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Tree Physiol. 2013 Jun;33(6):640-53. doi: 10.1093/treephys/tpt034. Epub 2013 May 31.

Development of coffee somatic and zygotic embryos to plants differs in the morphological, histochemical and hydration aspects.

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  • 1CIRAD, UMR RPB, 911 Avenue Agropolis, BP 64501, F-34398 Montpellier, France. herve.etienne@cirad.fr


In Coffea arabica L., the development of direct sowing of somatic embryos (SE) in planting substrate, with subsequent nursery production of plants, has promoted the industrialization of somatic embryogenesis. However, plant conversion rates are still low and require improvements to enhance the cost-effectiveness of commercial micropropagation. With the aim of improving plant regeneration from SE, we studied the morphological and histological criteria and water characteristics during germination and plant conversion of zygotic embryos (ZE) and SE. At the cotyledonary stage, SE produced in a 1 l RITA(®) temporary immersion bioreactor (area 55.8 cm(2)) were morphologically similar in size (2-3 mm) but abnormal as compared with mature ZE. Protein and starch reserve levels were extremely low throughout germination and conversion to plantlets, while the water status remained steady [water content (WC) from 76 to 87%, Ψ from -0.37 to -0.47 MPa, pressure potential from 0.69 to 0.24 MPa]. In ZE, spectacular hydration occurred during the first 3 weeks (WC from 37 to 75%; Ψ from -6.24 to -1.0 MPa). Cotyledons remained undifferentiated for 10 weeks after sowing. Conversely, after only 3 weeks under germination conditions in a RITA(®) bioreactor, spongy and palisade parenchyma and stomata formed in SE cotyledons. The ZE plant conversion was faster than that of SE (14 vs. 22 weeks) and more efficient (rates 96 vs. 55%), with much more substantial hypocotyl and cotyledon development. The use of a new 5 l MATIS(®) bioreactor (area 355 cm(2)), designed especially to favor embryo dispersion and light transmittance to SE, markedly improved the embryo-to-plantlet conversion rate (91%). These results highlight the morphological heterogeneity and lack of protein reserves in SE at the beginning of the germination phase and marked differences in water characteristics. However, they also reveal high phenotypic plasticity, leading to a highly efficient plantlet conversion rate due to better embryo dispersion and light transmittance in more horizontal bioreactors.


Coffea arabica; embryo-to-plant conversion; germination; histology; reserve compounds; scanning electron microscopy; seed; somatic embryogenesis; temporary immersion bioreactors; water characteristics

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