Microbial hazards in plant tissue and cell cultures

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SummaryA wide range of microorganisms (filamentous fungi, yeasts, bacteria, viruses and viroids) and micro-arthropods (mites and thrips) have been identified as contaminants in plant tissue cultures. Contaminant may be introduced with the explant, during manipulations in the laboratory or by micro-arthropod vectors. Contaminants may express themselves immediately or can remain latent for long periods of time. This often makes it difficult to identify the source of contamination. Disinfection protocols have now been developed for a wide range of plant species including those infected with viruses/viroids or endophytic bacteria. They may include the selection of pathogen-free donor plants or donor plant treatments such as thermotherapy. Also microbiological quality assurance systems (e.g. Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point; HACCP procedures) have been adapted to the needs of commercial plant tissue culture laboratories. These are aimed at, preventing the introduction of pathogens, into tissue cultures at establishment and in the laboratory. In established in vitro cultures preventative strategies have proved to be essential, since it is extremely difficult to eliminate environmental bacterial and fungal contaminants using, antibiotics and fungicides. In many cases anti-microbial treatments only inhibit contaminants and low levels of contamination persist. In particular, the use of antibiotics against Gram-negative bacteria (including plant pathogenic bacteria and Agrobacterium tumefaciens vector systems used in genetic engineering) has been shown frequently to be extremely difficult or unsuccessful. Detection of latent contamination may involve the use of general and semi-selective microbial growth media or serological and PCR-based molecular techniques for specific pathogens. However, it is often difficult to detect low numbers of latent bacterial contaminants (e.g. levels present following antibiotic treatment or when acidified plant media are used). This poses a particular risk in the production of transgenic plants where the elimination or detection of Agrobacterium tumefaciens-based vector systems cannot be guaranteed with the currently available methodologies. Recent research has also shown that there is a risk of the transmission of human pathogens in plant tissue cultures.

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