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Managing Global Genetic Resources: Agricultural Crop Issues and Policies An Overview of Genetic Resources Management This chapter is intended as a general introduction to some of the principal issues involved in germplasm conservation and management. It introduces the subject for those readers without a background in genetic conservation. Germplasm consists of the genetic materials that can perpetuate a species or a population of an organism. Germplasm is thus a genetic resource that can be used both to reproduce and, through hybridization and selection, to change or enhance the organism. Conserving genetic resources is a means of safeguarding the living materials exploited by agriculture, industry, forestry, and aquaculture to provide food, feed, medicinals, fiber for clothing and furnishing, fuel for cooking and heating, and the food and industrial products of microbial activity. Genetic resources are of tremendous practical and historical significance for human life from daily survival to generating the wealth of nations, yet their crucial role in supporting human society is frequently overlooked and undervalued. Genetic conservation is an integral part of a much broader activity concerned with protecting the many plants, animals, microorganisms, and communities of organisms that help to mold and stabilize the environment and maintain the quality of air, water, and soil. Conservation ensures that future generations will benefit from earth's biological resources. The direct connection between genetic resources and humanity's food supply provided the motivation for this study which focuses on
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Managing Global Genetic Resources: Agricultural Crop Issues and Policies improving the management and utility of genetic resources important to agriculture. This part of the report is intended as an introduction to the subject of genetic resources management for the nonspecialist. The charge to the Committee on Managing Global Genetic Resources: Agricultural Imperatives in undertaking this study was to examine the effectiveness of germplasm conservation and management on a global scale and to make recommendations on how they might be improved. At the same time the committee was expected to THE NATURE OF PLANT GENETIC RESOURCES In this report the terms variety and cultivar are used interchangeably to mean cultivated forms within a species. The cultivated plant materials that are conserved are of five general kinds: landrace, folk, or primitive varieties; obsolete varieties; commercial varieties or cultivars; plant breeders' lines; and genetic stocks. Landrace, folk, or primitive varieties are local varieties developed by indigenous farmers in traditional agricultural systems, over hundreds of years. By modern standards such varieties are often highly variable. Landrace cultivars have generally been replace by modern scientifically bred cultivars in most crops but may still be locally important in some farming systems. Obsolete varieties are varieties developed since the advent of scientific agriculture in the late nineteenth century and that are no longer cultivated. Although no longer grown commercially, such varieties are usually maintained in collections for use in current and future breeding programs. Commercial varieties or cultivars are elite high-yielding lines in current use, developed by scientific plant breeding for modern intensive agriculture. The average life of modern varieties is relatively short (5 to 10 years) when they are replaced by more recent products of breeding programs. Plant breeders lines are as-yet unreleased lines, mutations, or parents of hybrids maintained by breeders as part of their working stocks. Breeders usually develop and carry many lines in their programs, of which only a very small number are ever released into commercial production. Genetic stocks are genetically characterized lines of a species principally used in genetics and plant breeding research. They rarely have any commercial value but are nevertheless an important germplasm resource because of their usefulness in basic and applied research. Genetic stocks can be conveniently divided into the following three classes:
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Managing Global Genetic Resources: Agricultural Crop Issues and Policies examine sociopolitical, economic, and other issues that affect germplasm conservation and the free exchange of germplasm among nations. For the most part, this report concerns crop plant germplasm with some reference to the germplasm of agriculturally important livestock and microbes. For some readers, this focus will represent an unduly narrow and restricted view of the crisis now faced in conserving global biological or genetic diversity. Despite the truth of the observation "there are no useless plants, only plants we have not yet found a use for" (Falk, 1993), this report was limited to the staple Single gene or single trait variants are lines carrying artificially generated or naturally occurring variants for qualitative characters. Examples include differences in morphological and physiological characters, electrophoretic variation in proteins, and fragment length variation generated by restriction enzymes in DNA. Multi-allelic stocks include multiple gene marker stocks useful for linkage studies and stocks with special combinations of loci necessary for the expression of a single trait. Cytogenetic stocks include all variants whose chromosomes structures differ from the norm because of the deletion, duplication, inversion, or translocation from one chromosome to another of specific DNA segments. These stocks are important in determining the chromosomal location of specific genes. Genetic stock collections are the province of the specialist because they require skill and experience in regeneration to ensure that they remain viable and true to type. Wild and weedy relatives are species that share common ancestry with crops, but that were not domesticated. Most crops have wild or weedy relatives which differ in their degree of relationship to the crop. The ease with which genes can be transferred from them to the crop varies. They may be classified into the following three gene pools: A primary gene pool consisting of the cultivated species and wild relatives, which are readily intercrossed so that gene transfer is relatively simple. A secondary gene pool composed of all the biological species that can be crossed with the crop but where hybrids are usually sterile. Gene transfer is difficult but not impossible. A tertiary gene pool made up of those species that can be crossed with the crop only with difficulty and where gene transfer is usually only possible with radical techniques. Biotechnology has, at least in theory, greatly enlarged this pool because of transformation (a radical technique) makes possible the introduction of DNA from any species.
