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Tissue Culturing: What is It? And Why Should You Do It?

May 16, 2016

If we want to preserve an excellent strain, traditionally we save the mother plant. We’ll cut clones from her branches, plant them, and perpetuate her genetics for as long as she survives.

Cloning, however, presents some serious limitations. For one, if the mother plant dies, then we have to depend on the clones to keep the genetics alive. More often than not, clones aren’t cultivated to become mother plants. They’re cultivated to become bags of buds.

Secondly, clones must be handled within a specific cycle of time. These are living things, after all. They want to grow, reproduce, and die, just like any other living thing.  With tissue culturing, we can skip these issues. If we have the space and time, we can hold on to a practically unlimited number of clones that remain suspended in time.

What is Tissue Culturing?
Tissue culturing is a lab process where a piece of the cannabis plant is sliced away, placed on a culturing dish, and can be left there for a nearly indefinite period of time. With enough space and resources, a grower could literally store hundreds, if not thousands, of cannabis strains in one spot. These tissue cultures can be transplanted into pots, where they can grow into full adult plants ripe for harvesting.
Culturing is different from cloning in a few respects. The tissue can literally come from any part of the plant. No stems or leaves required. And because the tissue’s cellular development is effectively frozen, no one has to water it, give it light, or otherwise maintain a growing, maturing plant for the duration of its lifetime.

How Does It Work?

The culturing process is similar to cloning, but it requires considerably more work. The workspace must be completely sterile. Culturists will want a fume hood that can remove all particles from the air. The culture plate itself contains nutrients that will grow almost anything, including any microbes that may be lurking about.

First, the culture mix is made. This requires a bag of culture powder, water, and a container to mix everything in. Once the culture is whipped up, it’s poured onto plastic plates.

Next, the tissue is prepared. This requires a bit of slicing, then the tissue gets plated. Once its plated, it can be stored in a refrigerated space.

Finally, once the grower knows they want to use that tissue, it’s taken from its plate and stuck in a pot of soil. It can grow normally from there.

No storage process is perfect, however. There are some downsides to culturing. Having a sterile space available requires a technician who understands aseptic procedures. Another downside is the storage itself. A cool, dry space is needed. In the event of a power failure, an entire library of strains can be lost. Resourceful operations will want a backup generator on-hand at all times.

Culturing removes a lot of guesswork from the growing process, too. Seeds can be stored indefinitely, but they have a 50/50 chance of being male. Among the females, there’s a lot of genetic variation, and those females may not have the traits a grower is looking for. With culturing, growers keep all the benefits of cloning but can abandon the hassle of cracking and sorting seed sprouts. They’ll know that their culture is not only female, but that it’s also the exact genotype they need for the traits they desire.

By Randy Robinson

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