Funding genebanks

This piece about a genebank being established in New Zealand to conserve threatened wild native plants (to go along with an existing facility for crops) got me thinking about funding arrangements for genebanks. The funds for the new venture in NZ are coming from MWH New Zealand, a consultancy company which says it provides “smart engineering, environmental, management and technology solutions.” That is admirable (I don’t see Halliburton supporting ex situ conservation any time soon), but how unusual is it exactly? The FAO’s State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources gives one sort of answer in Fig. 3.1 on page 84: 83% of the 6 million accessions conserved around the world are in national genebanks, 11% in the 12 CGIAR genebanks, and only 1.3% in private genebanks. Table 3.3 gives a total of over 1,300 genebanks worldwide. That makes the average size of a non-CGIAR collection about 3,000 accessions, which means there are maybe 20 or so private genebanks considered in the SOTWPGR statistics. But that probably means genebanks in the hands of the private sector, basically seed companies, not privately-funded national genebanks: over 75% of accessions in these private genebanks are advanced cultivars. I can’t find in the SOTWPGR a discussion of where the funds for national collections are coming from. Something like the Millennium Seed Bank in the UK receives a mixture of public and private support, for example, but I doubt the Gene Bank of Kenya, say, gets much private sector funding, though I could be wrong. About 11% of the 1,500 or so botanical gardens around the world are privately owned, and probably about half of these hold germplasm collections, giving maybe 70 or so privately owned botanic garden germplasm collections. Bottom line: examples of a private company – especially a private company which is not a seed company – supporting a national genebank are probably extremely rare around the world, and it will be interesting to see how the support MWH New Zealand is intending to provide will evolve in time. It is also worth noting that the Global Crop Diversity Trust, as a public-private partnership dedicated to the support of ex situ collection, will make drastic changes to this landscape.

Banking British rare breeds

The London Times reports a new effort to preserve British livestock breeds. Sperm and egg banks will be created to preserve roughly 100 of Britain’s 130 or so rare breeds of cattle, sheep, horses, goats, poultry and pigs. A database will record the location of rare breeds so that in the event of a disease outbreak, like the foot and mouth epidemic of 2001 in which four threatened sheep lost more than a third of their numbers each, steps can be taken to preserve rare breeds.

“The move is not only about the historic importance of keeping traditional breeds with their genetic diversity, but also because of the enormous contribution these animals make to the national economy,” says the article.

“Oreo cookie cows” getting dunked?

Dutch Belted cows are also called “Oreo cookie cows” because of their three stripes. Introduced to the United States from Holland in 1840 by P.T. Barnum for use in his circus, they are now endangered, with a global herd of less than 1,000. So the SVF Foundation is collecting sperm, fertilized embryos, blood and tissue. You can read about it here: “Campbell’s Soup heiress Dorrance Hamilton established the foundation in 1998 on a property in Newport that includes the Swiss Village, a restored turn-of-the-century dairy farm, and part of Hammersmith Farm, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ childhood home.”

Genebank agreements signed

Jacques Diouf, Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), today signed agreements with the centres supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), putting the centres’ genebank holdings under the control of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The agreements ensure that some of the world’s largest collections of plant genetic resources, which are especially rich in farmers’ varieties and wild relatives, are available to all, and at the same time guarantee that commercial users will share the benefits with the global community. Signatories hope that this will ease access and improve plant breeding.

The International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI), which represented the CGIAR in the Treaty negotiations, posted a summary of the outcome of the first meeting of the Governing Body of the Treaty, which links to a series of background features about the Treaty.