Supporting the Application of the FAO Genebank Standards

Reproducing here a post from our work blog, which I co-authored with a couple of friends from FAO.

How do genebank managers know they’re doing all they can to maintain the quality and availability of their collections?

Perhaps the most important tool at their disposal is the publication Genebank Standards for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, produced by FAO in 2014 under the guidance of the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (the Commission). Generally referred to as “the Genebank Standards,” it is widely recognized as setting the benchmark for current scientific and technical best practices, helping to implement key treaties and conventions, such as the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. But are they actually being followed?

To find out, FAO carried out a global survey of national, regional and international genebanks between August 2017 and January 2018. Roughly 100 responses were received from over 50 countries and from five international organizations; the respondents included genebank managers, curators of collections, documentation officers, as well as other technical genebank staff. The major result that emerged from the survey was that, although the Genebank Standards is generally considered a valuable reference document, more practical technical and operational guidelines are needed to apply its recommendations effectively. Survey results also suggested that some thematic areas of the document required updating (e.g. the use of molecular markers in genebank management).

In response to this feedback, FAO, in consultation with the Global Crop Diversity Trust and technical experts, initiated the development of a practical guide to the application of the Genebank Standards. Key action steps in the workflow of routine genebank operations were identified based on the processes outlined in the document. These action steps aim to simplify its implementation as a quality management tool for ex situ conservation of orthodox seeds, field genebanks, and in vitro collections. In particular, the practical guidelines provide genebanks with a step-by-step process for the implementation of quality standards within a flexible quality management framework that allows customized improvement.

To validate the results, FAO and the Crop Trust organized an expert consultation in Bonn, Germany on 10-12 April 2018. The participants included 16 genebank managers from national and regional genebanks from around the world. These technical experts agreed that presenting the information contained in the Genebank Standards in a more concise and more user-friendly format, detailing the different action steps of the genebank workflow in a sequential manner, would help practitioners and facilitate more widespread adoption of quality standards.

FAO presented the draft action steps to the Intergovernmental Technical Working Group for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (Working Group) at its Ninth Session in July 2018. The Working Group invited Commission Members and observers to submit written comments to the Secretariat and requested FAO to revise the document in light of the comments received. The revised draft action steps will be presented to the Commission at its next Regular Session in February 2019.

Based on the Commission’s feedback, it is expected that FAO will finalize comprehensive practical guides for genebanks. These will describe up-to-date action steps and provide tools to facilitate conservation of orthodox seeds, field genebanks, and in vitro collections, respectively. It is also foreseen that similar practical guides for the conservation of recalcitrant seeds, for cryopreservation, and for the storage of DNA samples, will be developed as these become more mainstream, and applicable protocols become increasingly available.

The views expressed in this information product are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Saving Species with Small Botanic Gardens

Happy to help our friends at Botanic Gardens Conservation International with their fundraising for small gardens.

Botanic gardens globally conserve more than 40% of threatened plant species in their living collections and seed banks. Many small botanic gardens, however, have limited resources to carry out plant conservation actions, particularly in the most biodiverse regions of the world. For example, Puerto Rico has 19 critically endangered tree species, each with fewer than 50 individuals remaining in the wild. Only four of these species are safely conserved in botanic gardens.

Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) is a membership organisation representing a network of 500 botanic gardens in more than 100 countries, including the largest and most influential gardens in the sector. BGCI is the largest plant conservation network in the world, and aims to collect, conserve, characterise and cultivate samples from all of the world’s plants as an insurance policy against their extinction in the wild and as a source of plant material for human innovation, adaptation and resilience.

BGCI’s mission is to mobilise botanic gardens and engage partners in securing plant diversity for the well-being of people and the planet.

BGCI’s Global Botanic Garden Fund helps support small botanic gardens carrying out vital plant conservation action. Each grant will be awarded to enable the garden to better contribute to the conservation of the world’s plant diversity. Already many botanic gardens have benefited from these small conservation grants from BGCI, from seed collecting expeditions targeting threatened plant species in India to providing essential plant collecting equipment to gardens across the Caribbean.

Get Involved
Help BGCI reach more botanic gardens and save more plants. The Big Give Christmas Challenge runs for a week from #GivingTuesday on the 27th November until Tuesday 4th December and all week donations will be doubled until we reach our target of £20,000!

How to Donate
From midday #GivingTuesday 27th November to midday 4th December go to this website to get your donation doubled.

Genebanks in the cloud

Here’s a half hour podcast on genebanks, which says some slightly strange things but is reasonably accurate overall.

It wasn’t entirely clear to me, but it sounded at the end as if they will be discussing policy issues on the next episode.