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Managing Global Genetic Resources: Agricultural Crop Issues and Policies food crops and their wild relatives. A recent study concluded that 103 species provide about 90 percent of the world's food plant needs (Prescott-Allen and Prescott-Allen, 1990). The conservation of the genetic resources of these species is vital to agriculture and humanity. However, for long-term survival of the world's ecosystems, there is no substantial difference in methods used to protect taxa of proven worth and those that are used to protect others that may be unexplored and in danger of extinction in coming decades (Heywood, 1993). Simply put, cultivars have been selected for traits that fit a particular agronomic technology; wild species undergo natural selection to acquire traits that maintain their ability to survive in an ecosystem. THE IMPORTANCE OF GERMPLASM Why is it necessary or desirable to preserve materials collected from undeveloped agricultures or the wild? The obsolete crop varieties and livestock breeds and the unadapted wild relatives of crop plants frequently carry useful genes or alleles that, if not preserved, may no longer be available in the future. Modern, high-yielding crop varieties have largely replaced older landrace varieties even in many remote parts of the world. For many crops sown as seed, rather than as roots or tubers, few of the varieties that were widely grown 40 to 60 years or more ago can still be found in areas of commercial agricultural production. In some cases people have destroyed or altered many natural habitats of wild relatives of crop plants so that it is no longer possible to collect them at the original sites. Even if collection is still possible at undisturbed sites, the range of genetic variation present in the original collections may no longer be available. Before they can be used by breeders, the collected materials must be evaluated, tested, catalogued and properly conserved. They can then be made available to others who may wish to use them. There is widespread concern about the status of conserved germplasm worldwide. Is enough being done? Are the materials already conserved in germplasm banks and other facilities adequately described, documented, properly managed and stored under conditions to safeguard their viability, and freely available to anyone who needs them? Do they include enough of the potentially important germplasm that can still be collected now but that may not be available much longer? Are sufficient financial and other resources being applied by national governments to their own and to global needs? What priorities have been established and are they correct?
