Preserving crop biodiversity

5th Nov 2010

John Innes Centre science has fed into a recently published report from the FAO on the State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources, which calls on special efforts to preserve the biodiversity of food crop species to help in efforts to ensure world food security. The John Innes Centre hosts a number of plant collections, supported by the BBSRC and Defra, which are key parts of the UK’s contribution to preserving global plant genetic resources.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has recently published its second State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture report. This report charts the progress since the first report published in 1996 as well as identifying areas and issues where further effort and capacity building is necessary. The John Innes Centre holds a number of public collections of genetic resources and JIC scientists contributed their expertise to compiling and drafting the 2nd UK Country Report, prepared by Defra, which fed into the FAO World Report.

The key message of the report is that “the genetic diversity of the plants that we grow and eat and their ‘wild relatives’ could be lost forever, threatening future food security, unless special efforts are stepped up to not only conserve but also utilize them, especially in developing countries.” The wide-ranging report covers all aspects of the biodiversity in food crop plants.

The John Innes Centre hosts a number of active public germplasm collections, supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). These include the BBSRC Small Grain Cereal Collections of wheat, barley and oats, an international collection of peas and a large collection of wild barley. In addition to modern cultivars the collections include heritage varieties and landrace forms from across the world as well as large holdings of their wild relatives. They also include many natural and induced variants and research lines.

“The Germplasm Resources Unit and the public collections hosted at the John Innes Centre represent key resources and facilities of national importance and form an important component of the UK’s contribution to global plant genetic resources conservation. These active collections underpin many areas of science and breeding, not just in the UK but throughout Europe and internationally,” says Mike Ambrose, manager of the Germplasm Resources Unit at the John Innes Centre.

”We have a unique set up here at the JIC where we are embedded within a working research environment with strong links to UK, European and international breeding sector . We act as a shop window or reference library to the wider diversity within our target crops. Through collaboration with scientists and breeders we are searching for key germplasm to address practical and urgent issues relating to sustaining and increasing yields in times of increasing environmental change and growing food demand. This is an exciting time for us as the developments in biotechnology are helping us to understand and unlock the diversity in our collections, some of which we hope will translate into improving the crops of tomorrow.”

The Pea Gene Bank at the John Innes Centre is the second largest collection of pea germplasm in Europe and also acts as the International Centre for genetic stocks for the species. A recently-launched LINK project involving scientists, breeders and the food industry is looking for ways of improving the quality of peas to increase their use in more sustainable agricultural systems.

The BBSRC Cereal Collections are the largest in the UK and the reference collections for wheat, oat and barley. They are recognised as international working collections and send material out that are used in both research and plant breeding programmes. Over the years these collections have been the successfully screened over the years leading to the identification of new sources of disease resistance to a range of diseases, tolerance to drought and salinity and aluminium.

JIC also holds populations of the model legumes Medicago trunculata and Lotus japonicus, as well as Brassica rapa that are used as a reverse genetics resource by the plant science community.


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