International Association for Plant Biotechnology (IAPB)

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Plant Tissue Culture and Biotechnology:
Perspectives in the History of IAPTC/IAPTC&B/IAPB

Plant tissue culture and beyond

The science and art of plant tissue culture, and indeed of plant biotechnology, had its roots in the vision of the Austrian botanist Gottlieb Haberlandt (1854-1945) who wrote in 1902 that “To my knowledge, no systematically organized attempts to culture isolated vegetative cells from higher plants in simple nutrient solutions have been made. Yet the results of such culture experiments should give some insight to the properties and potentialities which the cell as an elementary organism possesses… I believe, in conclusion, that I am not making too bold a prediction if I point to the possibility that, in this way, one should successfully cultivate artificial embryos from vegetative cells”. His vision was accompanied by many experiments, which were however unsuccessful, to cultivate differentiated epidermis cells of Ornithogalum and other species in an artificial medium in culture.

The first successful prolonged in vitro cultivation of plant tissues and organs – and their proliferation and differentiation – included, among others, tomato roots (P.R. White, 1934), tobacco and carrot calluses and cambial tissues (R.J. Gautheret and P. Nobecourt, 1939), shoot tips and meristems (E. Ball, 1946). Soon, an entire new arsenal of procedures and techniques became available to the scientific community for controlling plant regeneration and morphogenesis in culture. Some notable major discoveries included chemical and hormonal control of regeneration (F. Skoog and C.O. Miller, 1957), basic and applied aspects of organogenesis and somatic embryogenesis (Reinert, 1959), practical micropropagation and production of virus-free plants (G. Morel, 1960), haploid plants (S. Guha and S.C. Maheshwari, 1964, J. P. Nitsch, 1967), culture and regeneration of protoplasts (E.C. Cocking, 1960), production of secondary metabolites (B. Kaul and E.J. Staba, 1967) and large-scale cell culture in bioreactors (M. Noguchi et al., 1977), to mention just a few landmarks. This led, following many pioneering studies in dozens of laboratories around the world, to the first true breakthrough of nowadays plant biotechnology: commercial micropropagation (reviewed by T. Murashige, 1974). The ongoing achievements in in vitro culture of pollen, protoplasts and cell suspensions – and their ability to regenerate whole plants – resulted in new disciplines of plant science: somatic cell genetics and metabolite production, somatic hybrids, production of haploid plants, selection of variants and mutants, and improved generation of metabolites. All became available for the community of plant scientists and breeders, expanding the diversity, agronomic and commercial value of plants.

The International Association of Plant Tissue Culture (IAPTC) and its offsprings

The unprecedented achievements in plant tissue culture resulted in the first international conference of plant tissue culture, which was organized in 1963 by Philip R. White in University Park, PA, U.S.A. However, it was not until 1970 that the International Association of Plant Tissue Culture (IAPTC) was formally established during the first IAPTC Congress in Strasbourg, France, where the IAPTC constitution was formally approved. The major objective of the IAPTC was “to promote the interest of plant tissue culture workers”. This aim was achieved primarily by:

1.      Convening International Congresses of Plant Tissue Culture

2.      The publication of a Newsletter.

3.      Establishing international country memberships.

One of the key features of the IAPTC was, and still is, their wide international activity, each of the countries being represented by a National Correspondent. The governing body of the association is the Council, consisting of National Correspondents. In its climax period (1995-6), the IAPTC had over 4500 members from 123 countries around the world.

Following are the quadrennial international congresses, and during each congress a new IAPTC Chairman was elected for a four year term:

1970: Strasbourg, France. IAPTC Chairman – Leon Hirth (Strassbourg University)

1974: Leicester, UK. IAPTC Chairman – Herbert E. Street (University of Leicester)

1978: Calgary, Alberta, Canada. IAPTC Chairman – Trevor A. Thorpe (University of   Calgary)

1982: Tokyo and Lake Yamanaka, Japan. IAPTC Chairman – Akio Fujiwara (Tokyo  University)

1986: Minneapolis, MN., USA. IAPTC Chairman – C. Eduard Green (University of Minnesota)

1990: Amsterdam, The Netherlands. IAPTC Chairman – Robert A. Schilperoort (State University, Leiden).

