Global Program to Save Endangered Crop Wild Relatives
ALL MATERIALS EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE UNTIL:
00:15 Hours GMT on 10 December 2010
Please note the embargo time has changed from 00:01 Hours GMT on 10 December 2010 to 00:15 Hours GMT on 10 December 2010.
For further information, contact:
+1 301 280 5723
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
+44 (20) 8332 5607
Photographs download at http://www.croptrust.org/main/saving.php?itemid=893
Crop Wild Relatives Q&A's
What are crop wild relatives?
Crop wild relatives are wild plant species that are genetically related to crops, but which have not been domesticated. They could be ancestors of a domesticated plant, or another closely related species.
Why are we undertaking this project now?
Adapting agriculture to climate change is one of the most urgent challenges of our time. Climate change will cause agricultural production to drop substantially within just 20 years. Developing countries will be worst affected. The need for new crop varieties that can be productive in the new climates of the future is now widely recognized. Our ability to breed these new varieties cannot be taken for granted. In addition, these crop wild relatives are themselves threatened by the same forces threatening other wild biodiversity, which adds another layer of urgency to collect these varieties as soon as possible.
What are the expected outcomes of this project?
Our goal is to have, at the end of the project, a portfolio of plants, with the characteristics required for adapting some of the world’s most important food crops to climate change already collected, protected and provided to plant breeders in a form that they can use. Critical adaptive qualities will then make it to the farmers’ fields in time to address serious climate change related stresses to agricultural systems. By 2020, breeders worldwide will have been given the raw materials to adapt crops to the climate change scenarios of 2030 and beyond.
Won't agriculture naturally adapt?
No, it will not. Natural adaptation is a very slow process. Also, breeding a crop variety can take 7 to 10 years. Adapting to climate change cannot be business as usual. Crop wild relatives need to be collected, protected and prepared for use in plant breeding programmes in time to breed new crop varieties adapted to new climates. We will need crops with very specific combinations of traits which it will take a long time to develop and which would not come into existence by natural adaptation.
Why are we collecting crop wild relatives?
Crop wild relatives are the greatest source of untapped crop diversity, and the richest source of diversity for adaptive characteristics needed to confront the challenges of climate change.
Wild relatives typically contain characteristics such as heat or drought tolerance, disease resistance, or the ability to thrive in saline soils, which can permit the adaptation of crops to a far wider range of environments and stresses. As they have traits allowing them to be successful at the current extremes of a crop’s range and beyond, wild relatives can be extremely important contributors to our ability to adapt crops to climate change.
Many are inadequately uncollected, and therefore unevaluated and unavailable to plant breeders and farmers. Many are also at risk of extinction, through destruction and degradation of their natural environments, such as deforestation, desertification and climate change.
What crops will we collect?
We will collect the wild relatives of 23 crops of major importance to food security. The project will address those crop wild relatives covered by Annex 1 of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. More specifically they are the wild relatives associated with the following crops: alfalfa, bambara groundnut, banana, barley, bean, chickpea, cowpea, faba bean, finger millet, grasspea, lentil, oat, pea, pearl millet, pigeon pea, potato, rice, rye, sorghum, sunflower, sweet potato, vetch and wheat.
We will focus on those wild species and populations missing from existing collections, those that are most likely to contain diversity of value to adapting agriculture to climate change, and those that are most endangered.
How will collecting take place?
The Trust will work with Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT) and Kew Gardens to identify gaps in the collections of major crop genepools worldwide, and to implement a recently developed methodology to identify collecting priorities. Colleagues from CIAT together with Trust staff have recently published this basic methodology for identifying these priorities for crop wild relatives, using Phaseolus bean as a model. The paper can be accessed at http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0013497
This methodology also identifies the areas and genepools most at risk of extinction. This will form the basis of the collecting efforts.
Currently, collecting priority maps, databases and other information are available for the wild relatives of 12 globally important crops, and more will be added. These are available here: http://gisweb.ciat.cgiar.org/GapAnalysis/
Where will the collected material go?
Collected samples will be placed for safekeeping in the relevant national facilities, the appropriate CGIAR centres and at the Millennium Seed Bank. Pre-bred materials will also be available for conservation in national facilities. A safety duplicate will be housed in Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
What is pre-breeding?
There are many sources of resistance to pests and diseases, and other useful traits, within the pool of species related to crops. But crop improvement using wild species is a difficult business, as they often also contain undesirable traits. Wild species, for instance, may not have genes for high yield, even while providing traits for pest resistance. The trick lies in incorporating the most useful characteristics while minimizing the addition of the disadvantageous traits. While recognizing the potential value of wild and landrace resources, plant breeders are often reluctant to use these resources in breeding programs involving their highly bred cultivars produced by so many years of careful refinement. For plant breeders to use these species, they need to go through a process of pre breeding. Collected seeds are grown and crossed with existing breeding lines to see if the traits of interest can be introduced effectively into domesticated plants.
The pre-bred material incorporating the desired traits will be directly fed into ongoing, active and successful breeding initiatives in developing countries, and made available for on-farm improvement efforts as appropriate. It will have the effect of widening the genetic pool of our agriculture as well as providing specific traits of interest.
How does this fit into the framework of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture?
