Genebanks conserve living plant samples of the world’s important crops and their wild relatives. They ensure that the genetic resources that underpin our food supply are both secure in the long term for future generations and available in the short term for use by farmers, plant breeders, and researchers. These collections are important to ensure that crop plants which may contain genes to resist disease, provide enhanced nutrition, or survive in changing or harsh environments do not become endangered or extinct over time. The genebank at the International Potato Center (CIP) in Lima, Peru maintains clonal and seed collections of potato, sweetpotato, and Andean roots and tubers (ARTC’s). The genebank is maintained as a global public good under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). CIP’s germplasm is available for requestors for research, education, and breeding purposes. This germplasm has been used in breeding programs in over 100 countries. CIP is the custodian of the world’s largest in vitro genebank and is the first to obtain International Standards Organization (ISO) accreditation, which regulates the processes for safe and secure germplasm movement. Further, it houses one of the world’s leading herbarium collections and cryopreservation program.
The ability of the International Potato Center (CIP) to develop and deploy science-based solutions for the main challenges faced by farmers and others involved in food systems in developing countries is the result of the collective knowledge, creativity and dedication of its researchers. In recognition of the achievements of three of those researchers – Dr. David Ellis, Dr. André Devaux and Alberto Salas
David Ellis was once asked how to prepare for a career as a genebank scientist. “There’s no fricking way,” he responded. “You not only have to be well grounded in science but you also need to know how to manage budgets and people and how to essentially run a business.”
When Fanny Vargas looks at an herbarium specimen, she sees more than a plant captured in time, she sees its entire story clinging to it like fine pollen. She can imagine the gasp inducing altitudes where they were collected, the rocky crevices the stubborn plants grew in, the arduous often death-defying trips collectors would take to preserve for prosperity the knowledge embedded in the plant’s morphology and DNA.
Global agriculture faces unprecedented challenges. There is no single solution to tackling them, but the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals recognise that it is critical to conserve the diversity of the plants and animals we farm.
Seven scientists will receive inaugural Legacy Award for dedicating their careers to crop conservation.