Tissue culture technology, which is currently used widely in plants such as orchid and banana, could soon be used for growing tea plantlets.

The Tocklai Tea Research Institute claims to have achieved a breakthrough in making use of the tissue culture technology for commercial micro-propagation of tea plantlets at a reasonable price and much faster than conventional methods.

Micro-propagation essentially means reproduction of plants by growing plantlets in tissue culture and then planting them out.

The conventional tea plant multiplication methods happen either through germinating seed or vegetative nodal cuttings. Neither method is able to meet the mounting demand from tea gardens for good planting materials.

“Tissue culture has the potential to generate a large number of plantlets within a short time from a single cell or tissue or explants (plant parts),” said a press statement issued by TRA.

Pranita Hazarika, a scientist at TRA Tocklai recently demonstrated that the tissue culture technology can be used for commercial micro-propagation of tea plantlets at a reasonable cost and much faster than the conventional methods.

The true tissue cultured tea plants, that were transferred from the flask to field, have completed one year of luxuriant growth and received the first prune in January this year.

“It throws up the possibility of a complete transformation of the entire supply chain management of tea planting materials in the near future,” Anoop Kumar Barooah, Director, TRA, said in a release.

Addressing problems in scaling up

The tissue culture technology could not be used so far for mass propagation of tea plants due to difficulty in rooting and hardening of in-vitro cultured tea plants. Most of the tea tissue culture work was successful only in the laboratory and that too using the germinating seeds as the starting material.

There were also reports that the few hardened tea plants did not grow well in field conditions. This apart, it was also a big challenge to regenerate tea plantlet in in-vitro condition from field collected tea shoots due to severe contaminations.

However, TRA Tocklai has been able to come up with an answer to both the problems that has been plaguing the tea tissue culture work for quite some time, Barooah said and added that this would also lead to revenue generation for TRA and help it become self-reliant.

The technology, if adopted commercially, could also help the ailing tea industry, which has been facing several challenges, including rising costs trumping price realisation.