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A review of dimethyl sulfoxide’s effect on green plant regeneration

A review of dimethyl sulfoxide’s effect on green plant regeneration

By Beth Rush

Finding ways to protect plants for the future of agriculture is critical. Scientists have experimented with numerous chemicals and compounds to support plant growth and health. Recent research has demonstrated dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) as a possible chemical agent in plant tissue culture. But what does DMSO do to plants?

Studies have shown this compound could be vital in green plant regeneration. While future research will be necessary to determine its efficacy, DMSO could open a new frontier in botany. Here’s what you need to know about DMSO, its effect on plants, and considerations for future applications and research. 

What is DMSO?


DMSO is a solvent that can dissolve organic and inorganic substances. You may have seen it before with the chemical formula (CH3)2SO. You get DMSO as a by-product of paper production, as you find it in various types of wood. The compound is colorless and has numerous uses in the industrial and medical sectors.

Its history dates back to the 19th century when manufacturers discovered it while producing paper from wood pulp. Alexander Zaytsev — a Russian chemist — oxidized dimethyl sulfide to create DMSO. Zaytsev’s innovations led to the development of DMSO products you know today.

Then, the latter half of the 21st century brought this compound’s rise in medicine. Oregon Health and Science University researchers found DMSO has pharmacological uses, such as helping membrane transport, connective tissue, muscle relaxation, and other processes. 

Medical innovations with DMSO have led to its treatment of painful bladder syndrome, shingles, osteoarthritis, headaches, and other conditions. You can also use it to treat injuries to your skin, such as burns and wounds.

Some people use DMSO to treat cancer, but its efficacy is unclear. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center says the compound may slow cancer progression, but the lack of clinical studies leaves researchers uncertain. A 2023 Cancer Diagnosis and Prognosis study said DMSO can be an effective therapeutic agent to complement established cancer treatments. 

What does DMSO do to plants?


DMSO also has applications in botany as an effective tool for plant care. An older Crop Protection study found the compound useful in protecting plants such as bean foliage against the harmful effects of ozone. 

Agricultural professionals use DMSO’s solvent abilities to apply chemicals when plants show nutrient deficiencies. This research helps scientists understand what DMSO does to plants.

Reducing Waste of Pomegranate Peels

In recent years, DMSO has proven to help food waste by converting it into a value-added product. For instance, a 2021 Chemosphere study used DMSO as an ultrasound-assisted surfactant when extracting polyphenols from pomegranate. The researchers found DMSO helps cells rupture and release intracellular constituents when optimal conditions are present.

Combating E. Coli

Another critical role of DMSO is aiding biofilm in blocking antibiotic and immune cells. When impeding, biofilm can create a conducive environment for bacterial growth. Recent research in Nepal looks at BMS’ effect on biofilm and medicinal plants in the country.

A 2021 BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies study used DMSO for the working solution and incorporated resazurin, ciprofloxacin, and other solutions for the experiment. The study finds DMSO and the additions are effective inhibitors against biofilm when producing Escherichia coli. 

Fighting Fungal Growth

Botrytis cinerea (B. cinerea) concerns agricultural professionals because it creates soft rotting in aerial plants. This fungus affects strawberries, wine grapes, and other popular fruits for consumers. Recent research demonstrated progress in helping plants tolerate B. cinerea, but growers still have a long road toward combating the fungus.

A 2020 study from the Italian Botany Society examined DMSO’s antifungal properties and effectiveness in preventing B. cinerea damage. The researchers used a 0.5% DMSO as a growth inhibition, with the most significant effect occurring at pH 6. When using more than 2% DMSO, the study found this solution causes total growth inhibition. 

The researchers used DMSO solutions on tomato plants and lettuce leaves, and found they didn’t affect chlorophyll fluorescence. However, the results show lettuce and tomato tolerate the DMSO well, and the solution effectively combats the B. cinerea. 

How does DMSO affect green plant regeneration?


Another application for DMSO in botany is green plant regeneration. Some have theorized about using DMSO in this process because of its role in cell permeability. The compound increases a cell’s ability to absorb nutrients, thus making it effective in medical and botanical applications. DMSO is a hygroscopic material that absorbs moisture well due to its affinity for water. 

Recent studies have demonstrated DMSO’s ability to regenerate green plants through propagation and other processes. Here are some examples from innovative research.

Plant Propagation

Plant propagation entails increasing the number of plants within a specific species by sexual or asexual means. Research indicates DMSO could be a significant boost in this agricultural niche.

Plants require embryoids for reproduction. You may see a plant’s embryo inside a seed or on the stems in a plant’s bud. Recent research shows DMSO is an effective chemical agent in embryonic production.

A 2023 Biology and Life Sciences Forum study examined how DMSO affects microspore embryogenesis and green plant regeneration in wheat. The researchers used 1% DMSO when creating surface disinfection for three winter kinds of wheat. 

