Can you imagine a greenhouse of 200 square meters, situated on the roof of a university? This is real at RUDN University! Today we are going to tell you about a bio-inspired laboratory, where students with scientists are working on propagation of plants on the industrial scale. Sergey Arkadievich Kornatskiy, the head of the laboratory and an associate professor of RUDN University Department of Genetics, Plant Cultivation and Plant Protection, gave us a tour of his workspace.
Biotechnology is a union between biology and technology. It involves the development of biological approaches to the solution to various problems aiming at improvement of the quality of life. Probably, you can’t even imagine how often a person faces results of the work of biotechnologists.
Let us start with a concrete example. Each of us ate a berry yogurt for breakfast. Did you think about how many berries are needed to be planted so that in every small plastic jar, which you open in the morning, was a delicious mixture with strawberries? Today we will speak about how biotechnologies can help to grow a plantation of berries, preserving their flavour and beneficial qualities. We are going to speak about the laboratory of RUDN University, where students and professors work on examination and breeding of crops.
RUDN University Bio-inspired laboratory was founded in 2011. Now it occupies about 120 square meters of operational room and 200 square meters of greenhouse on the roof of the University. The laboratory is fitted with modern equipment: a centrifuge, distillation units (a tool for getting distilled water), laminar boxes (special boxes with ultraviolet lamps and the system of pure air supply), a PH-meter (a tool for the determination of solid acidity), microscopes, a huge amount of tubes and bottles for the cultivation of materials, etc.
The main achievement of the laboratory is the propagation of virus-free plants with a huge coefficient. Despite its huge size, a berry preserves all its healthy and tasty qualities. The capacity of this method in numbers is the following – from a single bud you can get from 10.000 to 100.000 similar copies per year. In comparison to that we can give an example of a classic method: earlier specialists took only one bud, grafted it and cultivated only one plant per year. Now the scientific laboratory of RUDN University moved to a new level of production – more than 30.000 tube plants per year. That is a meaningful quantity.
In the laboratory scientists work with various berry crops: raspberry, blackberry, plum, cherry and strawberry. In fact, it started with strawberries. It is a famous crop, which can be perfectly grown, rooted and planted in small amounts, but the need for big amounts leads to the problems with cultivation and growth at the stage of placing the plants into the soil. Strawberry is a crop of a short-term operational cycle. To make it fruit well it is necessary to renew at least one third of plantation. In the creation of the laboratory a leading agricultural company took part. This company needed healthy berry seedlings - they grow tons of strawberries for Moscow residents and other Russian people on 100 hectares of land. During the first year of joint work, the laboratory delivered to the agricultural company 10.000 plants, now they cooperate on an annual basis.
Strawberry in the laboratory is propagated under in vitro technology (in a test tube). Apical meristem (upper cell layer) is taken from a plant, explants (group of cells, segregated from a parent body) are sterilized, then under the microscope specialists make a slice of it and plant it into nutrient ground. After a while, a small plant emerges in the tube, grown burgeons are planted in peat boxes and then they are cultivated till they become seedlings, ready for disposal. The technology has great prospects, the number of directions of its use is increasing. First, the propagation of plants, secondly, the abolition of viral diseases and thirdly, the possibility to breed out the plant directly in a tube. One more important direction is the preservation of endangered plant species with the help of in vitro technology.
Thanks to the capabilities of the equipment and the talent of the team, the laboratory has overcome one of the most serious problems – adaptation of plants, which were planted into the soil after cultivation in artificial conditions. The extension stage is the most serious for plants, because air humidity and microflora composition are changing. This dejects plant growth and development, they often die during this step. The team of laboratory has overcome this barrier and achieved good results of plants persistence in the natural soil.
The average age of students, who work in the laboratory, is 18-20 years. One of the students undertook head responsibilities of Meristema Youth Enterprise under the laboratory. This enterprise is involved in research studies, development in the sphere of biotechnologies for crop production and their implementation and application, participates in exhibitions and advertises scientific research results of the laboratory. By the way, all working students get salary, which is several times more than a bursary. The supervisor of the laboratory claims that he is aimed at such work, which would be interesting to everybody and bring money.
The girl carrying out the head responsibilities of Meristema Youth Enterprise says,“As for the activity of the laboratory… I wish international students entered RUDN University and participated in the development of the laboratory, bringing the international experience and fresh perspective for our technologies. We offer all necessary resources for that, for example, an enormous scientific and practical knowledge base, modern equipment, which is suitable for different activities – from the work on seedling of strawberries to the cultivation of papaya in twenty-degree Russian frost“.
Nowadays, there are great opportunities in the sphere of science. The most important thing is people, who are interested in it, because science, in spite of its seriousness, is the art, which brings the feeling of inspiration.
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