Micropropagation and secondary metabolites of Sclerocarya birrea.
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Sclerocarya birrea (marula, Anacardiaceae) is a highly-valued indigenous tree in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa because of its medicinal and nutritional properties. The marula tree is adapted to the semi-arid conditions that characterise most parts of sub-Saharan Africa and renders them unsuitable for conventional crop agriculture. The unique nutritional properties of marula and its high tolerance to dry conditions provide opportunities for its development into a plantation crop. On the other hand, the demand for marula plant parts, mainly the bark and roots as medicinal remedies, poses a great threat to wild populations. In the long term, the growing demand of marula products in the food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries will not be sustainable from wild populations alone. Plant tissue culture technologies can be useful for in vitro manipulation and mass propagation of the plant in the process of domestication and conservation. The aims of the project were to determine the optimum conditions for seed germination, in vitro propagation and plant regeneration, and to evaluate the potential bioactivity of secondary metabolites from its renewable plant parts as an alternative option in the conservation of S. birrea. An ex vitro seed germination study indicated that after-ripening and cold stratification are critical factors. Cold stratification (5 °C) of marula nuts for 14 days improved germination (65%) as compared to non-stratified nuts (32%). Direct shoot organogenesis was achieved from leaf explants through the induction of nodular meristemoids on Murashige and Skoog (MS) (1962) medium and woody plant medium (WPM) supplemented with 6-benzyladenine (BA) in combination with naphthalene acetic acid (NAA), indole-3-butryric acid (IBA) and indole-3-acetic acid (IAA). Induction of nodular meristemoids from 86% of the leaf cultures was achieved on a MS medium with 4.0 ìM BA and 1.0 ìM NAA. High levels (78–100%) of induction were also achieved on WPM with different concentrations of BA (1.0–4.0 ìM) and IBA (1.0–4.0 ìM). The highest conversion of nodular meristemoids into shoots on MS initiation medium was only 22% for 4.0 ìM BA and 1.0 ìM NAA. This was improved to 62% when nodular clusters were cultured in MS liquid medium. Histological studies revealed high numbers of unipolar meristematic buds developing from globular nodules. These embryo-like structures have in the past been mistaken for true somatic embryos. The initiation of high numbers of nodular meristemoids per explant provides potential for automated large-scale clonal propagation in bioreactors, in vitro phytochemical production and the development of synthetic seed technology, similar to somatic embryogenesis. Plant regeneration through nodule culture has potential for application in mass micropropagation and plant breeding of S. birrea. Adventitious shoot and root induction are important phases in micropropagation. Plant growth regulators play an important role in these developmental processes, and the type and concentration used have major influences on the eventual organogenic pathway. Three auxins (IAA, IBA and NAA) and four aromatic cytokinins (6-benzyladenine, meta-topolin, meta-topolin riboside, and meta-methoxytopolin riboside) were evaluated for their potential to induce adventitious shoot and root formation in S. birrea shoots, hypocotyls and epicotyls. Among the evaluated cytokinins, the highest adventitious shoot induction (62%) was achieved on MS medium supplemented with meta-topolin (8.0 ìM). The lowest adventitious shoot induction (2.5%) was obtained on MS basal medium containing 2.0 ìM meta-methoxytopolin riboside. The highest adventitious shoot induction for hypocotyls was 55% on MS medium supplemented with 8.0 ìM meta-topolin. For the tested auxins, IBA induced adventitious rooting in 91% of shoots at a concentration of 4.0 ìM after 8 weeks in culture. However, the in vitro rooted plants only survived for two weeks when transferred ex vitro. A temperature of 25 °C and 16-h photoperiod were optimum for adventitious root induction. Stomatal density (number per mm2) on the abaxial leaf surfaces was higher for the 16-h photoperiod treatment (206.6 ± 15.28) compared to that for a 24-h photoperiod (134.6 ± 12.98). Normal mature stomata with kidney-shaped guard cells and an outer ledge over the stomatal pore were observed for in vitro plants growing under a 16-h photoperiod. Total phenolic content, proanthocyanidins, gallotannins, flavonoids, and antioxidant activities of S. birrea methanolic extracts were evaluated using in vitro bioassays. Methanolic extracts of the young stem bark and leaves contained high levels of these phytochemicals. Sclerocarya birrea young stem extracts contained the highest levels of total phenolics (14.15 ± 0.03 mg GAE g-1), flavonoids (1219.39 ± 16.62 ìg CE g-1) and gallotannins (246.12 ± 3.76 ìg GAE g-1). Sclerocarya birrea leaf extracts had the highest concentration of proanthocyanidins (1.25%). The EC50 values of the extracts in the DPPH free radical scavenging assay ranged from 5.028 to 6.921 ìg ml-1, compared to ascorbic acid (6.868 ìg ml-1). A dose-dependent linear curve was obtained for all extracts in the ferric-reducing power assay. All the extracts exhibited high antioxidant activity comparable to butylated hydroxytoluene based on the rate of â-carotene bleaching (89.6 to 93.9%). Sclerocarya birrea provides a source of secondary metabolites which have potent antioxidant properties and may be beneficial to the health of consumers. Sclerocarya birrea young stem and leaf ethanolic extracts exhibited high bioactivity (MIC < 1.0 mg ml-1) against both Gram-positive (Bacillus subtilis and Staphylococcus aureus) and Gram-negative (Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae) bacteria. The highest activity (MIC = 0.098 mg ml-1 and total activity = 1609.1 ml g-1) was recorded for young stem extracts against B. subtilis. The highest activity (MIC = 1.56 mg ml-1 and MFC = 1.56 mg ml-1) in the antifungal assay against Candida albicans was observed for young stem ethanolic extracts. Sclerocarya birrea extracts had moderate acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibition activity. The dichloromethane (DCM) and methanol (MeOH) fractions exhibited dose-dependent acetylcholinesterase inhibitory activity. The highest AChE inhibitory activities were from leaves (DCM fraction, IC50 = 0.1053 mg ml-1) and young stems (MeOH fraction, IC50 = 0.478 mg ml-1). High inhibitory activity against cyclooxygenase (COX-1 and COX-2) enzymes was observed. All extracts and fractions showed high COX-1 enzyme inhibition (90.7-100%). Petroleum ether (PE) and dichloromethane fractions also exhibited high inhibition against COX-2 enzyme (77.7-92.6%). The pharmacological activities observed suggest that S. birrea renewable plant parts (leaves and young stems) provide a substantial source of medicinal secondary metabolites. Based on these results, plant part substitution can be a practical conservation strategy for this species.