Conserving Diversity

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View from the field: Challenges in international agriculture

 

Food production will be hard pressed to keep up with demand in the next 30 years. The world’s population is expected to swell by some two billion by midcentury, chiefly in developing countries already struggling to feed their people. If unchecked, population growth and urbanization will encroach on productive farm lands and destroy the natural habitats and plant diversity essential for doubling the production of nutritious food on the same land area. The unpredictable impacts of political and social unrest, natural disasters, environmental threats, and a changing climate further obscure the certainty of a food-secure future. Fortunately, crop genetic diversity offers options to face these challenges.

Land traditionally suitable for potato and sweetpotato cultivation is becoming less so due to insect and disease pressures from warming climates, as cultivation is forced to move to elevations where centuries-old varieties and farming practices may no longer be tenable. As soil quality worsens, productivity and yields suffer. The complementary in-situ and ex-situ conservation of genetic diversity is critical for conserving and monitoring changes in the world’s plant genetic resources for food and agriculture—the essential raw materials for helping farmers respond to climate change. Lost genetic diversity, particularly of crop wild relatives, would restrict how plant breeders, researchers, farmers, and conservationists use these resources to help enhance nutrition, income generation, and sustainability of farmers’ livelihoods and in the feeding of growing populations. Hence, increasing the efficiency of genetic resources conservation and use is a requirement for the future.

 

Protecting the genetic diversity of potato and sweetpotato

 

The genebank is the engine that drives CIP’s efforts to conserve for current and future use the world’s genetic diversity of potato and sweetpotato—including cultivated, and wild accession as well as  breeding material. It plays a critical role in facilitating the impact-oriented release of CIP innovations and products, particularly suitable varieties for farmers and consumers. Among its 21,000 accessions is the only secure long-term global collection of Andean root and tuber crops, which may hold unique invaluable genetic, physiological, and biochemical attributes. The collections illustrate the innovative, research- driven development and delivery of plant genetic diversity and related information and tools for global researchers. The genebank supports and enables the expedient use of diverse genetic building blocks to develop varieties that can ensure global productivity    of    healthy,    abundant, and secure food. It will enhance the conservation and availability of valuable diversity through further rationalizing of global national collections.

The    genebank    will    also    serve as a model for global and national genebanks through advanced research,  public  database  designs, and interactive genomic use of the collections. Genomic fingerprinting allows scientists to identify the diversity of these accessions rapidly and conclusively. The capture, generation, discovery, and compilation of trait-associated information will greatly help the scientific community to discover ways to strengthen food security in a changing environment (e.g., resistance to diseases and insects, tolerance to drought, cold, and heat).

Orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) is an excellent example of where the diversity in the genebank has and will continue to be used for biofortification and products with added nutritional content. The genebank holds numerous accessions of OFSP and purple-fleshed sweetpotato containing enhanced contents  of  vitamin  A,  antioxidants, and other important vitamins and energy  sources.  Leaves  from  the purple-fleshed sweetpotato can be used as an antioxidant source. (Read more about OFSP’s contributions to health and nutrition in CIP’s companion strategy on Resilient Nutritious Orange  Fleshed Sweetpotato and Strategy and Corporate Plan (2014-2023 documents).

 

A new level of partnership

 

CIP’s unique contribution for increasing food security and enhancing food productivity is the knowledge and know-how held by the CIP community of breeders, researchers, curators, technicians, and network of partners. The genebank supports strategic collecting to supplement collections and   partners  with  smallholder farmers for in-situ conservation and improving their livelihoods. Through collaborations  with  a  wide  spectrum of next and end users, CIP’s genebank will maintain its world-class reputation for excellence, transparency, expertise, and   germplasm   management.   Over the  next  several  years  the  genebank will work with partners who have generated data on all known traits associated with accessions in order to create  a  publicly  accessible  database in an accession-associated and public format.