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Managing Global Genetic Resources: Agricultural Crop Issues and Policies THE ORIGINS OF CONSERVATION Humans first began conserving genetic resources of exploited species when their primitive ancestors saved part of their harvest of gathered seeds, roots and tubers of plants, and individual or small groups of animals. The selected materials were not used for food but were kept for planting or herd increase when conditions improved or were carried from place to place during human migrations. In setting aside the better forms for future use, humanity began the long process of selection and improvement responsible for the development of agriculture. The first crop plants and livestock were undomesticated wild species that gave rise, thousands of years later, to modern varieties and breeds. Among the first plants to be domesticated were several wild species that had been most useful to hunter-gatherers as energy food plants, probably annual, large-seeded grasses; legumes; and starchy tubers. In Southwest Asia these were barley, tetraploid wheat, peas and lentils; rice and soybeans in Southeast Asia; sorghum in Africa; and corn, common beans, and lima beans in South and Central America. This evidence also suggests that the domestication of cereals and legumes began about 10,000 years ago and that the domestication of each species was not a single event but a continuing process at many ecologically different places over many centuries. The two main evolutionary processes during the earliest stages of domestication were almost certainly: (1)identification of the wild species that were most useful to cultivators, and (2) selection from within those species of the particular individuals that were best suited to the conditions of cultivation. As agriculture expanded and increasing numbers of plants were grown under cultivation, there was a corresponding increase in the number of novel mutations observed, and those favored under agricultural conditions were, as noted by Darwin (1859), preserved by selection, greatly increasing the accumulated store of economically useful variability. By the dawn of recorded history nearly all of the world's present major crop species had been cultivated for several thousand years. The earliest written records show that major evolutionary changes had already taken place. For example, the many cultivars of wheats and pulses described by Theophrastus, who lived from 372 to 287 B.C.E., were all of nonshattering habit, in contrast to their wild ancestors. The apples he described were very different from those of their small-fruited, acidic, and astringent ancestors, which are still found growing wild in Southwest Asia. The cultivars described by Theophrastus and his contemporaries
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Managing Global Genetic Resources: Agricultural Crop Issues and Policies provided the basic germplasm that was transported along ancient trade routes over the European, African, and Asian land masses and that continued to evolve under different natural and human selection pressures. Rates of evolutionary change accelerated in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Seed growing developed as a business, and competition provided an incentive for selecting and rapidly distributing distinctive types of field and vegetable crops and ornamentals. The work of Knight (1799), who was one of the first to observe differences in disease resistance among wheat hybrids, stimulated the deliberate crossing of different types, promoting genetic recombination and the production of rich arrays of segregants from which to select. THE USEFULNESS OF GERMPLASM The practical development of genetics at the beginning of this century gave breeders an explanation for the mechanism of inheritance. Obsolete varieties and breeds and closely related wild species were sources of useful variation that could be introduced into new forms by hybridization. Breeders assembled collections of useful and new materials that were described, cataloged, and tested and that THE U.S. GERMPLASM SYSTEM In the United States, a nation almost wholly dependent on crop plants and livestock that were not native to North America, the elements of a national germplasm program evolved from early request for U.S. travelers abroad to send back seeds or plants of promising trees or crops. From 1836 until 1862, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was established, the U.S. Patent Office distributed seeds and plants from overseas to U.S. farmers. In 1898 a Seed and Plant Introduction Section of USDA began to promote the collection and introduction of new crops. However, it became necessary to introduce plants and animals in such a way as to minimize the risk of bringing in pests and diseases at the same time. In the United States the first plant quarantines were the initiative of individual states. California, in 1881, was the first to pass an act to prevent distribution of the grape gall louse. Federal plant quarantine regulations were not adopted until 1912, although drastic legislation had been accepted in Europe and Australia by 1877 to restrict the introduction of the same grape pest from the United States. Plant materials collected by the USDA that entered the United States were given numbers to create an inventory of the plant introductions.
