Crop wild relatives underused

Are crop wild relatives (CWR) more trouble than they’re worth? There are certainly significant challenges involved in including them in breeding programmes, but you’d have thought that between the new molecular tools that are now out there, the greater numbers of CWR accessions in genebanks, and all the information about how useful CWRs can be, breeders would be falling over themselves to make those kinky inter-specific crosses. Well, according to a major review by our friends at Bioversity International (the outfit formerly known as the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute), the use of CWRs in breeding programmes has been steadily increasing in the past 20 years, but probably not as much as might have been expected. There’s been a number of papers recently on CWRs. This paper, also from Bioversity, looks at in situ conservation of CWR. Check out this for a discussion on the definition of the term, and, from some of the same people, there’s this overview of conservation and use of CWR, using a specific example. Here’s an example of conservation assessment and priority-setting for the wild relatives of the peanut. For a discussion of the possible effects of climate change on these species, see this.

Using biodiversity collections

Researchers have estimated rates of reproduction and survival for the marbled murrelet by “comparing the ratios of birds in different age groups using 170 specimens collected between 1892 and 1922 housed in the collections of the California Academy of Sciences and the UC Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology … with values predicted from comparison with other bird species, and with contemporary rates obtained from murrelets they captured at sea and from their mark-recapture studies.” The results suggested that birth rates were almost 10 times higher for this endangered seabird 100 years ago than they are today. Read all about it here. That’s a very creative use of a biodiversity collection to explain the recent decline in numbers of this species, and its conservation status. Has something similar been done with herbarium and/or plant genebank collections? I can’t think of any examples, but they must be out there…

Core blimey!

I spent the last few days in Portesham, Dorset (thanks, Lorna and Geoff!), which made it all the more weird to come across this article reprinted in a newspaper in Dubai, where I had to transit for a few hours on the way out there. But it does show that you can still discover (or re-discover) new things even in such a well-researched crop as apples in the UK. Of course, for every upbeat story, there’s a depressing one.

Brazil and US work on exchange of genetic resources

Brazilian and US scientists are working together on basic research into germplasm storage, according to an article from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The research is part of a scientific collaboration between Brazil’s EMBRAPA and the US Agricultural Research Service which has been in place since 1998. Genebank management is a relatively recent topic for the collaboration, which is extending to animal genetic resources. A Brazilian programmer is working with ARS to develop the animal genetic resources component of GRIN.

The two groups of scientists are also working on the physical exchange of material between their two countries. Let’s hope they’ve got their access and benefit sharing details all worked out.

Japan’s genebank

Looks like the genebank of the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences in Japan has revamped its English web site. There’s a request form, too. So, use it! More people ought to avail themselves of the treasures in genebanks, and it isn’t hard to do. It makes use of the genebank, which adds to its perceived value, and it could bring you joy and delight in your fields or gardens.