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Saturday, November 28, 1998 Published at 18:44 GMT


World: Middle East

Cloned dates bear fruit for Iran

One tree can produce 60,000 clones

Iran has started replacing the millions of palms destroyed in its eight year war with Iraq by cloning trees, reports the BBC's Middle East correspondent Jim Muir.

A joint Iranian British venture is using the latest technology to mass produce tens of thousands of identical plants from one parent tree.


[ image: The cells are taken from the core of the tree]
The cells are taken from the core of the tree
It is estimated as many as 3.5 million date palms were wiped out on the Iranian side of the border alone during the conflict with neighbouring Iraq.

Dates, a valuable source of foreign currency for Iran, are notoriously slow to propagate.

But a new cloning technique, pioneered in the UK, has accelerated reproduction dramatically. It is possible to produce as many as 60,000 exact genetic copies from one parent.

And they will reach fruiting maturity in four years as opposed to eight to 10 years using traditional methods.


[ image: Million of trees were destroyed in the war]
Million of trees were destroyed in the war
The project is producing 20,000 trees a year, but is hoping to expand production to nearly 500,000 a year.

The cells are taken from the core of an offshoot from a palm tree at a laboratory in Tehran.

The cells are tissue cultured in high hormone conditions. After a year embryos appear, which are multiplied again.

As well as making the process much faster the new technique also guarantees sound healthy specimens - exact genetic copies of the original tree.


[ image: These fruits are from one of Iran's oldest cloned trees]
These fruits are from one of Iran's oldest cloned trees
After being hardened off in greenhouses they are planted out in the fields.

The oldest of the country's cloned date trees began life in laboratories in the UK about 10 years ago.

They were sold as part of a deal to export the new technology to Iran.

Middle East correspondent Jim Muir says the experiment will revolutionise the way dates are produced not just in Iran but throughout the region.





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