Neiker-Tecnalia, in collaboration with the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country, has in recent years been studying the high water stress tolerance of hybrids of the Radiata Pine (Pinus radiata X Pinus attenuata). These trees appear to be a very interesting alternative for the forestry sector in view of the modifications ecosystems are undergoing and will be undergoing as a result of climate change. To obtain new specimens of these trees in a rapid, productive way, the Basque Institute for Agricultural Research and Development, Neiker-Tecnalia, and SCION -the New Zealand Forest Research Institute- have developed a system of somatic embryogenesis(*) in the hybrid species of Pinus radiata X Pinus attenuata, a pine species with a proven tolerance to a lack of water. Their research has resulted in the obtaining of a large quantity of plants within a short period of time in addition to making the cryopreservation of tissue possible so that the tissue can be used according to market demands.
The research conducted by Neiker-Tecnalia and SCION, led by the researchers Paloma Moncalean and Cathy Hargreaves, respectively, has been carried out at the SCION facilities in order to find propagation methods for tree species that are productive, have a high resistance to water stress and which could be used for reforestation purposes in Spain and New Zealand.
Current advances in forestry biotechnology, in somatic embryogenesis, in particular, have opened up the possibility of increasing forest productivity and raising the quality of wood-based products. Apart from being a highly productive method, somatic embryogenesis is a very valuable tool in forestry biotechnology. The countries that are advanced in the forestry sector, like Canada, use this technique to optimise genetic improvement programmes and to preserve elite genotypes. For all these reasons, somatic embryogenesis is contributing in a very positive way to the restoration and sustainable management of forests.
Economic viability the aim
The project being run by Neiker-Tecnalia and SCION, apart from contributing towards forestry management and sustainability, has set itself the aim of economic viability. The growing demand for land for agriculture and urban development often means that commercial forests are planted in marginal, dry mountainous locations. This location and the cases of extreme meteorological phenomena are creating an environment in which hybrid trees could be a valuable commercial resource for the future owing to their capacity to withstand water stress and adverse climate conditions.
The techniques used by Neiker-Tecnalia and SCION are being considered by various governments as an interesting tool to be used by public and private companies. In New Zealand, SCION and the company Prosed Nueva Zelanda Ltd are working together to obtain systems and plant matter adapted to future climate conditions. In Canada the National Network of Somatic Embryogenesis Laboratories (NNSEL) has been set up within the Canadian Forestry Service for the purpose of effectively transferring the advances in biotechnology to the forestry sector. Furthermore, the Canadian government has adopted cryogenic preservation as one of its policies for preserving threatened species like the whitebark pine.
(*) (Asexual) somatic embryogenesis involves developing embryos using cells that are not the product of gametic fusion. It is a process by which a bipolar structure (embryo) is produced from a somatic cell.
Somatic embryogenesis offers a number of advantages over other plant propagation systems. The embryogenic tissue can be cryopreserved and used according to market demand. It has a great multiplying capacity on an industrial scale and enables complete structures with apex and root to be obtained within a single process and which can be perfectly stored and encapsulated.