A very special issue of Plants in the making

Our friends Andreas Ebert and Jan Engels are editing a Special Issue of the journal Plants on “Plant Biodiversity and Genetic Resources.”

Dear Colleagues,

The foundation of the world food supply is based on thousands of years of crop selection, and improvement carried out on wild and semi-domesticated species, crop wild relatives and landraces, giving rise to present-day cultivated crop varieties. The ‘wild’ genes of crop wild relatives and landraces strongly influence agronomic characteristics such as phenology, growing seasons, sensitivity to inputs (i.e., fertilizer and water), resistance to diseases and insect pests and tolerance to heat, drought, and salinity. The availability of such genetic diversity is critical for plant breeding, especially with climate change. Moreover, the genetic diversity within and between species gives rise to a multitude of characteristics that enable plants, animals, and microbes to fulfill different roles in the environment and to adapt to changing conditions, as this diversity will ensure the continued functioning of ecosystems and the provisioning of ecosystem services.

Current over-reliance on a handful of major staple crops has inherent agronomic, ecological, nutritional, and economic risks and is unsustainable in the long run. The wider use of underutilized minor crops provides more options to build temporal and spatial heterogeneity into uniform cropping systems helping to maintain and enhance efficiency and resilience of agroecosystems and to enhance dietary diversity and combat malnutrition.

Production systems and the underlying genetic resources including crop wild relatives that are found in cultivated and protected land, and especially in natural ecosystems such as forests (ranging from tropical to temperate), are severely threatened due to drastic land-use changes, over-exploitation of resources, and man-made and natural disasters. Climate change is already affecting the distribution of plants and associated species, their population sizes, and life cycles. Efficient adaptation strategies for a changing climate require, among other measures, the effective and rational conservation and sustainable utilization of the remaining (in particular agricultural) biodiversity, both in situ as well as in genebanks and access to genetic resources of crops and their wild relatives by plant breeders.

To develop and grow ‘climate-smart’ crop varieties for sustainable production systems, farmers and plant breeders worldwide are in dire need of access to a wide range of traits and genes, often found in plant genetic resources located far away from major production areas. This raises a multitude of policy issues and concerns regarding access and benefit-sharing, ownership, intellectual property rights, and patents imposed on PGRFA and breeding lines, as well as implications of transgenic crops for biodiversity and sustainable agriculture.

Therefore, in this Special Issue on plant biodiversity and genetic resources, we invite articles (original research papers, reviews, perspectives, opinions, and modeling approaches) that address the above-mentioned issues and are guided by the keywords provided for this topic.

Dr. Andreas W. Ebert
Dr. Johannes M. M. Engels
Guest Editors

Deadline for manuscript submission is 29 February 2020.

Brainfood: Creole cattle, Wattle diversity, Olive death, Cucurbit diversity, Child nutrition, Seed systems, N efficiency, Black Sigatoka, Ag oils, Sharing double, Cow sharing, Horse phenotyping, Nutrients & CC

Brainfood: Rice roots, Avocado genome, Sicilian greens, Mexican & Colombian cacao, US diversity, Cassava photosynthesis, Intense dairy, Bourbon, Grape rootstocks, Heirlooms, Ancient pastoralism, Onion polyploidy, Toxic compounds, Technology adoption

Brainfood: Clean vines, Wild maize diversity, Heirloom beans, Domestication, Cryptic variation, African rice evaluation, Fall armyworm, Food prices, Human pathogens, Farm biodiversity, Microbiome, Infographics, Tea diversity, Mekong dietary diversity, Women & NUS

A USDA legend retires

Marty Reisinger, who knows a thing or two about genebank documentation systems himself, has just sent in this appreciation of retiring USDA genebank database manager Quinn Sinnott. We all wish Quinn a long and happy retirement, and thank him for his important contribution to the field.

Quinn Sinnott, the database manager for GRIN, is retiring from the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s Database Management Unit (DBMU) on August 31, 2019.

Quinn is one of the founders and early builders of GRIN, having served the project since it was initiated in 1983. GRIN started as an ARS project funded through a cooperative agreement with the University of Maryland.

GRIN went live in late 1983 on a PR1ME minicomputer with only a few megabytes of memory and 300 MB disk drives. The drives were the size of a low filing cabinet. Backups were made on large 9-track tape reels; at one point, it took 15 tapes to back up the database. The software was coded in FORTRAN for a CODASYL database. There was no SQL query capability. Instead, there was a program called DISCOVER that could do queries. They would often take hours to complete.

During Quinn’s tenure, GRIN’s hardware and software evolved a great deal. New hardware was purchased in 1992 for approximately $500,000 after a lengthy procurement process. In late 1994, GRIN was moved to a relational Oracle database running on a Unix system. The entire system was rewritten to work with Oracle Forms and SQL. The GRIN hardware was originally housed in the USDA National Agriculture Library, but sometime in the mid-90’s it was moved to the attic of Building 003 on USDA’s Beltsville, Maryland campus.

In 2008, Crop Trust supported a project to rewrite the GRIN system so that it could be run on either a personal computer or network and be maintained by the world genebank community as open source software. The database and interfaces were designed to accommodate commercial and open-source programming tools and be database-flexible. The DBMU selected Microsoft SQL Server for the USDA National Plant Germplasm System’s database engine; Quinn was instrumental in ensuring that the robust GRIN schema and functionality could be emulated in the new GRIN-Global platform.

Quinn is among those who have made GRIN/GRIN-Global the highly regarded system that it is. Genebanks around the world have excellent, continually improving tools to manage their collections and data, thanks in part to his efforts over more than 35 years.

Quinn will continue to assist the National Germplasm Resources Laboratory as a volunteer and help with GRIN/GRIN-Global matters occasionally as needed. A tremendous thanks to Quinn for his outstanding 35 years of service to ARS, the National Plant Germplasm System, and the global genetic resource community.