Neiker-Tecnalia (the Basque Institute for Agricultural Research and Development) is working on the development of new biotechnological tools to produce in vitro selected trees of the Pinus genus. Scientists at this technological centre have developed various techniques for propagation of Pinus radiata, Pinus pinea, Pinus pinaster and Pinus sylvestris by using tissue culture. These methodologies enable obtaining a great quantity of clonal material, which can be used both in genetic improve programmes and experimentation, and in programmes of reforestation according to market demands.
The research was carried out by the Tissue Culture team led by Paloma Moncaleán, within the remit of the Neiker-Tecnalia Genetic Improve programme. The main aim was the development and optimisation of biotechnological tools for obtaining Pinus radiata D. Don clonal material (also known as Monterey pine) from somatic embryogenesis. This technique involves the development of embryos from non-sexual cells. On being stimulated, these stop expressing the genes doing so up to then, and the cells start to behave as if they were sexual and give rise to new, genetically identical individuals (clones).
The research is part of Ms Itziar Montalban’s PhD, involving the optimisation of all phases of the embryogenic process, enabling obtaining 1,600 seedlings per gram of embryogenic tissue, a figure which represents the best results described to date with the Pinus genus.
Programmes of clonal forestry
This and other data obtained by the team opens up the possibility of starting programmes of clonal forestry such as those undertaken in New Zealand, Canada and other countries advanced in forestry subjects. Moreover, this somatic embryogenic process enables the cryoconservation of plant tissues, which makes the creation of selected germoplasm tissue banks possible and the obtaining of plants from these years later.
All these techniques have a direct relation with economic profitability and with sustainable forestry management, as they enable obtaining enhanced quality plants and reproducing or conserving threatened individuals and species, through the conservation of their germoplasm for the future.
Biotechnology in the forestry sector
In the last ten years, numerous forestry conservation and improvement projects have been carried out and, generally speaking, these have an economic goal: enhancing forestry production quantitatively and qualitatively, conifers in particular. This can only be achieved through forestry improve programmes, which come up against the difficulty that the desired characters can only be evaluated in the mature phase of the trees. When these go from the young stage to the adult one, a series of physiological and morphological changes are produced, which causes a deep loss of their regeneration potential by traditional asexual means. This is why experts combine traditional propagation techniques (grafting, root stocks, etc.) with new biotechnological tools such as in vitro cultures.
For decades now, a number of multinational firms such as ArborGen, Genfor, Mininco, and Weyerhaeuser and Spanish companies such as Agromillora Catalana, Cultesa and Vitrotech Biotecnología Vegetal have applied and developed biotechnological tools for obtaining the selected cloned material required by the market.
Various international companies are developing biotechnological tools for obtaining the selected cloned material, which is why Neiker-Tecnalia started to work on the development of selected plant tissue culture techniques a number of years ago, given their quantitative and qualitative value. Currently, Neiker-Tecnalia is working closely with Invitrotek, a Basque company specialising in the in vitro production of high value-added plants.
Forest mass in Spain
One of the principal objectives of the United Nations Framework Agreement on Climate Change is the stabilisation of CO2 emissions and other greenhouse effect gases. Since the Kyoto protocol, governments have been urged to increase forest surface area and enhance the efficiency of forest systems. The Spanish scenario provides for a Forestry Plan reflecting the need to increase forestry lands in order to avoid and halt processes of desertification. Forest surface in Spain is 26 million hectares, which is 52 % of the national territory. In this context, conifers have a decisive role from an ecological and forestry perspective.
Pine trees are represented in Spain by seven autochthonous species. Of these, only the Pinus radiata achieves notable territorial significance, with six million hectares, and a figure which is set to increase given that one of the objectives of the Spanish Forestry Plan is the plantation of 1,000 million new trees over the next decade.