Sustaining genetic resources

CIP’s genebank is its single greatest physical asset. As climate change and urbanization place additional pressure on the land, CIP is redoubling its commitment to the safety and utilization of the crop collections in its care. CIP is the custodian of the world’s largest in vitro genebank and the world’s first genebank to obtain International Standards Organization (ISO) 17025 accreditation for safe and secure germplasm movement and disease detection.

The genebank maintains clonal and seed collections (field, seed, and in vitro) and houses one of the world’s leading herbarium collections. It maintains large number of accessions under cryo-preservation and supports a DNA bank. In addition, CIP is carrying out a 10-year program of in situ conservation, working in partnership with farmers and local organizations located in the high Andean centers of origins of native potato varieties. Each of these facilities supports both research and training activities. CIP also maintains extensive holdings of eight lesser-known Andean root and tuber crops that until recently were considered to be endangered.

Challenges: Collection and conservation are becoming all the more urgent in the face of rapid erosion of the wild relatives and landrace diversity of CIP mandate crops. Contributing factors include habitat loss, changes in social customs, and global climate change. Clonally-propagated crops and their wild relatives cannot be maintained as botanical seed without putting at risk the integrity and viability of their progeny. As a result, CIP has turned to expensive and laborious practices such as field and in vitro conservation. Maintaining the health of thousands of accessions and making use of practices such as long-term cryopreservation present major challenges. The biology of root and tuber crops also complicates characterization and evaluation efforts as efforts to exchange and establish them at other locations another complex issue.

In addition, conservation programs that operate in the public domain and in the public interest, as is the case at CIP, have a special responsibility to adhere to international conventions and treaties, regional pacts, and the national laws that govern intellectual property. Such programs have an obligation to embrace the concept of national sovereignty and equitable sharing of benefits. Thus, there is a need for innovative mechanisms and policies that take into account these diverse challenges and help practitioners to operationalize them within the framework of a fully functional conservation strategy.

Priorities: Key areas of focus of CIP’s global program on sustaining genetic resources include: support for in-situ community conservation programs and initiatives that encourage the re-introduction of traditional varieties in areas now dominated by commercial cultivars, alongwith the ex-situ collection and preservation in the genebank. Steps are being taken to fully characterize and evaluate all Center genebank holdings thereby expanding the utility of CIP-held collections and promoting greater diversity in farmers’ fields.

Program priorities include:

  • Genetic quality of collections

  • Germplasm evaluation for main biotic, abiotic and nutritional and health traits of interest for breeding programs

  • Management of CIP genebank collections

  • In-situ conservation

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