Ultimately, the study concluded the 1% DMSO solution increased the number of embryoids in the studied wheat, increasing from 0 to 46 per 100 anthers. However, the DMSO solution did not support the creation of green plants. Researchers said the 1% DMSO decreases embryoids across genotypes but could prove beneficial as an inhibitor and facilitator of embryonic production. 

The study pointed out some limitations of the DMSO solution. For example, albinism can inhibit the strategy because it harms chlorophyll production.

“While challenges such as albinism persist, the findings open avenues for further research and advancements in the field,” the authors said. “To our knowledge, this is the first report to show that 1% DMSO could be used as a successful enhancer for the process of wheat androgenesis when added to the solution of surface disinfection.”


Cryopreservation is another critical process scientists use because it preserves living tissues. Over time, this strategy has evolved to be an effective solution to help propagated crops survive. It will also be vital for the future as changing agricultural practices necessitate robust plant preservation mechanisms.

A 2021 Plants review said the future of cryopreservation may extend beyond green plants, with researchers establishing cryobanks for potatoes, bananas, and other essential foods. Successful innovations could help efforts for conservation and learning more about plant species.

New research sees DMSO as an effective strategy for shoot-tip cryopreservation. A 2023 Plants study used DMSO in Mentha x piperita shoot tips, with the solution permeating the tissue in under 10 minutes.

This study is another example demonstrating DMSO’s effectiveness in cell permeability. The researchers also said the signal intensities mean the DMSO solution can affect the individual components of a cell. Therefore, it will accumulate in different regions.

Cellulose Nanofiber Regeneration

Cellulose pulps are integral to paper production because they give manufacturers flexibility. For instance, they dictate paper’s strength and absorbency. You get this material by separating wood from its fibers, but can it regenerate?

A 2021 Biomacromolecules study examined how to regenerate cellulose nanofibers with a rapid dissolution process. The researchers used a DMSO solution to dissolve pulps with degrees of polymerization of 1800 and 3600. The results showed cellulose regeneration when adding water. Then, mechanical disintegration converted the regenerated cellulose into nanofibers.

The study concluded the DMSO solution led to cellulose regeneration. Therefore, this process is suitable for producing regenerated cellulose nanofibers by leveraging mechanical disintegration. The results showed the regenerated nanofibers are close to the traditional ones, and their mechanical properties are similar.

“It was shown that mild, room temperature dissolution and regeneration of cellulose fibers is an efficient pretreatment method to produce a novel type of cellulosic nanomaterial with good properties,” the authors said.

Can DMSO be harmful to plants?


While it can positively affect embryonic production and plant regeneration, DMSO has adverse effects scientists cannot ignore regarding agriculture. What does DMSO do negatively to plants? Here are a few reasons researchers may find alternative means.

Chlorophyll Liability

DMSO is a standard solvent for chlorophyll because it has low flammability, toxicity and volatility. Additionally, the solution is biodegradable and easy to transport, so it’s common when researching plants.

However, DMSO presents storage issues because of its freezing point. A 2021 Journal of Applied Phycology study said DMSO extracts of chlorophyll freeze at 18.4°C. Thus, the chlorophylls in DMSO are more likely to break down after a few days, leading to critical questions about storage.


Further research examined DMSO’s effect on chlorophyll’s stability. A follow-up on the previous study compared the DMSO solvent to a 90% acetone solution —- what DMSO often replaces.

The researchers found DMSO was as stable as the acetone solution when you store it at -20°C for up to 10 days. However, the results change when you use plastic tubes. This switch means volatility increases because of the chlorophyll content in the plastic. The researchers found that chlorophyll loss occurs in the diatom Chaetoceros after 10 days.

Dose-Dependent Effects of DMSO


How much DMSO you use affects the results of your botanical research. Studies have found what DMSO does to plants varies in their solution sizes, and you can see the results from their trials. Most researchers use small doses of DMSO for safety and best results. For instance, green plant propagation finds success with 1% DMSO solutions.

Smaller doses are more commonplace because of their safety. Higher concentrations bring risks for researchers, but they can be helpful depending on the experiment. For example, the Mentha x piperita experiment uses a 15% DMSO solution to penetrate the shoot tips and aid cryopreservation.

The Future of DMSO in Green Plant Regeneration


As time passes, DMSO becomes a more vital tool for researchers across numerous scientific niches. Experts have already seen its uses for humans in dermatology, tissue repair, and muscle relaxation. However, recent research has proposed its abilities in green plant regeneration.

What does DMSO do to plants? Promising studies have shown its role in embryonic production, cryopreservation, and cellulose nanofiber regeneration. Future research in DMSO solutions should involve more genotypes and determine the effects of various dosages.

About the Author: Beth Rush is the green wellness editor at Body+Mind. She has more than five years of experience writing and editing articles covering topics like sustainable transit and the importance of green spaces in urban planning. You can find Beth on Twitter @bodymindmag.

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