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Roots of Codonopsis pilosula (Franch.) Nannf. are among the most popular Chinese herbal medicines, exhibiting various beneficial activities which support immunity and stress resistance. The plant shows high intraspecific genetic variation. There is a need for effective vegetative propagation methods yielding high and sustainable quality. Here we report a micropropagation method using axillary shoot proliferation. Nodal segments from aseptically germinated plants were inoculated on modified MS media enriched with different concentrations of cytokinins: benzyladenine, kinetin (1, 4, 10 or 20 μM) or thidiazuron (1, 4 or 8 μM), with or without the auxin NAA (1 μM). Axillary bud break was initiated most efficiently on media with 1 or 4 μM BA and 1μM NAA. Shoot number increased markedly in subsequent cycles of harvesting and transfer to fresh 1 μM BA and NAA medium, leading to the maximum 69 shoots (mean 38.16±4.35) from a single nodal explant in the fourth harvest. The shoots were successfully (>98% efficiency) rooted in MS medium containing high sucrose (60 g/L) and 5 μM IAA, and acclimatized to soil cultivation with a survival rate of 90%. These results can be used to establish a simple and commercially viable protocol for mass propagation of C. pilosula for plantations or breeding.
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