The        genebank’s        unparalleled  collection of potato and sweetpotato, coupled with CIP’s core R&D mandate, offers     unlimited      possibilities      for global partnerships at all levels. One approach is the global harmonization of the collections by identifying the major collections and working with them one-by-one through DNA fingerprinting to define a collection’s uniqueness. Another is to work with other genebanks to ensure that phytosanitary clean material is backed- up to prevent loss of diversity already in conservation. We will help to return this material to the original collections so as to ensure that these national collections have clean material to distribute to other Consortium Centers, regional programs, universities, and any number of national agricultural research systems and advanced research institutes. New partnerships also require supporting and strengthening genebanks   in   developing   countries by   building   capacity   in   such   areas as cleaning accessions of diseases, establishing national sustainable support  systems,  training  staff, ensuring collections are secure and backed-up and implementing best genebank practices. A strategic partner will be the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas, whose work will help to document and understand the temporal and spatial dynamics of  diversity conserved in situ, as well as expand the collections’ utility.

 

Tapping the potential

 

DNA fingerprinting of the collections has already begun. By 2018 DNA fingerprints will be available to provide the tools needed to develop trait-by-genetic marker   correlations   in  all  accessions. Use of the collection and associated information to secure food supply and availability   will   be   doubled   through a number of initiatives and discovery research efforts. In keeping with the genebank’s role as a vital research resource, CIP will develop progressive and interactive databases and catalogs to accelerate information exchange. Efficiencies are needed to allow the evolution of databases, cryobanking methodologies, phytosanitary cleaning, microtuber     development,     genomics capacities,  monitoring  of  in-situ  sites, and other activities. The genebank intends to accelerate the phytosanitary cleaning  of  routine  cultures  and increase the cleaning throughput. This will greatly expedite the permitting and shipping of valuable germplasm and expand its use worldwide.

 

The CGIAR  Research Program on Roots, Tubers  and Bananas is an essential platform  for  Conserving Diversity  for the Future: the CIP Genebank.

Tab Food Vulnerability Resilience

Conserving genetic diversity, with CIP’s genebank as a central element, is essential to the success of all other SOs. It supports and enables the expedient use of diverse genetic building blocks and associated information to ensure global productivity of healthy, abundant, and secure food. It facilitates the impact-oriented release of strategically placed CIP innovations and products by the conservation and use of the rich global biodiversity of potato and sweetpotato. The genebank holds more than 21,000 accessions of potato, sweetpotato, and Andean root and tuber crops (ARTCs) and includes cultivated, wild, and breeding lines.[1] Our collection of ARTCs (i.e., oca, ulluco, mashua, achira, yacon, arracacha, ahipa, maca, and mauka) represents the only secure long-term global collection of these crops that could hold unique invaluable genetic, physiological, and biochemical attributes. These collections serve as a model for global and national genebanks through innovative research, advanced public database designs, and interactive genomic use of the collections. Genomic fingerprinting allows scientists to identify the diversity of these accessions rapidly and conclusively. Similarly, complete characterization of every accession provides an assessment of diversity and use through genetic and phenotypic correlations. The capture, generation, discovery, and compilation of trait-associated information will greatly aid in food security in a changing environment through disease and insect resistance as well as drought, cold, and heat tolerance. Use of next-generation sequencing will provide the baseline information needed to facilitate the identification of genes and quantitative trait loci (QTLs), and to develop marker-aided selection options in order to better mine and use the diversity in the collections.

The genebank will enhance the conservation and availability of valuable diversity through further rationalizing of global national collections. It will facilitate the use of germplasm currently not under the International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (PGRFA). This SO supports strategic collecting to supplement the collection and the building of on-farm conservation through partnerships with farmers for in-situ conservation. Through collaborations with a wide spectrum of next and end users, CIP’s genebank will maintain its world-class reputation for excellence, transparency, expertise, and germplasm management to sustain future global food productivity and security.



[1] The numbers reported in the SCP represent the total active collections preserved by the CIP genebank regardless of the category or biological status. 

