CIP helps partners improve access and tracking of plant genetic resources
More than 30 representatives of Peruvian government institutions and nongovernmental organizations recently gathered at the International Potato Center (CIP) in Lima, Peru to learn about a new global system created by the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) to make information about crop biodiversity more accessible and help governments keep track of their nation’s plant genetic resources. The February 8 workshop, which was organized by Peru’s National Institute for Agricultural Innovation (INIA) and CIP, was the latest of a series of training sessions to help representatives of organizations with genebanks comply with the ITPGRFA and begin using the Global Information System (GLIS) created by it.
While people have been moving crops across borders and oceans for thousands of years, there is growing concern about how to conserve the plant genetic diversity that underpins agriculture and ensure that the economic benefits of agricultural innovations are shared with people in a crop’s centers of origin. The International Treaty was written to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of crop genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits that arise from them in the approximately 140 member countries.
Selim Guvener, CIP General Counsel, observed that the treaty is vital for CIP and other organizations involved in conserving plant genetic diversity and developing improved crop varieties because it facilitates the transfer of germplasm between member countries for use in breeding or research. “The treaty is the only international agreement that guarantees plant scientists’ access to germplasm, and the GLIS is one of the vital enabling elements of the treaty,” he said.
Guvener explained that while the treaty entered into force in 2004, the global information system established under article 17 wasn’t completed until 2017. As it is more widely adopted, GLIS will enhance access to information about and the tracking of plant material in international efforts to breed the crop varieties that farmers in developing countries need.
According to the FAO’s Second State of the World report on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agricultural, there are 1,700 genebanks in the world that hold approximately 7.4 million accessions, about 25% to 30% of which are unique. Each genebank has a system for keeping track of the diversity it conserves, and some of them are linked to regional systems, but scientists from other institutions often have a hard time getting the information they need to decide which accessions to request for breeding or research. It is also nearly impossible for genebanks to keep track of what happens to germplasm after they send it to a breeding program or researcher. To remedy this situation, the ITPGRFA secretariat created the global information system (GLIS), which mints a unique digital object identifier (DOI) for each accession. In October of 2017, the CIP genebank became the first genebank in the world to receive DOIs for germplasm it conserves.
David Ellis, who heads the CIP Genebank, explained why the system is important: “With the changing climate and growing population, we will need new varieties that have resistance or tolerance to things that we don’t even think about today. So we may have an accession that isn’t being used much today, but it might have an attribute that will be needed 10 years from now that we don’t even know it has. The importance of keeping huge collections of genetic diversity is that they serve as an insurance policy for the future, for our great, great, great grandchildren. The global information system is what will allow people to find out about the unique attributes that those accessions have.”
Ellis noted that the CIP genebank, which conserves the world’s largest in vitro collection of potato, sweetpotato and Andean roots and tubers in trust for humanity, became involved in the GLIS during its development. Approximately 90 percent of the accessions in the CIP genebank now have DOIs, and Ellis expects the entire collection to have them by the end of 2018.
Ellis noted that more than half a million DOIs had been minted by early 2018, though most of them are for accessions in the genebanks of CGIAR research centers. CIP and other CGIAR centers are now encouraging and helping other organizations involved in conserving and using crop genetic diversity to participate in the GLIS.
“The system now exists, and we want to facilitate the capacity building for everyone to participate, if they want to and they don’t know how,” Ellis said.
The recent workshop in Lima was the latest of a series of such capacity building events. Since the GLIS was launched in 2017, CIP representatives have participated in several workshops on the system and the treaty in Africa and South East Asia. CIP is planning one for representatives of genebanks in Latin America and the Caribbean to be held in Lima later this year.
Roger Becerra, the ITPGRFA focal point at INIA, said that the recent workshop prepared staff at the Institute’s various centers to begin incorporating their collections into the GLIS. He added that he hopes INIA’s participation will inspire other Peruvian institutions that work with crop diversity to use the system. “The global information system is very important. It can help us to organize our information on a nation level and it will facilitate traceability,” he said.