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The foundations of modern plant biotechnology can be traced back to the Cell Theory of Schleiden (Arch Anat Physiol Wiss Med (J Müller) 1838:137–176, 1838) and Schwann (Mikroscopische Untersuchungen über die Übereinstimmung in der Struktur und dem Wachstum des Tiere und Pflanzen. W Engelmann: Leipzig No 176, 1839), which recognized the cell as the primary unit of all living organisms. The concept of cellular totipotency, which was inherent in the Cell Theory and forms the basis of plant biotechnology, was further elaborated by Haberlandt (Sitzungsber K Preuss Akad Wiss Wien, Math-Naturwiss 111:69–92, 1902), who predicted the production of somatic embryos from vegetative cells. This brief historical account traces the development of technologies for the culture, regeneration and transformation of plants that led to the production of transgenic crops which have become central to the many applications of plant biotechnology, and celebrates the pioneering men and women whose trend-setting contributions made it all possible.