CIP uses a range of methods to protect the collections in its care.
Potato varieties kept as tubers are propagated annually in CIP’s field genebank at Huancayo, located 3,200 meters above sea level in the Peruvian Andes, for characterization and evaluation purposes. The sweetpotato collection is kept as living plants in greenhouses.
In vitro conservation
Potato plantlets are kept for up to two years in test tubes in a sterilized, semi-solid culture medium that provides all the nutrients the plants need. A temperature of 6-8°C, low light, and an osmotic regulator slow their growth. When re-planted under normal light and temperature conditions, the plantlets grow normally. Sweetpotato plantlets are maintained similarly. CIP’s in vitro genebank is the world’s largest.
True seed conservation
Kept at around –20°C, the tiny seed from the berry-like fruit of potato are by far the cheapest and easiest kind of material to store, as its lifespan is about 40 years. However, unlike asexually (clonally) propagated tubers, the genetic make-up of cross-pollinated seed is unpredictable. Sweetpotato seed is kept with equal success.
Shoot tips are deep-frozen in a tissue-protecting solution at –196°C in vials of liquid nitrogen. At this temperature, all cellular functions theoretically cease, making it possible to keep plant material indefinitely and later revive it. The technology is now well advanced for potato but is still being developed for sweetpotato.
DNA of more than 2,400 varieties of the germplasm collection has been extracted and kept in deep-freeze at –70°C. The goal is to conserve all samples in this manner in the future.
CIP’s herbarium houses around 25,000 specialized specimens of potato, sweetpotato, and the Andean roots and tubers, a result of the life-long labors of the famous Peruvian scientist Professor Carlos Ochoa.
In situ / ex situ conservation
CIP collaborates with Andean farming communities to establish community genebanks by repatriating disease-free potato seed to grow on communal land. This approach means that the natural processes of evolution and selection in response to changing conditions continue to operate on the plants in their environments. At harvest time, the farmers help themselves to tubers that they will use to grow their next crop and to distribute to neighboring communities. An example is CIP’s work at the Potato Park in Pisaq, Cusco, Peru, with six communities and Asociación Andes, a local NGO.
Black box conservation
For added security, CIP maintains a duplicate set of its in vitro collections at another site outside Peru, and in the seed collection at the Svalbard Seed Vault in Norway.