Plant tissue culture: Perceptions and realities
There is a perception that phenomenal progress has been made in so-called tissue culture technologies as they apply to non-woody plants. Moreover, many also seem to think that while temperate woody species have yielded toin vitro manipulation, tropical and subtropical ones have generally remained recalcitrant. An attempt has been made to place all this in context, and to allow for emergence of a realistic conclusion of where we really seem to be. Much progress has been made but plant tissue culture procedures still have a long way to go before they can collectively qualify, by the most rigid criteria, as a routine tool. If a technology is, in fact, a means to amplify our ability to do something in a relatively, if not virtually, risk-free manner, anyone who has done much serious plant tissue culture will know that in most cases it does not yet meet the criterion. When we can predictably control things—with maximal certainty, risk-free, or at least with minimal or acceptable risk, we will have a biotechnology. It sounds very modern to use the word ‘biotechnology’ but one does not achieve the status of a biotechnology merely by many or most agreeing to use the term. My belief is that we work against ourselves by doing so. Basic scientific inquiry is stifled. We still need to provide an appropriate framework and vehicle for basic investigations that will enable many important unanswered questions to be addressed. From a practical perspective these include: Why does progress seem to be slow in woody plants—especially in the case of tropical and subtropical species; what are some of the constraints imposed on the systems being worked with; how much of a gap is there between knowledge at the research level and application; how can one accelerate activities to improve both our perspective and still make positive basic and practical contributions to this area? A major problem has been that some systems are quite for along in their development; others are in their infancy. It is hoped that supporters of plant tissue culture efforts will not abandon basic research programs in favor of applied initiatives just because some species seem to be more difficult to work with initially than others and hence will require much more time at the basic research level, and well before one can begin to develop and ultimately exploit. Basic botanical and plant cell biology research must be fostered. Those dedicated to studying plant biology from anin vitro perspective have a greater role now than ever to play. Responsible action is crucial. Resistance must be given to those who prematurely insist that integration into practical schemes should predominate our thinking and setting of priorities. At the same time there is a delicate path that must be taken so that opportunities for learning and making basic contributions are not missed. Plant scientists clearly have a challenge to meet. Decision making must take into account the state of the science from the scientists’ perspective—not merely an administrative perspective.