Final products of the pre-breeding work will be made available under the Standard Material Transfer Agreement of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Both the crop wild relatives and the products of the pre breeding work will be managed and disseminated under the terms of the Multilateral System of the Treaty. The project is expected to link with the programme to help farmers adapt to climate change under the Benefit Sharing Fund of the International Treaty. The products of the pre-breeding work will be directly relevant to the Fund.
What is evaluation/screening?
Evaluation or screening refers to the screening of crop varieties for specific traits, such as resistance to pests and disease, and tolerance to heat or cold. With knowledge of these traits, the material can then be included in appropriate introduction and crop improvement programmes. The greater the number of accessions and their derivatives screened in this way, and the more uniform the standards for documenting of this data across collections, the greater the potential for identification and effective use of accessions with the highest promise for particular purposes.
How will this information be made available?
Information is the crucial link between conservation and use. In order for genetic material in genebanks to be put to use, it is essential that information about its characteristics and whereabouts be made available. Information on the material as well as on the various traits for which they will be evaluated will be entered into an electronic database, GENESYS, a global portal for information on genebank samples. This will be done via the newly developed genebank management software, GRIN-Global, whose adoption by collaborating genebanks that do not already use it will be supported as necessary.
How will farmers benefit?
The project will make available to farmers a massive amount of new and useful diversity to which they do not currently have access. This diversity will be available to all through the CGIAR genebanks, by far the largest supplier of crop diversity to breeders and farmers in the world.
The project will also help build capacity in developing countries and produce valuable information to assist in complementary on-farm and in-situ efforts.
What is crop diversity?
Crop diversity refers to variability within a species of crops.
Agriculture depends on relatively few crops – only about 150 are cultivated on any significant scale worldwide - however, each comes in a vast range of different forms. They may vary, for example, in height, flower colour, branching pattern, fruiting time, seed size, or flavour. They may also vary in less obvious characteristics such as their response to cold, heat or drought, or their ability to tolerate specific pests and diseases. In fact it is possible to find variation in almost every conceivable trait, including cooking and nutritional qualities, and of course taste. And if a trait cannot be found in the crop itself, it can often be found in a wild relative of the crop. This multitude of different traits can be combined in an almost infinite number of ways. Diversity in a crop can result from different growing conditions: a crop growing in poor soil is likely to be shorter than a crop growing in fertile soil. It can also be the result of genetic differences: a crop may have genes conferring early maturity or disease resistance. It is these heritable traits that are of special interest as they are passed on from generation to generation and collectively determine a crop’s overall characteristics and future potential. Crop diversity is the biological base of all agriculture. Its use goes back to the origins of farming, and farmers and scientists must continually draw on this irreplaceable resource to ensure productive harvests.
Why is the Trust undertaking this work?
Our mission is to ensure the conservation and availability of crop diversity for food security worldwide. This is vital diversity for adapting agriculture to climate change, and it is currently not adequately conserved nor available for use. This project will redress this. The Trust has a track record of conceptualizing, developing, financing, implementing and monitoring projects with genebanks worldwide, and supporting and encouraging a strategic and more rational approach to conservation and use of crop diversity through a global system of partnership.
Who will the Trust partner with?
The initiative will be led by the Trust, working in partnership with national agricultural research institutes, the Millennium Seed Bank of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
How does this relate to the International Year of Biodiversity?
We are in a global race against time – a race to adapt agriculture to climate change, but we will fail if we don’t first win another race – to prevent the extinction of crop wild relatives and the traits they contain.
This is the most significant global effort ever undertaken to rescue and conserve threatened diversity of major food crops.
Are there any examples of successful use of crop wild relatives?
Yes, these plants have already contributed many important traits to crops, strengthening them against attacks from pests and diseases, and building in tolerance for stress brought on by changes in the environment.
In the past 20 years, there has been a steady increase in the release of improved varieties containing genes from wild relatives in a range of crops, and the contribution of crop wild relatives has been estimated by one study to be worth more than $115 billion worldwide. The real total is likely to be much higher if the contribution to non-commercial agriculture and livelihoods of the poor is included.
Wild germplasm related to crops has been demonstrated to have the potential to improve yields in rice, wheat, barley, soybean, tomato, and pepper, among others. Tomato researchers were able to significantly improve yields in tomatoes through crossing a domesticated variety with a drought-tolerant wild species. In both wet and dry conditions, the hybrid produced up to 50% more fruit compared to a control market leader tomato.
Pest and disease resistance has been the major target in breeding with the use of crop wild relatives. Rice has benefited from wild species resistant to grassy stunt, potato from species resistant to potato late blight, and from other species resistant to viruses. Tomato wild relatives have provided many disease resistances, at a rate of one per year since 1982. Wheat has seen stem rust resistance, leaf rust resistance, and resistance to Hessian fly, yellow dwarf virus, root lesion nematode, powdery mildew and wheat streak mosaic virus, all as results of introduction of traits from wild relatives. Sunflower, cassava, millet, banana and lettuce are also on the list of important food crops that have benefited from the pest and disease resistance of wild varieties. In many circumstances, disease and pest tolerance has resulted in higher yields.
Crossing domesticated crops with wild relatives can also address abiotic stresses – drought tolerance, temperature tolerance, salinity and acidity tolerance are a few examples. Domesticated varieties of chickpea have drought and temperature tolerance derived from a wild relative. A wild variety of rice has contributed to tolerance to high acid and sulphate soils. Several more examples exist.