For this reason, the diversity of these crops can’t be kept in a genebank like the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, but rather in field genebanks or in vitro collections. That is, as living plants either growing in a field or glasshouse or inside test tubes. These are good conservation strategies, but they come with downsides and risks. Field collections are subject to climatic disturbances and natural disasters like flooding and drought. Plants kept in vitro need to be moved to new test tubes when they get too big, which is costly, time consuming, and can put a strain on the finances of less well-funded genebanks.
Luckily, another option exists: cryopreservation. It is a safe, long-term solution to conserving the diversity of these crops. By cooling plant material to incredibly cold temperatures (-196 C), cryo technicians can suspend the biological processes of the plant, thereby preserving it for future thawing and recovery — potentially far future. Cryopreservation does, however, require special infrastructure and expertise, things sadly lacking in some parts of the world
As David Ellis, former head of the genebank at the International Potato Center (CIP), and a recipient of the Crop Trust Legacy Award, explained in the most recent GROW webinar, a global cryo network is urgently needed as over 100,000 accessions of some humanity’s most important crops are at risk in in vitro and field collections worldwide. After the webinar, we connected with him to delve deeper into the Global Plant Cryopreservation Initiative.
An Initiative to Save Cryopreserved Crop Collections, Forever