The CIP genebank serves as a model for the innovative, research-driven development and delivery of plant genetic diversity and associated information and tools for global researchers. DNA fingerprinting of the collections begins in 2014, and will serve as a quality check of the in-vitro collection by also genotyping the original material before maintenance of it is phased out. We will also ensure that herbarium specimens are prepared to document this very important original material. By 2018 DNA fingerprints will be available to provide the tools needed to develop trait-by-genetic marker correlations in all accessions. Use of the collection and associated information to secure food supply and availability will be doubled through a number of initiatives and discovery research efforts. Within four years the genebank will compile all known traits associated with accessions into a publicly assessable database by working with partners who have generated these data but may not have the data in an accession-associated or public format. In keeping with the genebank’s role as a vital research resource, CIP will develop progressive and interactive databases and catalogs to accelerate information exchange. Efficiencies are needed to allow the evolution of databases, cryobanking methodologies, phytosanitary cleaning, microtuber development, genomics capacities, monitoring of in-situ sites, and other activities. To cut costs, in five years we will reduce the number of field and greenhouse plants and tubers by 75%, retaining only samples of the core collections. A priority for the genebank is to shorten to six months or less the phytosanitary cleaning of routine cultures by 2018. We will achieve this by streamlining the testing process, using other methodologies for cleaning and detection, and increasing the cleaning throughput. This will greatly expedite the permitting and shipping of valuable germplasm and expand its use.

Unchecked population growth will continue to be the major challenge in the 21st century. Unsustainable growth is destroying environmental habitats and plant diversity at unprecedented rates[1] that far outstrip available conservation resources.[2] Even the release of new improved commercial varieties, which are adopted in large numbers by farmers due to indisputable benefits and whose development depends on plant diversity, displaces such diversity. Contributing factors include political and social unrest, natural disasters, and climate change. These unpredictable influences in the loss of diversity make the need to double food production in the next 20 years—and on the same land area—that much more difficult.

Obvious targets for plant breeders include the environmental threats of drought, heat, flood, and cold tolerance. Land traditionally used for potato cultivation is now unsuitable for that purpose due to insect and disease pressures from warming climates, as potato cultivation is forced to move to elevations where centuries-old varieties and farming practices may no longer be tenable. Land once productive is either being taken out of farming by human encroachment or languishing in productivity due to worsening soils. In the next 20 years we will need to supply nutritious food that can be grown and harvested in previously unsuitable environments.

Genebanks are critical after disasters. For example, the national genebanks in Rwanda and Afghanistan were looted during wars, and farmers had no locally adapted seed, including that of potatoes and sweetpotatoes.[3] Genebanks in other countries that held material from their countries repatriated accessions to start the rebuilding process. Similarly, CIP’s genebank shipped potato accessions to Haiti following the devastating 2010 earthquake. Working with Parque de la Papa in Peru, the genebank repatriated disease-free potato varieties collected from the region in the past yet no longer grown in the valley.

In a 2010 report,[4] the FAO lists approximately 1,750 individual ex-situ genebanks worldwide holding approximately 7.4 million accessions. The report highlights several core challenges to PGRFA worldwide. As PGRFA are essential raw materials for helping farmers respond to climate change, their loss has reduced options for the agricultural sector. There is a huge need to support and strengthen the genebanks in developing countries by building capacity in such areas as cleaning accessions of diseases, establishing national sustainable support systems, training staff, and implementing best genebank practices.

The genetic diversity of landraces and crop wild relatives (CWRs) is threatened. Worldwide concern is growing over the need for in-situ sites for conserving and monitoring changes in PGRFA. Research needs include knowledge of how these genetic resources can help to enhance nutrition, income generation, and sustainability of farmers’ livelihoods. Complementary to this research will be the documentation and understanding of the temporal and special dynamics of diversity conserved in situ, all of which are well imbedded in the research carried out under the RTB CRP.



[1] Li, D-Z., and H. Pritchard. 2009. The science and economics of ex-situ plant conservation. Trends in Plant Science 14(11): 614–621.

[2] Myers, N. et al. 2000. Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature 404: 853–858.

[3] Starvation Threatens Rwanda. “Seeds of Hope” Program to Restore its Crippled Agriculture. 1995. CGIAR Press Release.  http://hdl.handle.net/10947/1311

[4] Second Report on the State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. 2010. Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome. http://www.fao.org/agriculture/seed/sow2

CIP’s unique contribution is the knowledge and know-how held by the CIP community of breeders, researchers, curators, and technicians. A hallmark of CIP’s work is the interaction with smallholder farmers in potato-growing regions, including initiatives like Ruta Condor (see below) for in-situ conservation and improving the livelihoods of indigenous farmers. Although CIP’s collection is available globally, it physically holds the accessions and grows them out every year. We have hands-on institutional knowledge on their use, related information, and associated knowledge about the collection. CIP’s breeders and researchers have unfettered access to the curators whose knowledge of the collection is unparalleled and are better able to capitalize on its use.

