Introduction

The world demand for wood products is expected to rise sharply over the coming decade, and shortage has been forecast by the 21st century. To meet this burgeoning demand, the forest productivity of our limited lands will have to be increased. There is an urgent need for mass production of improved quality planting stock for reforestation. The conventional methods of tree improvement and selection offer only a limited possibility of meeting this demand. Over the past few years, biotechnological methods have been developed which are predicted to have significant impacts on commercial forestry in the 21st century. These include micropropagation, genetic engineering, marker-aided selection etc.

Micropropagation has been approached in two ways: via somatic (asexual) embryogenesis and via organogenesis (enhancement of axillary bud break or adventitious budding). Micropropagation via somatic embryogenesis offers an inexpensive and efficient way to produce an unlimited supply of genetically uniform superior clones for reforestation. The most important advantage of somatic embryogenesis is that the embryogenic tissue can be cryopreserved indefinitely without any genetic change and can be bulked for mass production at any time. In forestry, the production of somatic embryos throughout the year provides a complementary technology to reduce the risk where seed production is limited or uncertain. Considerable progress has been made over the last decade in the development of somatic embryogenesis systems for large scale clonal propagation of conifers.1,2 Since the first report in 1985, several hundred papers have been published on this subject.3 Here we discuss the current status of the technology and its implementation for clonal propagation of conifer trees for reforestation.

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