RESEARCHERS FROM the School of Biological Sciences at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) have developed tissue culture techniques to produce healthy fig plants from novel varieties.1 Their progress on that front has been so good that the institution is currently expanding the number of high-quality novel cultivars from tissue culture for the commercial market.
Plant tissue culture technology as such is known to yield clones from novel varieties at a consistent and faster rate, and allows manipulation of media formulation and plant hormones under controlled conditions to provide a larger number of high-quality plant stocks. This is most evident in the propagation of plant stocks for bananas and pineapples for farms worldwide.
Happily, this seems to apply to fig plants as well. Those propagated via plant tissue culture grow better and faster – and produce more fruits per plant than those propagated from cuttings and grafting.
The institution is now looking into developing its fig farming project with the assistance of IoT.
The common edible fig, or Ficus carica, comes from the Moraceae family. Its trees are deciduous, swiftly growing and have a tendency to increase in width rather than in height – they usually measure around 3-9m but are able to grow up to 15m tall, with fibrous roots, smooth barks and lobed leaves. Of Middle Eastern origin, it has been associated with the initiation of horticulture in the Mediterranean Basin since 4,000 B.C.!
The fruit is uniquely shaped, much like an enclosed flower; and the task to “pollinate” this flower falls on a specific type of insect, the fig wasp. The female wasps lay their eggs in unripe figs, and upon hatching and maturing, the males mate before chewing a tunnel to the surface. They die when their task is completed, while the females follow and take flight and begin pollinating fig trees.2 Fig trees that are commercially cultivated for their fruits are however mainly parthenocarpic, meaning that they undergo a process that does not require the insect’s pollination and fertilisation; it also renders the fruit seedless.
Although the fig plant is not native to tropical countries such as Malaysia, several hybrids of the plant have adapted to local soil conditions. These are however still propagated at a very low scale due to plant stocks being of inadequate quality. Current methods for fig propagation still rely on conventional means such as air layering and cuttings. These are less efficient, slow growing and can sometimes lead to plant dormancy, and has hampered the establishment of commercial fig farms. Furthermore, the cultivars available are usually unknown or unsuitable for commercial farming, which poses a difficulty for farmers looking to set up fig farms for local consumption, especially for supermarket demand and for the production of a wide range of Sunnah-related3 products, from wellness, cosmetics to pharmaceutical products.
Boasting a plethora of benefits for the human health, the fig fruit contains high levels of potassium, iron, calcium and vitamins; and is traditionally used to treat cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal and inflammatory disorders. Interestingly, it is also recommended as a laxative due to its high fibre content, and its antioxidant polyphenol composition is linked to cancer prevention as well.
Parts of the fig plant have been extensively studied for their medicinal properties. Its leaves, for instance, are said to possess anti-diabetic properties. The fig fruit, when mixed with honey, is used to treat stomach ulcers; and on its own, is believed to improve human memory. Muslims are of the view that the mineral elements found in the fruit help in balancing bodily fluid components in the blood, making it a source of high nutrition.
1 For the biologically savvy, these include Texas Everbearing, Violette de Solliès, Black Jack, Brunswick, Golden Orphan, Lisa and Japanese BTM6.
3 For Muslims, Sunnah means “the way of the prophet”.