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Research article2002Peer reviewed

A key developmental switch during Norway spruce somatic embryogenesis is induced by withdrawal of growth regulators and is associated with cell death and extracellular acidification

Bozhkov, PV; Filonova, LH; von Arnold, S


The biotechnology of somatic embryogenesis holds considerable promise for clonal propagation and breeding programes in forestry. To efficiently regulate the whole process of plant regeneration through somatic embryogenesis, it is of outmost importance to understand early developmental events when somatic embryos are just formed. In Norway spruce, somatic embryos transdifferentiate from proembryogenic masses (PEMs). This work describes the developmental dynamics (frequency distribution of PEMs and early somatic embryos) of the whole embryogenic suspension culture growing in the presence and absence of plant growth regulators (PGRs), auxin and cytokinin. The experiments have shown that PEM-to-somatic embryo transition is a key developmental switch that determines the yield and quality of mature somatic embryos and ultimately plant production. This switch was induced by the withdrawal of PGRs in cell suspension leading to a rapid accumulation of early somatic embryos (to a maximum of 75% of the entire population of suspension culture) and concomitant degradation of PEMs. The latter was evident from increased level of cell death measured through spectrophotometric Evans blue staining assay. Proembryogenic mass-to-embryo transition and concomitant activation of cell death were mediated by strong extracellular acidification. Therefore, buffering PGR-free culture medium at high (pH 5.8) or low (pH 4.5) levels of pH inhibited both PEM-to-embryo transition and cell death. The yield of mature somatic embryos on abscisic acid (ABA)-containing medium was increased up to 10-fold if the suspension culture had been pretreated for 1 to 9 days in unbuffered PGR-free medium. In this case a large proportion (75%) of the total number of mature embryos was formed within a short, 5-week, contact with ABA. The latter is practically important because prolonged contact with ABA suppresses the growth of somatic embryo plants. Based on these results, an improved method for regulating somatic embryogenesis was set up and tested for nine genotypes of Norway spruce. Over 800 plants regenerated from all tested genotypes demonstrated a good performance in the greenhouse and they were transferred to the field. (C) 2002 John Wiley Sons, Inc.


somatic embryogenesis; Norway spruce; proembryogenic mass; developmental switch; cell death; extracellular acidification

Published in

Biotechnology and Bioengineering
2002, Volume: 77, number: 6, pages: 658-667

      SLU Authors

    • Bozhkov, Peter

      • Department of Forest Genetics, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
      • Stålhandske, Lada

        • Department of Forest Genetics, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
        • Von Arnold, Sara

          • Department of Forest Genetics, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

        UKÄ Subject classification

        Forest Science

        Publication identifier


        Permanent link to this page (URI)