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Managing Global Genetic Resources: Agricultural Crop Issues and Policies could be saved from year to year. These collections were the first to be systematically conserved, although often only during the working lifetime of the breeder. The emergence of plant and animal breeding programs during the first half of this century created a demand for germplasm exchange among breeders and for collecting expeditions and explorations to satisfy the growing need for such crop plant characters as earliness, stiff stalks, grain quality and resistance to diseases and insects. Foremost among the plant explorers was the Russians scientist, N. I. Vavilov whose work in the 1920s defined the centers of origin(now known as centers of diversity) for many important crop plants. In 1935 Vavilov (1951:53) wrote the following: We have barely begun the systematic study of the world's plant resources and have discovered enormous untouched resources, unknown to scientific breeders in the past. The tremendous potential source of species and varieties requires thorough investigation employing all methods. The problem of the immediate future is a classification of the enormous diversity of the most important cultivated crops not only on the basis of their botanical and agronomic characters but also with the use of physiological, biochemical, and technological methods. Catalogues of properties of accessions, listed by their plant inventory numbers, were useful to breeder who could obtain seeds or cuttings from the U.S. regional center responsible for the evaluation and regeneration of the species concerned. In this way the U.S. National Plant Germplasm System evolved around a base collection, established in the 1950s at the National Seed Storage Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado (James,1972). In a report of the National Research Council (1991a), the present structure of the U.S. National Plant Germplasm System is analyzed, and recommendations are offered to make it a more effective national organization, rather than the collection of loosely coordinated regional and sectional programs that it is today. Although germplasm conservation would appear to be designed to serve the interests of plant breeders, most modern breeders are interested primarily in highly adapted breeding lines that can be directly introduced into the crossing programs. Poorly adapted materials are less useful to them but can be source of variation to remedy the limitations of their better lines. Breeders are rarely interested in using wild relatives directly because of the effort and expense of eliminating their many undesirable traits. Biotechnology may change this by making it easier to transfer only the gene or genes of interest.
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Managing Global Genetic Resources: Agricultural Crop Issues and Policies At first much of the plant material collected by the early explorers was lost because it was not properly stored under conditions of low temperature and low humidity and free from vermin, or it was mixed or contaminated when regenerated. Much of it was not adequately described or catalogued. However, the early expeditions laid the groundwork for many important collections in the United States and elsewhere. THE THREAT OF GENETIC VULNERABILITY As progress on selecting successful crop varieties continued, some scientist (Harlan and Martini, 1936; Sauer, 1938) expressed concern about increasing genetic uniformity and the loss of genetic variation associated with the disappearance of natural habitats of wild relatives. Although earlier plant disease epidemics, such as the Irish potato famine in 1845 and 1846, had caused widespread suffering and death, the impact of genetic vulnerability on modern agriculture was dramatically exemplified by the southern corn leaf blight epidemic of 1970, which destroyed more than 15 percent of the U.S. corn crop (National Research Council, 1972). The loss resulted from the widespread use of a form of cytoplasmic male sterility that simplified the production of hybrid seed. Hybrids with this cytoplasm accounted for more than 70 percent of the corn varieties grown in the United States at the time. They were very susceptible to a new race of the fungal pathogen (Bipolaris maydis) first described in the Philippines in 1963. The 1972 report of the National Academy of Sciences questioned the extent to which corn and other food crops are vulnerable to similar unanticipated epidemics. It pointed to the modern tendency of farmers to use a few high-yielding varieties, replacing the many varieties of earlier times, and emphasized the risks implicit in the relative homogeneity of the leading varieties of the major crops. The vineyards of Napa and Sonoma counties in California have been invaded by a new biotype of phylloxera— the aphid relative that attacks grape roots and devastated the European wine industry in the nineteenth century (4 million acres destroyed in France alone). Because 70 percent of the wine grapes of this district are grafted on a susceptible rootstock, they are seriously threatened by this pathogen, and vines have already been removed from certain vineyards. Spread of this pest into other grape district is considered likely (Granett etal., 1991). Since the performance of this rootstock has been satisfactory for many years, research lagged on the breeding and ecology of rootstocks. Even though investigations have now been initiated, much
