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Review article - Peer-reviewed, 2019

Automation and Scale Up of Somatic Embryogenesis for Commercial Plant Production, With Emphasis on Conifers

Egertsdotter, Ulrika; Ahmad, Iftikhar; Clapham, David


For large scale production of clonal plants, somatic embryogenesis (SE) has many advantages over other clonal propagation methods such as the rooting of cuttings. In particular, the SE process is more suited to scale up and automation, thereby reducing labor costs and increasing the reliability of the production process. Furthermore, the plants resulting from SE closely resemble those from seeds, as somatic embryos, like zygotic (seed) embryos, develop with good connection between root and shoot, and without the plagiotropism often associated with propagation by cuttings. For practical purposes in breeding programs and for deployment of elite clones, it is valuable that a virtually unlimited number of SE plants can be generated from one original seed embryo; and SE cultures (clones) can be cryostored for at least 20 years, allowing long-term testing of clones. To date, there has however been limited use of SE for large-scale plant production mainly because without automation it is labor-intensive. Development of automation is particularly attractive in countries with high labor costs, where conifer forestry is often of great economic importance. Various approaches for automating SE processes are under investigation and the progress is reviewed here, with emphasis on conifers. These approaches include simplification of culture routines with preference for liquid rather than solid cultures, use of robotics and automation for the harvest of selected individual mature embryos, followed by automated handling of germination and subsequent planting. Different approaches to handle the processes of somatic embryogenesis in conifers are outlined below, followed by an update on efforts to automate the different steps, which are nearing an operational stage.


somatic embryogenesis; conifer; automation; scale up; bioreactors

Published in

Frontiers in Plant Science
2019, Volume: 10, article number: 109