Tissue culture protocols for the obligate parasitic plant Striga hermonthica and implications for host-parasite co-cultivation

  • Duncan Njora Waweru
  • Eric Kimani Kuria
  • James Michael Bradley
  • Julie Diane ScholesEmail author
  • Steven RunoEmail author
Original Article


Striga is a genus of parasitic plants that poses great danger to livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa by limiting production of staple cereals. The parasite attaches to the roots of the crop and establishes a vascular connection with the host’s xylem vessels in order to access water, organic and inorganic nutrients, leading to stunted growth and death of the infected plant. Mechanisms underpinning host–parasite interactions are not clearly understood making well-informed strategies for control of the parasite difficult. To facilitate studies of Striga–host interactions for molecular and genetic studies, we: (i) established an efficient protocol for growing Striga from seeds in tissue culture; (ii) optimized protocols for its regeneration through direct organogenesis and somatic embryogenesis, and (iii) determined the effect of co-culturing host and parasite in the same culture media. We found the best auxin and cytokinin concentrations to be: 10.7 μM naphthaleneacetic acid (NAA) and 2.2 μM 6-benzylaminopurine (BAP) for embryogenic callus regeneration and 1.1–4.4 μM BAP without NAA for shoot multiplication. While seedling, stem and leaf explants induced callus with the same frequency, seed radicles did not produce any callus. Unexpectedly, we found that when Striga callus was added in rice growing on culture media, the parasite adversely affected the host through formation of lesions on leaves and resulted in less shoot induction from callus in the parasite. Techniques described in this study will enhance further understanding of Striga–host interactions.

Key message

Highly efficient protocols for tissue culture of the obligate parasitic plant Striga hermonthica and detection of host phytotoxicity by the parasite on culture media.


Somatic embryogenesis Striga Host–pathogen interaction Phytotoxicity Parasitic plants 



This research project was supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Department for International (DfID) contract number BB/J011703/1 under the Sustainable Crop Production Research for International Development (SCPRID) Research Initiative. Additional support was provided by the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) under the Collaborative Research Projects (CRP) initiative, contract number CRP/KEN17-03.

Authors’ contributions

SR and JDS conceived and designed the experiments on optimization of in vitro culture conditions for S. hermonthica. JDS further conceived the experiment on host-parasite interactions on in vitro media. DNW, EK, and JB performed experiments guided by SR and JDS. All authors wrote, read and approved the final manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and BiotechnologyKenyatta UniversityGPO NairobiKenya
  2. 2.Department of Animal and Plant SciencesUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldUK

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