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PLANT TISSUE CULTURE

Plant tissue culture is a practice, using a variety of techniques, to grow and handle whole plants or plants parts on nutrient media under aseptic conditions for various applications. These include rapid multiplication of genetically identical plants (micro-propagation), rescue of seed with low chance of survival under normal conditions (embryo rescue), the production of doubled haploid plants, and the sanitation of material to produce virus free plants etc. This can be achieved because of plants' ability to regenerate whole plants from single cells or plant parts (known as totipotency) if supplied with the correct nutrients and hormones.

Plant tissue culture is performed in a sterile environment under filtered air in a laminar flow cabinet. Plant material from the environment is contaminated (externally and sometimes internally) with microorganisms and must be surface sterilized in chemical solutions before it can be used as starting material (explants). The explant material is transferred to nutrient rich media consisting of macro and micro elements, organic nutrients, vitamins and plants hormones in liquid or solid media (achieved through the addition of a gelling agent such as agar) in sterile containers. The material is grown in growth chambers under controlled conditions with regard to light intensity, day/night length and temperature.

Explants from different species or varieties require unique variations in media composition, growth conditions and the techniques used to propagate them. In this regard, Westcape Biotech has put major effort into the development of protocols and techniques for the various tissue culture services offered such as micro-propagation, micro-grafting, embryo rescue and doubled haploid production.

MOLECULAR BIOLOGY

Molecular biology encompasses the molecular basis of biological activity relating to the flow of genetic information from DNA (the blueprint of biological systems), which is transcribed to RNA (the messenger molecules), which is in turn translated to the proteins that perform all cellular functions.

DNA is located in the nucleus of every cell and the genetic information stored therein is the same in all cells of a particular organism. The cell nucleus is physically separated from where proteins are produced in the cell and thus the genetic information contained in DNA must be transferred to the location of protein synthesis. RNA, which is structurally and chemically very similar to DNA, is produced in the cell to transport genetic information to where the proteins are produced. Proteins are responsible for regulating all cellular functions; for instance metabolism, defense from pathogens, growth etc.

Unlike DNA, the amount and type of RNA and proteins differ between cells and is determined by the specific function or physiological state of a cell. Since RNA is only generated for a specific protein if that protein needs to be produced, there is a strong correlation between the levels of RNA and their corresponding proteins. For this reason, measuring RNA can provide invaluable information regarding the physiological state of a cell, tissue or biological system.

Modern molecular biology techniques have greatly increased our capacity to analyse living systems and has revolutionised the way that modern research and diagnostics are done in all fields of life science, including agriculture. Westcape Biotech has developed the expertise and technology to provide its customers with various cutting edge molecular biology based services to answer specific and economically relevant questions. These services include molecular diagnostic tests such as pathogen detection tests and fruit quality tests, as well as molecular research services such as gene expression and metabolite profiling and cultivar comparisons. Furthermore, Westcape Biotech has developed a plant transformation platform for research and development purposes.