1994: Florence, Italy. IAPTC Chairman – Francisco D’Amato (Pisa University)

1998: Jerusalem, Israel. IAPTC/IAPTC&B Chairman – Arie Altman (The Hebrew  University of Jerusalem)

2002: Orlando, Fl, USA. IAPTC&B Chairman – Indra K. Vasil (University of Florida)

2006: Beijing, China. IAPTC&B Chairman – Zhi-hong Xu (Beijing University)

2010: St. Louis, Mo, USA. IAPB Chairman – Roger Beachy (Donald Danforth Plant Science Center)

During the 1998 congress in Jerusalem, the IAPTC was formally renamed as the International Association of Plant Tissue Culture and Biotechnology (IAPTC&B), reflecting the increasing role and impact of plant biotechnology. The name of the association was again modified during the 2006 congress in Beijing and it was renamed the International Association of Plant Biotechnology (IAPB).

The first issue of the IAPTC official publication, IAPTC Newsletter, was published in 1971 and was edited by Herbert E. Street. It contained different announcements, details of activities in individual laboratories, lists of new publications and new IAPTC members, as well as scientific reports. The Newsletter was expanded in 1975 by Trevor A. Thorpe by introducing research reports, invited reviews, feature articles and additional information. Editors of the IAPTC Newsletter included: Herbert E. Street, UK (1971-1974), Trevor A. Thorpe, Canada (1975-1978), Yasuyuki Yamada, Japan (1979-1982), Jack Widholm, USA (1983-1986), Ad J. Kool, The Netherlands (1987-1990), and Fiorella Lo Schiavo, Italy (1991-1994).

During the period of 1995-1998 the IAPTC Newsletter was replaced by the Journal of Plant Tissue Culture and Biotechnology, edited by Meira Ziv (Israel). Since 1999 it is published as part of the In Vitro Culture –Plant (2 issues per year), edited by Dan Brown, Canada (1999-2002), Eng-chong Pua, Singapore (2003-2006) and currently by Nigel Smith, USA (2007-2010).

 The new era of plant biotechnology

The great pioneering discoveries in molecular biology, i.e., the structure and function of nucleic acids and proteins, had its impact on plant biology and biotechnology. Based upon earlier studies of DNA transfer from Agrobacterium tumefaciens into plants during crown gall formation, Marry-Dell Chilton and Jeff Schell (in collaboration with Marc van Montagu), independently and simultaneously, announced in 1982 the production of the first ever engineered plant (tobacco). A new era in plant biotechnology began, resulting in major scientific, agronomic and commercial achievements in dozens of plant species, especially agricultural crops. Since then, hundreds of excellent scientists around the world are currently engaged in significant achievements in plant science, unraveling the secrets of plant tissue culture and biotechnology, indeed of plant growth, development and morphogenesis.

Plant biotechnology – especially in vitro regeneration and cell biology, DNA manipulation and biochemical engineering – is already changing the agricultural scene in three major areas: control of plant growth, protecting plants against abiotic and biotic stresses, and production of specialty foods, metabolites and pharmaceuticals. Plant biotechnology faces several major challenges in the coming decades: alleviating the hazards of abiotic stress, improving pest control, maintenance and improvement of the environment, improvement of food quality and design of ‘specialty food’ using biochemical engineering, and production of biomaterials. Two parallel research approaches will most likely exist simultaneously in the near future: the transgenic approach (expression of unique genes and specific promoters and transcription factors), and the non-transgenic approach (genomics-assisted gene discovery, marker-assisted selection, efficient mutations, and clonal agriculture).

The full realization and impact of the new developments depend not only on continued successful and innovative research and development activities, but also on a favorable regulatory climate, on public acceptance and on joint efforts. Plant scientists now have a central role in society. The International Association of Plant Biotechnology (IAPB), caring for and supporting plant tissue culture and biotechnology around the world, is here to serve you.

Arie Altman and Trevor A. Thorpe, 2007