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Managing Global Genetic Resources: Agricultural Crop Issues and Policies time will be required before resistant stocks have been generated, tested, and used for replanting. This serious problem constitutes another example of the vulnerability of planting large areas in a monoculture fashion. The risk in this instance is much greater that for annual seed-propagated crops, because more time is required for researching and replanting woody crops. EMERGENCE OF GLOBAL CONCERNS Other nations had recognized the important of plant germplasm and collections were established in Brazil, Colombia, the Commonwealth of Independent States, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, and the United Kingdom. In the 1950s, germplasm conservation gained more visibility in the international community. In 1961 in Rome, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations sponsored the first of a series of technical conferences (Whyte and Julén, 1963). A second technical conference, on plant exploration and genetic conservation, was planned and held jointly with the International Biological Program (IBP) in 1967, as was the third, held in 1973, both at FAO on Rome. These two conferences highlighted and developed the scientist issues involved in all phases of work related to genetic resources— Following World War II and the establishment of the World Bank to aid the economic development of poorer nations, a network of international agriculture research centers (IARCs) was established in the 1960s and 1970s. The centers were designed to carry out scientific research and development to combat hunger in the developing world. They provide improved germplasm and carry out agronomic research to help developing countries become self-sufficient and improve their agricultural exports to world markets. The IARCs are administered by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which represents the principal donors that fund its activities. Warren Baum (1986) has described the establishment and operation of this international system during its first 15
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Managing Global Genetic Resources: Agricultural Crop Issues and Policies years. The Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maíz y Trigo (CIMMYT, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) were first two centers, begun in Mexico and the Philippines with support from the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations. CIMMYT conducts research on maize and wheat, and IRRI focuses on rice. Both centers have seed banks. The IRRI seed bank, with more than 80,000 rice accessions, is GERMPLASM CONSERVATION AND BIOTECHNOLOGY Much of the germplasm conserved today is kept as seeds in germplasm banks, planted in nurseries and gardens, or kept in refrigerators as planting stock or tissue cultures. These materials are conserved ex situ, that is, away from their natural place of origin or where they were originally selected. In situ conservation is designed to maintain viable populations in the places where they occur naturally. Where practical, in situ conservation can be cheaper and less laborious than ex situ conservation. However, once evaluation and utilization are undertaken, the materials involved usually move into an ex situ conservation mode. Well-established principles and standards have been developed for collecting germplasm for ex situ conservation; they cover sample size and number, record keeping at the collection site, and sampling procedures. Once established, a germplasm bank should be properly managed by following tested guidelines for cataloging, evaluating, regenerating and disturbing the accessions. Documentation and data management are essential if the contents of the germplasm bank are to be known and readily accessible to users. Rapid advances in understanding the biochemical and molecular basis of inheritance and development are having profound effects on the life sciences. What contributions are these and other developments in biotechnology likely to make to germplasm conservation? Plant tissue culture and in vitro propagation have already changed how the germplasm of some clonally propagated crops is conserved and distributed. Plant transformation has, in theory, made the gene pool that breeders may draw on limitless. Biotechnology has introduced an information explosion at the molecular level. The rapid accumulation of DNA sequence information in computer data bases is itself an immensely valuable, although nonliving, genetic resources because it is the key both to describing genes and to synthesizing them from their component nucleotides. A sensitive method for recovering specific stretches of DNA sequence from dead
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Managing Global Genetic Resources: Agricultural Crop Issues and Policies the largest for any single crop, with almost complete representation, excellent documentation, and large-scale seed distribution. Of the 17 IARCs, 12 of them (Centro International de Agricultura Tropical [CIAT], Centro International de la Papa [CIP, International Potato Center], CIMMYT, IBPGR, International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas [ICARDA], International Center for Research in Agroforestry [ICRAF], International Crops Research Institute materials such as herbarium specimens, inviable seeds, and fossils suggests that these materials may become useful genetic resources. Developments in biotechnology may increase the efficiency of germplasm conservation and use. Many plants can be conserved by tissue culture storage. However, some plants quickly outgrow their tubes or must be recultured every 90 days. Here a technician of the Agricultural Research Service checks sweet potato plants in experiments to slow their growth and stretch the time between regenerations. Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
