21 Nov '14
Oleg Kouzbit, Online News Managing Editor
Earlier this month a group of experimental lab researchers at the largest university in Nizhny Novgorod, a sizable region in the mid-Volga area, launched a new phase of what appears to be a unique project on Russia’s innovation scene. In their lab environment the scientists have been growing rare plants that can hardly be found in a natural habitat. Biologists at UNN first approached the area of researching into orchid tubers about eight years ago; the effort evolved last year into the setup of an innovative spinoff company, In Vitro Biotech Center, and now the start-up is trying to bring the technology to market. According to the developers, biologically active substances which they derive from the rare plants using their microclonal breeding technology provide valuable medicinal raw material that could strengthen human immunity. The innovation from Nizhny is also a way of bringing near-extinct kinds of vegetation back into Mother Nature.
The idea began as far back as 2006 at the Lobachevsky State University of Nizhny Novgorod (UNN), a major fundamental research and education hub for the entire mid-Volga area since 1916. Current efforts are focused on two major objectives, both having the research and production targets as their key elements.
First of all, the team aims to produce tuberoids (tubers) of rare orchids to obtain curative extracts with a large amount of bioactive substances. The other dimension to this project is the production of low-cost planting stock which could be better acclimatized to a local environment and less vulnerable to external impact.
The effort seeks ways of reducing the cost of producing rare orchids’ planting stock at companies by introducing the UNN-originating technology of microclonal breeding. This very technology, the developers believe, is also a vehicle to obtaining high-quality medicinal raw material.
The approach is unique, the In Vitro Biotech Center team claims. Using the technology not only enables the production of tuberoid orchids’ organs separately, but also boosts orchids’ growing capacity. It takes just two months to get up to 12 protocorm-like bodies from a single protocorm, the scientists say. [A protocorm is a tuberous mass of cells that is the embryonic form of orchids.]
Setting up commercial-scale production of the rare plants using a different technology is deemed most unlikely as of today, the project owners say.
In a recent with OTR TV they argued they would seek to obtain a substance that could strengthen human immunity. When used in a commercial-scale effort, the technology could help fight a whole range of diseases, believes Lavr Kryukov, the head of the innovation technology lab which is part of UNN’s Botanical Garden Research Institute.
“The drug that is made from tuber extracts may be used to treat the human gastrointestinal tract, lungs… It reveals a manifest health-improving effect,” the young scientist explained.
The developers just recently started the next phase of their project, opting for new temperature and lighting conditions for their plants. In Vitro Biotech Center could one day become a player in a fairly broad market from pharmaceutical companies and agribusinesses to breeding companies, to large retail networks, even to private collectors clubs. However, it may take some time before investors elect to choose this research areas as their investment focus, the scientists had to admit.