Genetic Resources for Climate Change: room for optimism?

by Luigi Guarino on August 25, 2014

Dr Hannah Jaenicke, one of the organizers of last week’s 4th International Symposium on Plant Genetic Resources: Genetic Resources for Climate Change last week, kindly sent in this summary of the proceedings from Brisbane. Many thanks to her and all our moles at IHC2014 who have also contributed over the past week.

The symposium was held during the 29th International Horticultural Congress in Brisbane, Australia 18-22 August 2014. There were 18 posters and 32 oral presentations given across the three themes “Utilization of plant genetic resources”, “Germplasm conservation strategies and technologies” and “Harnessing the diversity of crop wild relatives”. Each theme was introduced by a cross-cutting keynote presentation. In addition, there were two workshops during which participants had the opportunity to discuss additional issues: a workshop on “Global conservation strategies for horticultural crops” was held on Monday 18th August with panelists from the Global Crop Diversity Trust, USDA and ACIAR and a workshop on “Strengthening informal seed systems: integrating plant genetic resources conservation within a larger development” was held on Thursday 20 August with panelists representing the private seed/nursery industry and community seed banks. This workshop was held together with the scheduled workshop on “Quality planting material” (convener: Sisir Mitra).

The quality of the posters and presentations throughout the symposium was very high and discussion with the participants was lively, despite the time and logistics constraints posed by the tight schedule of the Congress, with up to 20 parallel sessions. Despite this competition, the symposium and workshops attracted a good attendance of 30-60 participants in each session, estimated at around 200 individuals overall who participated in the symposium.

The presented activities ranged across the world, with a particular focus on the Pacific, Asia and Africa where the effects of climate change are likely to be most severe. Useful examples were provided, from successful rehabilitation activities after a typhoon, to suggestions for more climate-ready genetic resources, to technologies able to provide vital information to genebank managers and breeders to support future plant improvement. Efforts are being made to increase the genetic diversity of particularly vulnerable resources like root and tuber crops in the Pacific and to establish novel markets to increase interest in more diverse production systems. Important tools are regional and international genebanks, such as that of CePaCT, run by SPC, serving the Pacific Island countries with a particular focus on providing virus-free planting material of important vegetatively propagated root and tuber crops, and that of AVRDC, with a global mandate for vegetables, where research is underway for example on heat-tolerant tomato varieties. For commercially important genetic resources, such as Citrus, increased global networking was suggested. In addition to the important role of public and private genebanks, the increasingly recognized role of farmers as custodians of genetic resources and repositories for future genetic improvement was discussed in several papers.

Whilst the challenges that climate change will pose are huge, especially for vulnerable communities and ecosystems, the presentations during this symposium showed that already significant efforts are being taken to address the issue at the level of plant genetic resources. However, more coordinated and collective efforts are needed for more sustainable and focused impact.



Conserving horticultural species, one at the time

by Luigi Guarino on August 24, 2014

Another report from one of our correspondents at the International Horticultural Congress in Brisbane, this on the symposium on Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources:

The full day symposium keynote by Dr Ehsan Dulloo of Bioversity International covered the broad topic of developing strategies for conserving plant genetic diversity. Individual presentations covered a wide range of topics and crops, including: roots/tubers (sweet potatoes, yams, cassava), aroids and breadfruit in the Pacific Islands; use of native species to restore costal landscapes impacted by cyclones in Fiji; conservation of wild temperate small fruit species such as Vaccinium in Canada (blueberries and cranberries); use of the underutilized tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) in Australia; conservation of mango landraces on-farm in India; characterizing the morphological and genetic diversity of baobab (Adansonia digitata) in Kenya; and the cryopreservation of clonal genetic material of apple, peach and nut trees (Juglans spp), among others. The common thread that ran though most of these presentations is that a lot of work still needs to be done to understand the genetic diversity that we have and the best way to conserve it (in situ & ex situ), such that it leads to optimal use of these important genetic resources.

There’s one more of these updates from IHC2014 in the pipeline, which we’ll probably put up tomorrow.


Baobab, frankincense and croton: private sector brings gifts

23 August 2014

Found these in an up-market curio shop in Nairobi’s Yaya Centre shopping centre. I’ve never come across Wild Living before, but they sound like an interesting outfit, doing some serious value addition to local products by the look of it: From Baobab and Shea to Leleshwa and Acacia frankinsense forest oils, East Africa, the cradle […]

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Global diets visualized

22 August 2014

National Geographic’s eight-month series on food has caught up with Colin Khoury’s blockbuster paper on how many crops feed the world. The infographic on diet similarity looks ok on the printed page, I guess: But it’s way cooler online.

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Big rice data portal

21 August 2014

You remember the 3000 rice genomes project? You know, the one that represents the future of genebanks? Well, if you were wondering which 3000 accessions were actually chosen for sequencing, you can get that information, and much, much more, on the new website of the International Rice Informatics Consortium. Happy browsing. Well, maybe not on […]

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Focusing on genebanks for climate change adaptation

20 August 2014

The Focused Identification of Germplasm Strategy (FIGS) has been the subject of a fair number of posts here in the past couple of years. It has now clearly hit the big time, with a major workshop which got picked up by the BBC, no less. The latest paper to feature this strategy for more effectively […]

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Strategizing about conservation of horticultural crops

19 August 2014

Another report from one of our correspondents at the International Horticultural Congress: There were some great discussions during the IHC’s workshop on global conservation strategies for horticultural crops. Few of these exist, and even fewer have actively been implemented. The participants heard from several speakers about the state of development and implementation of the strategies […]

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Freeing the banana

19 August 2014

By freeing Musa balbisiana of infectious eBSV, virologists are once again friends with #banana breeders says Pierre-Yves Teycheney #IHC2014 — ProMusa (@promusa_banana) August 19, 2014 Well, that sounds teasingly intriguing. Fortunately, we have a mole at the relevant symposium of the International Horticultural Congress in Brisbane. Here’s his brief report from the trenches: Great talk […]

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