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Humboldt-Universitaet zu Berlin - Department of Biology

Research in the "Plant developmental biology" group

We develop and use somatic embryogenesis and in vitro cultivation techniques for woody plants (conifers, poplars) and orchids to safeguard and for identical reproduction of genetic material with desirable silvi- or horticultural properties and in the context of conservation of endangered wild plants.


» Project: Protoplasts »

» Project: Firs »

» Project: DendroMax »

» Project: KlonIdee »



Photo: Madlen Walther


The Nordmann fir (Abies nordmanniana (Stev.) Spach) is by far the most popular Christmas tree in German living rooms. In the project "Generation of totipotent (embryonic) stem cells from vegetative cells of selected adult elite genotypes as a basis for the breeding and propagation of clone varieties in conifers relevant to horticulture", we are using biotechnological methods to establish high-quality clone varieties of particularly beautiful trees with outstanding properties for productiion in large quantities. We are developing a method to reembryonalise individual cells of a target tree by transferring development factors from an embryogenic donor cell by cell fusion. The cell is to be induced to follow the path of somatic embryogenesis, i.e. to become a type of stem cell capable of developing into one or any number of complete plants, all of which are then genetically and morphologically identical.

In cooperation with:

Johann Heinrich von Thünen-Institute of Forest Genetics (Waldsieversdorf)



Somatische Embryonen der Tanne
Photo: Jana Seifert


As part of the project "Creation of the basis for the selection and breeding of fir clones with above-average resistance, cultivation and quality characteristics for Christmas tree production", we are creating the scientific and technological conditions for Nordmann fir and other fir species to breed clone varieties with above-average features for Christmas tree production. Innovative biotechnological processes (somatic embryogenesis, cryopreservation, microsatellite technology, etc.) are the basis, which allow clonal mass reproduction and the possibility of early selection and thus the economic use of genotypes with unusual combinations of characteristics. The microsatellite technology is to be adapted for the Nordmann fir and will make it possible to identify potential pollinators for already selected mother trees in specified harvest stands that are very likely to produce offspring with the desired trait combinations. Direct and controlled crossings are then possible with intention to provide seeds for the development of clone varieties and thus considerably reduce the time and work required. The aim is to create methodical and technological solutions for all process steps that enable the development of an economically efficient overall process.

Funded by:

Federal Ministry of Education and Research


Europäische Lärche (Larix decidua)
Photo: Martin Rümmler


The project "Development of biotechnological foundations and practical cultivation methods for increasing dendromass production in agriculture and forestry by breeding and mass propagation of high-performance varieties of selected tree species" creates the prerequisites for an expansion of the tree species spectrum and the possibilities for an economic production of wood biomass. This is achieved by developing tested clones of the species hybrid larch (Larix x eurolepis), Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and aspen (Populus tremula), whose performance and resistance have been improved and multiplied in vitro.

In larch and Douglas fir, the only way to achieve clonal mass propagation so far has been via the process of somatic embryogenesis, which can only be induced on sexually produced, zygotic embryos as the starting material. This is provided by classical breeding, in fact crossing of selected trees, and subsequently undergoes a multi-stage process of in vitro propagation. After successful acclimatisation (ex vitro), the seedlings are finally ready for field trials where they are tested within a few years for their growth characteristics, among other things.

This can result in a lengthy process of subsequent cloning tests. We therefore want to develop innovative approaches aimed at the direct use of selected adult elite trees. The aim is to convert cells from adult individuals into totipotent stem cells, which are then capable of somatic embryogenesis again. It is also necessary to understand the genetic regulation of basic embryogenesis processes.

In cooperation with:

Staatsbetrieb Sachsenforst (SBS)

Funded by:

Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture via project management agency FNR (Fachagentur Nachwachsende Rohstoffe e.V.)



lady's-slipper orchid (Cypripedium 'Ulla Silkens')
Photo: Jana Seipold


We are developing the scientific basis for the clonal mass reproduction of Lady's Shoe orchids of the genera Cypripedium and Paphiopedilum in the project "Development of novel, biotechnologically supported breeding and production methods for Lady's Shoe orchids (Cypripedium, Paphiopedilum)". These can be starting points for the development of clone varieties and their commercial use. We are looking for a process that incorporates innovative biotechnological approaches, in particular somatic embryogenesis, as the basis of production in order to make outstanding results of crossbreeding economically viable.

Funded by:

Federal Ministry of Education and Research

In cooperation with:


Orchideen von Miquel 

Fehrle Stauden