Somatic embryos can be used for propagating forest trees vegetatively, which is of great importance for capturing the genetic gain in breeding programs. However, many economically important Pinus species are difficult or impossible to propagate via somatic embryogenesis. In order to get a better understanding of the difficulties to propagate Pinus species via somatic embryogenesis, we are studying the developmental pathway of somatic embryos in different cell lines. In a previous study, we showed that the morphology of early somatic embryos in Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) differs between cell lines giving rise to normal or abnormal cotyledonary embryos. In this study, we have compared the proliferation and degeneration pattern of early and late embryos in a normal and abnormal cell line. In both cell lines, a high frequency of the embryos degenerated. Among the degenerating embryos, two main degeneration patterns could be distinguished. In the normal cell line, the embryos degenerated similar to how the subordinate embryos are degraded in the seed. In the abnormal cell line, the degeneration of the embryos resulted in a continuous loop of embryo degeneration and differentiation of new embryos. We observed a similar degeneration pattern when embryogenic tissue was initiated from megagametophytes containing zygotic embryos at the stage of cleavage polyembryony. Based on our results, we suggest that the degeneration pattern in abnormal cell lines starts during initiation of embryogenic cultures.
Keywords: Embryo degeneration; Embryo patterning; Initiation of embryogenic culture; Pinus sylvestris; Scots pine; Somatic embryogenesis.