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Managing Global Genetic Resources: Agricultural Crop Issues and Policies for the Semi-Arid Tropics [ICRISAT], International Institute for Tropical Agriculture [IITA], international Livestock Center for Africa [ILCA], International Network for the Improvement Banana and Plantain [INIBAP],IRRI, and West Africa Rice Development Association [WARDA] are involved in conserving and using major global crops and forages. A recent estimate is that together they maintain some 600,000 germplasm samples (Alexander von der Osten, personal communication, CGIAR Secretariat, October 28,1992). Hawkees(1985) analyzed the IARCs' effectiveness in conserving crop plant germplasm pointing out that some have little interest in, or ambition to, becoming major international germplasm repositories. The importance of germplasm to the developing world was emphasized in 1972 in a proposal prepared by FAO at the request of the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) of the CGIAR. This document proposed the establishment of the IBPGR to encourage, coordinate, and support action to conserve genetic resources and make them available for use. After much debate about its relationship to FAO and the CGIAR, the IBPGR was established in 1974 with a secretariat provided by FAO and funding from CGIAR donors (Baum, 1986). The task of IBPGR was to promote the development of international, regional, and national activities and programs to build a worldwide network of genetic resources centers (Williams, 1988). When IBPGR was founded, only six long-term germplasm banks existed, most of which were in industrial countries. By 1986 some 50 banks were operating, with more under construction (Plucknett et al., 1987). A series of collecting expeditions was mounted for crops considered to be of the priority. IBPGR policy has been to seek permission for collecting from the countries visited and to share its collections with them. In 1990, CGIAR initiated a process to establish a fully independent institute for plant genetic resources that would programmatically collaborated with FAO. The IBPGR will continue to operate until the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute can assume its duties. DISSENTING VIEWS Although many of the plant scientist involved in germplasm conservation believed that the mechanisms being put in place for protecting global genetic resources were both sound and fair, their view was strongly challenge by sociopolitical activist groups who regard seeds and genetic resources as a common heritage of humankind (Mooney, 1979, 1983). Critics claimed that IBPGR enabled
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Managing Global Genetic Resources: Agricultural Crop Issues and Policies the industrialized, "gene-poor" countries to control genetic resources that properly belonged to the "gene-rich" countries where these materials were originally collected. Their recommendations included major increases in funding to launch a global campaign to collect landraces and wild species, codes of conduct that would make trade in seeds a national issue and an inappropriate activity for international firms, and a guaranteed right of nations to protect their botanical heritage from commercial exploitation. At the 1981 FAO biennial conference, the director general was asked to prepare an international document to insure that global plant genetic resources of agricultural will be conserved and used for the benefit of all human beings, in this and future generations, without restrictive practices that limit their availability or exchange, whatever the source of such practices (Food and Agriculture Organization, 1981). Further discussions led to the formation of the FAO Commission on Plant Genetic Resources 1983 and the adoption of an International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources (Food and Agriculture Organization, 1983a), which attempted to right some of the perceived wrongs suffered by developing countries. These discussions came to be known as "the North-South debate" because they mainly featured the industrialized nations of the Northern Hemisphere and the developing countries of the Southern Hemisphere. The industrialized nations sought to protect and capitalize on their investments in crop plant improvement, while the developing countries supplied the raw germplasm material but felt exploited when it was sold back to them, albeit in an improved form. Similar discussions have taken place among developing countries, some of which have placed restrictions on germplasm exchange among themselves, giving rise to the so-called "South-South" debate. In 1981, FAO, in cooperation with the United Nations Environment Program and the IBPGR, organized a technical conference on crop genetic resources that explored some of the successes and failures of the IBPGR global program for the conservation of genetic resources. Participants noted several trends that continued to limit the effectiveness of programs for collecting, conserving, and using plant germplasm. These trends included slowing the collection of seed crops and placing greater emphasis on characterization, documentation, and information exchange; focusing collection efforts on meeting emergency situations and filling important gaps; accelerating work on clonal crops and research on in vitro conservation; giving high priority to data-base development; and paying more attention to wild species so that collections are more representatives of gene pools. Concern was expressed for the first time about the continuing
