"Cloning cauliflowers" is a popular way to look at tissue culture and totipotency. Our video introduces the technique, and shows how best to use this protocol with your students.
Plant cell/tissue culture is the in-vitro culture of sterilised plant cells, tissues and/or organs on a nutrient medium. Unlike animal cells, many plant cells are totipotent, meaning that each cell has the capacity to regenerate the entire plant. This fact lies at the foundation of all tissue culture work.
Micropropagation is the regeneration of whole plants from small pieces of plant material. These small pieces (known as ‘explants’) are grown on sterile media and the plants produced can be potted up in soil and transferred to the glasshouse/field. Various parts of a plant can be cultured; plants have been regenerated from leaves, stems, roots, meristems, flowers and even pollen or ovules. In this case, students use a tiny piece of a cauliflower, in place of the endangered species that the protocol was designed for. Since all the explants come from the same cauliflower, the new plants will be clones of each other.
Previous versions of this cloning protocol have tended to risk contamination on the cauliflower floret, but this updated version, if followed correctly, is generally found to be very reliable. It is based on cloning methods developed at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
A version of this resource is also available in our 'Introducing STEM Careers' series, a set of resources to support science teachers in integrating STEM careers information with practical activities. See 'Introducing STEM Careers - Conserving endangered species at Kew'.