The laminar flow cabinet would seem to be an unlikely agricultural tool. In the field of plant technology, however, it is essential; maintaining sterility as scientists probe new ways to increase crop yields and feed the world’s growing population.
Genetics has been an essential part of agriculture for thousands of years. Through selective propagation, pollination and hybridisation, farmers have improved the quality, yield and disease resistance of a multitude of crops. However, this has involved the crossing of thousands of genes, risking the passing on of undesirable, as well as beneficial traits. Plant biotechnology has solved this problem, allowing scientists to target genes with precision, and develop crops in which undesirable traits are eliminated, and desirable ones flourish.
Sterility in the plant biotech industry
Plant biotechnology covers a number of fields. Genetic engineering (GE) and genetic modification (GM) are two broadly interchangeable terms, covering procedures in which the genetic information carried in plant cells is altered by the removal, addition or transfer of genes, either in the same plant or between plants. Mutagenesis, which also occurs in nature, involves altering the genetic DNA to modify cellular characteristics.
Plant cell culture is central to all the above techniques, for which an aseptic environment is essential. Unwanted microorganisms can easily contaminate Petri dishes, culture vessels, media bottles and even microscope slides, and the toxins released as they grow can eventually kill or restrict the growth of the culture. A device offering HEPA-filtered unidirectional airflow over the working area will prevent this.
Ideally, media preparation and culture handling should be done in separate areas, each equipped with a laminar flow cabinet. The horizontal flow hood is widely used for aseptic manipulation of plant cell cultures, and is far cheaper to install than a transfer room. However, if a plant pathogen such as Agrobacterium is involved, it becomes an environmental risk and a vertical flow device, such as a Class 2 cabinet, should be used.