a fragment of the mother plant.
Being robust, resistant to disease, productive and bred from the best stock, the Coffea arabica F1 hybrids developed by CIRAD over the last 20 years have proven their effectiveness and are now in high demand among planters. The hybrids increase production by 50-60 per cent and are also a way to ensure the profitability of agroforestry systems, which planters have gradually abandoned due to the low productivity of traditional shade-grown varieties.
“It goes without saying that industrial production of hybrid plantlets is eagerly awaited,” said CIRAD. Propagation of plantlets through somatic embryogenesis is said to be the most effective and rapid means of achieving this objective.”
According to CIRAD, 30-50 million plantlets are needed on the market every year in Central America, as well as in the other coffee-growing regions. The only solution is cell suspension, a promising technique for rapid cell propagation in liquid medium. However, until now, the process was poorly understood for most plant species, and propagators’ attempts have ended in failure. However, researchers from CIRAD, in partnership with Ecom Agroindustrial group, have developed a new protocol, which has been tested with great success.
“The technique is now fully mastered, thereby avoiding the risk of somaclonal variations, which were previously common in Arabica coffee plantlets produced from cell suspensions,” CIRAD said. “It was tested on 800,000 in vitro plantlets, which were observed individually in the nursery or in the field. The results are unequivocal: more than 99 per cent of the regenerated coffee plantlets are strictly true-to-type in relation to the mother plant, in terms of genetics, epigenetics and morphology – they grow, flower and yield normally. This result paves the way for using this technique with other plants.”