Jeroen Naus, managing director Lab Associates:
“The Leaf Carrier is a high-quality and efficient multilayer cultivation system”
Tissue culture as a propagation technique has become an indispensable part of flower, plant, shrub, and tree cultivation. The market is growing rapidly, and advancements in cultivation and technology are also progressing quickly. From Oudenbosch in Brabant, Lab Associates develops and supplies specialised materials for tissue culture, especially to production laboratories worldwide. Their product range also includes the Leaf Carrier growth trolleys. Jeroen Naus, managing director is excited about the collaboration with Bever Innovations: “Bever’s Leaf Carrier is a high-quality and efficient multilayer cultivation system for tissue culture.”
Tissue culture, also known as micropropagation, is essentially an advanced form of plant propagation through cuttings, Jeroen Naus explains. ” “In a sterile environment, micro-cuttings are taken, which can be further divided after a few weeks. Then, the plants are rooted and hardened off for further cultivation in a greenhouse, open field, or indoor farm. This technique utilizes the totipotency of plants, which is the ability of every cell to grow into a complete plant. Depending on the plant species and variety, you can propagate from a piece of stem, flower, a growing point, or a stem cell. Optimal growth conditions for each crop need to be determined and documented in a specific protocol, along with a specific composition of the growth medium.”
Rapidly growing billion-dollar industry
Within the agriculture and horticulture sector, tissue culture may be considered a niche market, but simultaneously it is a rapidly growing billion-dollar industry. This growth is noticeable to consumers as well: “Take, for example, the cultivation of blueberries: this market has exploded in the past five years. Previously, they were rarely seen in the supermarket and were quite expensive. Now, they are available year-round in large quantities, and the price has halved. It is one of the success stories of tissue culture.”
Currently, an increasing number of plant species are being propagated and/or improved through tissue culture. A variety of fruit species such as blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries, as well as crops like sugarcane, tomatoes, corn, and rapeseed, and tropical crops like bananas, coffee plants, and date palms, are being propagated using tissue culture techniques.
Benefits of tissue culture
“There are several reasons to choose propagation through tissue culture,” explains Jeroen Naus. “You can create exact copies of a plant with known genetic traits, such as appearance, compounds, flavor, and yield. Additionally, you can breed and propagate more quickly and on a larger scale, while ensuring virus-free cultivation. The technique was initially widely applied by orchid and anthurium growers. Not only because of the challenging fertilization process, but also because guaranteed uniformity of appearance is commercially appealing to them. They receive a better price at auction when each plant has ‘100% certainty’ of having the exact same colors and patterns.”
“The predictability of quality and yield is also of great importance in the cultivation of high-value plants with high yields. For example, walnut trees, which only bear fruit after five years. Another example is medicinal cannabis cultivation. Due to threshold values for THC and CBD in regulated cultivation, maintaining a consistent profile of compounds is essential.”
The sterile laboratory environment enables guaranteed virus- and pathogen-free propagation of plants. The demand for such plants is growing rapidly – after all, in large-scale cultivation, contamination also leads to major damage. Well-known examples are the hop latent virus in cannabis cultivation and the fungal diseases threatening banana cultivation. The technique is also highly interesting for the development of new varieties. The optimal conditions allow the plants to be recut every four to eight weeks. That rapid propagation reduces time-to-market, which can save years.
Relatively expensive technique requires cost management
The advantages make tissue culture financially interesting, even though it is a relatively expensive technique – partly due to the fact that cutting the minuscule cuttings is still a specialized manual task. Laboratories compete with each other in terms of costs, efficiency and quality. The optimal growth medium is a key to success, and many laboratories invest in developing their own recipes. Energy cost savings and optimal space utilisation are crucial.
Own medium preparer
Lab Associates primarily focuses on facilitating production labs engaged in large-scale propagation. The company is one of the largest suppliers of sterile culture trays and offers a complete range of equipment, tools and biochemicals. Among their offerings is a proprietary medium preparer and a corresponding automated production line. This medium preparer sterilises faster and at a lower temperature than the traditional autoclaves. “Shorter sterilisation times mean faster work and the preservation of more vitamins, minerals and other compounds”, explains Jeroen Naus. “So, you also gain in terms of ingredients: you need to use less or your medium contains more nutrients for the plants’ growth.”
Focus on product development and innovation
In the 35 years that Lab Associates has been active in this market, it has developed various innovative products. Their own team focuses on product development and innovation. Collaborating with Bever’s technicians was a logical choice: “With the Leaf Carrier, Bever presents a high-quality multilayer cultivation system. The lighting is highly energy-efficient, and there is minimal heat development between the layers. Since the heat is mainly generated on the sides of the racks, the climate system can remove it without excessive ventilation. This is important because you want to avoid strong airflow over the trays. The Leaf Carrier provides an uniform climate with closely spaced layers, ensuring optimal utilisation of the available square metres of growing space.”
Consultancy and turnkey projects
Lab Associates is also involved in consultancy and executes turnkey projects. “Laboratories seek our advice on facility design or when facing issues. For example, we conduct assessments of facilities with with high contamination rates. Additionally, we collaborate with customers to improve their profitability – such as by adjusting protocols for better or faster plant growth. We’ve noticed that many laboratories still use fluorescent lighting. While transitioning to LED lighting requires a significant investment, the developments in the energy market are reducing the payback period. We are happy to calculate the potential energy savings for them.”
Gradually accustomed to light
In the initial stages of the tissue culture process, lighting plays a subordinate role. During the propagation phase, plants usually have little to no roots. Sugars are directly absorbed from the growth medium through the stem. Photosynthesis is important but not yet necessary for survival. Even in the subsequent rooting phase, the plantlets cannot tolerate extreme conditions. They are gradually acclimated and accustomed to light. While the light intensity in a greenhouse typically ranges between 300 and 1000 micromoles (mmol), in the early stages of tissue culture, it is no more than 20-65 mmol.