Seeds in the Antarctic

I have some more information on the seeds-in-the-Argentine-Antarctic story. A book was distributed yesterday at SIRGEALC entitled Avances de Investigación en Recursos Genéticos en el Cono Sur 2. It was put together by the regional plant genetic resources network for the Southern Cone (REGENSUR) and came out earlier this year.1 In it there’s a paper by BS Rosso and ME Ferrer, of one of Argentina’s agricultural research stations, describing a singular experiment.

It seems that, in 1983, batches of seed of maize and soyabean were dried, sealed into aluminium foil bags, placed in aluminium containers and left in ambient conditions at three research and military installations, two of then in the Argentine Antarctic2 and one in southern mainland Argentina. Twenty years later, the seeds were tested for germinability. The samples left at the sites in the Antarctic, which enjoyed average temperatures of -18°C and -2°C, hardly degenerated at all in percentage germination. The seed batches left at 9.5°C did, substantially.

So I don’t think that germplasm is actually been safety duplicated under ambient conditions in the Argentine Antarctic. But it could be…

LATER: Well, maybe not. Marcelo Ferrer is here at SIRGEALC and I had a nice chat with him in front of his poster, which happened to be about maize characterization — he’s a maize breeder. I asked him whether, after his experiment, there were any plans to duplicate the Argentinian seed collections in the Antarctic. He said it would not be very practical. The only way to get to the bases is by sea, and then only for a short period each year. Some years, it’s not possible to get there at all because of the ice. Climate change may make access a bit easier, I guess, but you’d probably want your duplicate collection to be a little closer to hand.

  1. It should in due course appear on the publications page of the PROCISUR website, like its companion volume from 1999. PROCISUR is the regional agricultural research and development coordination mechanism for the Southern Cone. []
  2. The map will show you the location of Base Jubany, one of the sites. []

Latin America cooperates on (some) information

I just got the book (plus CD) containing the abstracts of the papers to be delivered here in Mexico at the 6th SIRGEALC, and there’s lots of great stuff. Unfortunately the abstracts are not online, although the programme is. That’s a pity. I’ll try to find out whether there are any plans to put them up later on. There was a lot of talk today within and among the various regional plant genetic resources networks in the Americas, which are having their annual meetings just prior to SIRGEALC at the same venue, about information systems. We still do not have a system for sharing online data on plant genetic resources accessions in genebanks. We’re trying to do something about that, but, as I concidentally found out today  from a SciDevNet story, the herbarium people are way ahead of us.

A genebank opens

Tunisia just got a new genebank. Which is fine. But it will come as a surprise to many to see it described as “the first African as well Arab Gene’s Bank.” It is certainly not the first genebank in Africa, nor the first in the Arab world. It isn’t even the first one in Arab Africa. I don’t think it’s the first one in Tunisia, in fact. FAO has information on about 1,400 genebanks around the world. It would be very difficult, I think, for a new genebank to be the first one anywhere. Ok, maybe Antartctica. Although actually I heard today in the SIRGEALC corridors that Argentina keeps a safety duplicate of its material on its territory there. I really need to verify that. The Arctic, of course, is taken. Or it will be on 24 February 2008 when the Svalbard Global Seed Vault opens. Fourteen hundred genebanks. My question is: with the International Treaty on PGRFA and its Multilateral System of facilitated access and benefit sharing now in force, at least for some crops, how many genebanks do we really, truly need?