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The team said its findings will reduce the cost of rooting procedures and improve the quality of produce.

By Pesach Benson, TPS

An international team of Israeli-led researchers unveiled a significant improvement to the process of genetically cloning plants, potentially revolutionizing modern agriculture.

The breakthrough, spearheaded by experts from Tel Aviv University and the Volcani Institute in Rishon LeZion after eight years of research, enhances the efficiency of rooting cuttings from mature trees, a crucial aspect of agricultural propagation.

“Cutting propagation” is a method of plant propagation where a piece of a parent plant such as a stem or branch is used to grow a new plant.

The conventional method of cutting propagation involves treating cuttings with the plant hormone auxin to induce root growth. However, the efficacy of this treatment varies among different plant species, posing challenges for widespread adoption. Building on existing knowledge, the researchers aimed to enhance the effectiveness of auxin by exploring slow-release formulations.

Through meticulous experimentation, a “library” of synthetic auxin varieties was developed, with compounds exhibiting promising results identified and further refined. These compounds facilitated prolonged auxin release within plant cells, significantly boosting rooting percentages in various species.

The findings were recently published in the peer-reviewed Nature Biotechnology.

To understand the mechanisms underlying this enhancement, the researchers investigated the mode of action of the new compounds using model plants. They found that the synthetic auxin used in the compounds exhibited greater stability within plant cells and identified a family of enzymes responsible for its release. This insight paved the way for broader applications across different plant species.

Research student Ohad Roth explains: “The initial examination identified a number of compounds that have a positive effect on the rooting process, and further research focused on the most effective one,” explained research student Ohad Roth. “We discovered that this compound enables a combination of high permeability to the plant with a prolonged release of the active substance, the synthetic auxin, so that the auxin stays in the plant much longer – up to a week and a half.”

The study’s significance was underscored by its success in propagating argan trees, historically challenging due to their reliance on sexual reproduction via seeds.

“The global demand for argan oil is increasing year by year, because it is incorporated into a large variety of food, health and skincare products. But to date, the almost exclusive source of this oil is the fruits of argan trees that grow endemically in Morocco, and multiply by sexual reproduction, i.e. through seeds. All efforts to turn argan into an agricultural crop, which can be propagated by rooting cuttings, have failed – including attempts here in Israel,” the researchers said.

“We took cuttings from several argan trees growing in Israel, exposed them to the material we developed, and in this way succeeded in producing a large number of seedlings from elite selections,” they said, adding that they also saw encouraging results from similar experiments with apple, poplar and eucalyptus trees.

The upgraded treatment increased the rooting percentage of the eucalyptus cuttings to 60% — up to six times higher than the rooting percentages found using the standard method, the researchers noted.

The team said its findings will reduce the cost of rooting procedures, improve the quality of produce, and help develop new crops capable of adapting to challenging climate conditions.