Orange fleshed sweetpotato OFSP is an excellent example of where the diversity in the genebank has and will continue to be used for biofortification and products with added nutritional content. The genebank holds numerous accessions of OFSP and purple-fleshed sweetpotato containing enhanced contents of vitamin A, antioxidants, and other important vitamins and energy sources. Leaves from the purple-fleshed sweetpotato can be used as an antioxidant source. Native potatoes are rich in vitamin C: some estimate that consuming a medium-sized tuber can provide 50% of the recommended adult vitamin C requirement.[1] ARTCs also have huge nutritional potential. Although starch is the major nutritional constituent in most ARTCs, yacon stores fructooligo-saccharides in place of starch, making this crop valuable for diabetics as well as for reducing cholesterol and triglyceride levels, enhancing calcium assimilation, and strengthening the immune system. Maca and mashua are abundant in the anticancer-related isothiocyanates.

In the Ruta Condor program, genebank and CIP scientists are working with indigenous communities along the Andean highlands from Venezuela to Argentina. The goal is to establish in-situ sites for conservation and long-term monitoring of landraces and CWRs and to repatriate disease-free, local landrace material to smallholders. This program in dynamic conservation is set up to directly benefit the indigenous farmers through increased productivity, technology transfer, training, and participatory research. Parque de la Papa, the pilot project launched in conjunction with the Association for Nature and Sustainable Development, helps to support the cultivation of more than 600 varieties by over 1,200 families among the six communities that make up the Parque. More than 400 regional native potato varieties have been returned successfully to the area. In exchange, CIP has received over 300 varieties back to be added to the genebank. By honoring the cultural heritage and social structures of these communities, CIP continues to build win-win partnerships with smallholder indigenous communities and establish long-term in-situ monitoring programs for plant genetic resources.



[1] Roca, W. et al. 2007. Indigenous Andean Root and Tuber Crops New Foods for the New Millennium. Chronica Hort. 47(4): 13–19.

The genebank’s specific objective contains three flagship products—the World Potato Collection, the World Sweetpotato Collection, and CIP’s collection of ARTCs—emerging from the three main collections held by the genebank (Fig. 1). These products will raise the CIP genebank to new standards of global recognition defined by excellence in germplasm accessibility and data management; worldwide coordination of the global resources held in other genebanks for crops represented by these flagship products; and provide measurable impact on the livelihoods of smallholders by innovative, in-situ dynamic, and interactive conservation strategies. These products will further draw on CIP’s expertise in genetic resources management, research, breeding, and sustainable land-use management in partnership with the other CIP SOs to substantially increase the use, knowledge, and benefits of these collections globally.

 

The development of the Potato World Collection and the Sweetpotato World Collection flagship products will encompass linking, coordinating, partnering, and collaborating with all other CIP SOs; CIP-HQ and regional programs; national, regional, and international entities involved with access and benefit sharing of PGRFA; and global genebanks and the gene-banking community.

