CIP’s Genetic Resource Inventory: When Collections of the past Open the Door to Future Discoveries

How did it start? It was common knowledge that many units at CIP, such as Integrated Crop and Research Systems, Genetics and Crop Improvement and the Global Genetic Resources Program, were maintaining collections of genetic resources. Inspired by the recently published CGIAR Consortium Intellectual Asset Principles, Janny set out to identify the collections and consolidate the databases in a unified format, compliant to ISO and FAO terminology standards. Colleagues in their respective units responded unanimously to the challenge. “They were all very supportive of the idea, and very proud to show me the collections they had maintained over the years despite dwindling financial resources and staff,” Janny explains. “From the very beginning I knew I could count on their collaboration – we all wanted to see this final list of assets.” How were all these accessions collected and preserved? “We have a collection of sweetpotato viruses that were transferred from one institution to another before being eventually donated to CIP,” virology specialist Segundo Fuentes recalls, “and sometimes, we don’t even know their origin. Yet, they are an asset for our research.”

Entomologist Verónica Cañedo with samples of the insect collection
Entomologist Verónica Cañedo with samples of the insect collection

For CIP entomologist Verónica Cañedo, the insect collection is a treasure to cherish. The inventory work came at a time when her unit was working towards an open database for the insect collections managed at CIP over the years. Here, we are not only talking of potato and sweetpotato insects, but of all insects that can be found in their environment. “The collection started with the first entomologist at CIP, but proper labelling was done only when time would allow. I was hired on a part-time basis in 1988 to organize the collections. In 2012-2013, we started the complete digitization of the collections, for a total of around 8,500 records,” Verónica explains. “Their conservation requires much care and the conditions have to be adequate. But it’s worth the effort if we want to have the reference collection of potato insects in the world!” Currently there are items that may originate from countries as different as Peru, Nepal or Kenya.

The identification of the complete CIP collections was followed by the gathering of the data in a consistent format for a total of 39,288 entries after a full year of work. “It took me three months just to clean up the assembled list,” Janny van Beem says. “How many different spellings of ‘Phytophthora infestans’ do you think one can find?” she asks with a laugh.

The results are there. In the inventory that was released in March, you can find not only thousands of germplasm accessions for potatoes, sweetpotatoes, and other Andean root and tuber crops (a total of 27,587), but also viruses, insects, arachnids, bacteria, nematodes, and fungi.

“With this compiled data the possibilities are endless,” Janny explains. “Not only do we now have a unified inventory of our entire collection of genetic resources, but we can also share the information and open the door to partnerships, business development, and new scientific research and discoveries,” she says. It also offers the opportunity to highlight and fund lesser known collections that are valuable in screening for diseases, pest management and biological control.