Harnessing Crop Diversity

The past century has seen rapid and accelerating genetic erosion of plant diversity, both in natural ecosystems and among cultivated plants.

Plant genetic resources refers to all plant species found in nature, as well as to domesticated plants and crops, and ex situ resources such as living collections and seed banks.

The biodiversity represented by these resources is dynamic and under constant threat from challenges such as climate change, deforestation, and urbanization. This is of great concern because plants are the earth’s most important autotrophs; they feed the world, both directly and indirectly. They play a dominant role in terrestrial balances of mass (water, carbon, nitrogen) and energy, thus defining our climate’s future.

The rapid technological developments of the last few years have opened a window of opportunity to mobilize plant genetic variation and accelerate the rate of crop improvement for the sustainable production of food, feed, fibre, medicines, and renewable natural products

Approximately seven million crop accessions are being conserved in genebanks collections worldwide.

From Genesys-PGR

Technological advances, particularly in DNA sequencing and other ‘omics, imaging, sensors, robotics, computation, information science and the management of big data can now transform the way in which plant genetic resources are managed and utilized.

In order to harness the potential of plant genetic resources to meet a range of global challenges, several limiting factors must be addressed:

  1. Paucity of information about accessions currently housed in gene banks
  2. Limited of use of genomic, phenomic and information technologies
  3. Obstacles in implementing national and international polices for benefit sharing

The key international agreements governing plant genetic resources include: the 1993 Convention on Biological Diversity, the 2014 Nagoya Protocol to the Convention, and the 2004 International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources in Food and Agriculture.

Further reading:
McCouch et al. (2020) Mobilizing Crop Biodiversity. Molecular Plant. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.molp.2020.08.011