Also known as micropropagation, tissue culture is the growth of tissues or cells in an artificial medium separate from the parent organism. This is typically facilitated via the use of a liquid, semi-solid, or solid growth media such as broth or agar.
The technique has long been used in farming and horticulture but is just now being applied to cannabis.
Due to the cost associated with tissue culture, it is inaccessible to most home growers, but commercial facilities are exploring its applications in order to gain a competitive edge.
Benefits of Tissue Culture
The main benefit of tissue culture is creating clean plantlets, along with processes to rejuvenate the genetics of the plant. It is more sterile than cloning and can be used to remove viroids and diseases from the plant matter.
“You’re kind of like shedding the infected tissue. Revitalizing the genetics needs to be done at the meristem tissue of the plant,” says Jeff Jones, Horticulture Professor at Oaksterdam University. “Your plant will naturally be more vigorous, more productive, and more resistant to pathogens and problems.”
Plants grown from clean tissue culture will be stronger, with a more active immune system.
According to Jones, tissue culture allows growers to achieve uniformity on a mass scale and increase production by ensuring only healthy plant stock is cultivated.
“That is huge for the bottom line of large-scale cultivation projects,” he says.
Tissue culture is especially important for pharmaceutical-grade cannabis adhering to Good Distribution Practices (GDP), and Own Brand Labeling (OBL) requirements at the international level.
“Tissue culture is the next level of creating that perfection,” Jones says.
Growers, labs, and nurseries are implementing tissue culture and creating Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) around the practice, says OU Horticulture Professor Eric Brandstad.
One of its uses is to preserve coveted cultivars and put them “on ice.” This is useful to back up prized cultivars in case something happens to the crops, or if a variety isn’t selling and you need to take it out of rotation but want to save it for future use. Still, storing and cataloging genetics is a luxury that takes labor and equipment — a grow lab, Petri dishes, lights, and stable refrigeration over time.
“It’s a significant cost that isn’t always justified by the price of produce at the market,” Brandstad says.
Still, according to Ali Muffinz, who leads Oaksterdam’s Plant Talk every Friday on Clubhouse, it’s important to stay informed of the latest research into cannabis tissue culture and how it’s being applied.
“As our industry is growing we have to begin to utilize the systems built by ‘Big Ag’ and preserve the parts that are productive for farmers and the health of the plants,” he says.
To learn more about tissue culture and everything else you need to know about growing cannabis, check out Oaksterdam University’s Horticulture Program. Oaksterdam experts are also on Clubhouse every week to answer cultivation questions live. Learn more here.
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