Leaf storm

Indian scientists are resorting to tissue culture to salvage plants facing extinction

By Anju Sharma
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Endangered: over 700 plant spe DEFORESTATION in tropical regions could cause the disappearance of 50-150 plant species every day, reveal recent statistics collated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources***(where?). The data shows that about 25,000 plant species are in danger of extinction, and at the present rate of destruction of the natural environment, another 60,000 could become extinct over the next 3 decades.

In India, it is estimated that about 2,000 species are in danger of being lost forever. In the Western Ghats alone, about 700 species of flowering plants are now threatened.

While attempts are being made to arrest the destruction of natural habitats, scientists are also jumping in to prevent the extinction of several species. Efforts to save endangered plant species are being made by the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) in Madras in collaboration with the Thiruvananthapuram-based Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute, and the Institute of Forest Genetics and Tree Breeding in Coimbatore.

A survey carried out in the Ponmudi hills and Kakki hills of the Western Ghats and the Kolli hills in the Eastern Ghats located 8 threatened plant species and many endemic species with a critically low population. These include Phaeanthus malabaricus, driven to near extinction because vast tracts in its distribution range have been cleared for commercial crops and plantations in the past few decades.

The survey in the Eastern Ghats yielded a sizeable population of Crotolaria longipes and Ficus albipila, both endangered species. "Of the 170 endangered plants in Tamil Nadu, Crotolaria is the only endangered plant that has been successfully grown in the lab using tissue culture techniques," says Ranjit Daniels, principal scientific officer at MSSRF.

The scientists are now growing about 25 species of rare and endemic plants in controlled conditions in a greenhouse at the MSSRF. The foundation plans to undertake work on standardising tissue culture techniques to propagate these rare species with a view to re-introducing them into their original habitat.

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