Linked ProductsGenebank Daisy Wheel and IP FIG 1

  1. Genebank and distribution management. Building stronger, more responsive user-oriented collection management strategies includes (1) conserving and making available a greater range of diversity through collection and acquisition, (2) streamlining phytosanitary cleaning to speed up the process of getting valuable and needed germplasm to the smallholders in developing countries, (3) grouping accessions into sets for facilitated and increased use, and (4) more efficient capture of user information.
  2. Information and database. We will advance public informatics platforms for the dissemination of accession- and collections-specific information by developing or advancing customer-friendly tools. Such tools include (1) facilitating access to accession-based information through online searchable.pdf catalogues with pictures and associated information for all accessions in the genebank on a single page for easy reference; (2) enhancing germplasm selection specific to users’ needs through increased use of dynamic, category-specific germplasm grouping tools such as CIP’s International Nurseries program; and (3) continual updating of the online ordering system to refine click-and-order technologies. Designs will recurrently be enhanced to facilitate in-house and external access to information through data management systems such as GRIN-global[1] and user-friendly, web-based public portals such as Genesys.[2] 
  3. CIP breeding, regional programs, and offices. We will continually strive to incorporate advances and the two-way interchange with regional programs in Africa, China, and Southeast Asia. This should facilitate pre-breeding efforts, conservation and use of materials, and accession-specific information and knowledge. The World Collection networks will be the portal for dissemination of the latest information.
  4. Accession-specific DNA fingerprinting and trait associations. Efforts underway in the Potato and Sweetpotato World Collections will deliver the footing to tie all other collections together by providing technology transfer, know-how, and facilitated interactive access to DNA fingerprints to aid in genebank management (duplicate identification, identify verification, diversity studies) and the association of markers to traits of interest.
  5. National, regional, and international legislation and treaties. We will strive to monitor, unravel, and understand the complicated web of ever-changing regional and international legislation governing PGRFA and other material in the global collections that are critically important to the development of the World Collections.
  6. Rationalizing national collections into a World Collection network. At the heart of the World Collections’ strategy is the global harmonization of the potato and sweetpotato collections. First, we will identify the major collections and work with them one-by-one through DNA fingerprinting to facilitate the identification of a collection’s uniqueness. Second, we will work with other genebanks to ensure that phytosanitary clean material is backed-up to prevent loss of diversity already in conservation. We will help to return this material to the original collection so as to ensure that these national collections have clean material to distribute.
  7. CIP SOs. Providing the needed tools, partnering, and collaborations for the rapid achievement of CIP’s SOs is paramount to their success, as they will catapult the global attention of benefits derived from PGRFA. This will increasingly raise awareness to further the incentives for other genebanks to be part of the World Collections.
  8. Interactive in-situ conservation to benefit poor farmers. Conservation of genetic diversity through in- and ex-situ strategies are complementary, not distinct conservation strategies. Hence a world collection strategy must include well-formed components of both. One aim is to characterize and quantify conservation benefits that add to resilience, including year-round nutrient provision, yield stability, and ongoing evolution as an adaptive mechanism. Research activities will include studies on the interaction between cultivated and wild potato diversity, the role of diversity in smallholder diets, timeline-series monitoring of landrace and cultivar diversity, and studies on the role of institutions provisioning (including repatriation) planting materials.
  9. Crop Wild Relatives. At the crux of all crop genetic diversity lie the CWRs of these crops as they have evolved to endure a multitude of stresses and insults. Thus they contain the genetic constituents and gene combinations to enable survival and tolerance of the major challenges faced by agriculture in the use of the cultivated relatives of these crops. The conservation of CWRs and their availability to breeding programs provide the foundation for future crop improvement.


[1] GRIN-Global, developed jointly by the GCDT, USDA-ARS, and Bioversity International, is a flexible, easy-to-use global plant genetic resource information management system. It will constitute the keystone for an efficient and effective global network of genebanks to permanently safeguard plant genetic resources vital to global food security, and to encourage the use of these resources by researchers, breeders, and farmer-producers. http://www.grin-global.org/index.php/Main_Page

[2] Genesys is a global portal to information about PGRFA and serves as a gateway from which germplasm accessions from genebanks around the world can be easily found and ordered. http://www.genesys-pgr.org/.

Genebank Daisy Wheel and IP FIG 2

Conserving Diversity Last News

Potatoes on Mars:Crop harvested under Red Planet conditions will set course for Martian farming

December 18, 2015 By Joel Ranck

A team of world-class scientists will grow potatoes under Martian conditions in a bid to save millions of lives. The experiment, led by the International Potato Center (CIP) and NASA, is a major step towards building a controlled dome on Mars capable of farming the invaluable crop in order to demonstrate that potatoes can be grown in the most inhospitable environments. The goal is to raise awareness of the incredible resilience of potatoes, and fund further research and farming in devastated areas across the globe where malnutrition and poverty are rife and climbing.

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