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Managing Global Genetic Resources: Agricultural Crop Issues and Policies rapid growth in the number and size of germplasm banks (Holden and Williams, 1984). Since World War II the private sector in the industrialized world has made major and increasingly important contributions to plant breeding. A variety of methods are used to protect the industry's investment in breeding and to ensure that it receives a fair return. For example, proprietary rights in hybrid corn are often protected by not releasing the parents used to make hybrid seed. The hybrid seed is sold without restrictions and produces a high-yielding, uniform crop. However, when seed of the next generation is sown it does not reproduce the hybrid because of genetic segregation and generally results in an inferior crop. Patents and plant variety protection procedures were used to protect "plant breeders' rights." In the course of discussions in FAO commission meetings about the commercial exploitation of germplasm, "farmers' rights" emerged as a counterpart to plant breeders' rights. Widely misinterpreted as a system for financially rewarding farmers from developing countries for selecting landraces, the concept now focuses on the importance of the past, present, and future contribution of farmers in general to the development of agriculturally important germplasm. In August 1988 a meeting in Keystone, Colorado (Keystone, 1988) attempted an operational definition of farmers' rights. A second meeting in Madras, India (Keystone, 1990) considered how intellectual property rights affected the conservation and exchange of germplasm. Both meetings brought together people with diverse interests for confrontational discussions. A third meeting near Oslo in the summer of 1991 called for establishing a new Global Plant Genetic Resources (PGR) initiative. First priority was given to: emergency attention to the security of PGR collections in eastern Europe and Ethiopia; developing a special PGR program for promoting sustainable advances in crop productivity; and developing a global network of conservation centers dealing with germplasm relevant to the potential challenges introduced by global climatic change. Commentaries on germplasm conservation usually conclude that both national and international expenditures on all aspects of these activities are inadequate. These is special concern about germplasm banks established during the past few decades in developing countries with external assistance. Several proposals have suggested the development of an international fund to finance global genetic conservation. One scheme would be to collect a small part of the royalties from seed sales around the world and use it exclusively for conservation.
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Managing Global Genetic Resources: Agricultural Crop Issues and Policies THE PROBLEM OF ECONOMIC ANALYSIS Many examples exist of the value and usefulness of individual germplasm accessions to animal and plant breeders. However, it is difficult to place an economic value the material conserved in the world's germplasm collections. Much germplasm has been collected in case of need but will never be used. Also, it is difficult to predict what crop plant characteristics or features may be sought in the future. Therefore, conservation, like research, much be well organized and thorough, can be expensive, and the usefulness of any particular element is unpredictable. Information on resistance to known pests and diseases is useful, but germplasm managers cannot screen for resistance to agents that have not yet been recognized as a threat. Germplasm collection may be the only readily accessible source of resistance to new pests and diseases and other characters of interest to breeders. They are an insurance against future threats. They are also repositories of materials that can no longer be collected. There are few detailed economic analyses of the value of germplasm in the literature. This report presents an original analysis of the contribution of rice germplasm, mostly from the IRRI germplasm bank, to breeding new rice cultivars for India. The IRRI germplasm bank is one of the largest and best organized germplasm banks. The analysis demonstrates the cost-effectiveness of conserving a broad array of rice germplasm, and it exemplifies the importance of properly managed and accessible germplasm for all crops. MICROORGANISM COLLECTIONS Microorganisms are an important germplasm resource. Defined here as algae, bacteria, fungi, certain protista, and viruses, they have a wide range of uses that involved the food, chemical and pharmaceutical industries as well as agriculture. Conservation of microorganisms in situ is largely impractical because of the major effort required to isolate, characterize, evaluate, and improve cultures with particular qualities that make them valuable and worth conserving for future use. For example, plant breeders routinely use collection of different races of pathogens to differentiate disease resistance genes. These pathogen-reference collections are assembled as plant pathologists follow the evolution of new races in the field. They are crucial in defending breeders' goals for disease resistance. Conservation of microorganisms has all of the problems associated with conserving other kinds of germplasm including maintaining genetic stability in culture, protection of intellectual property rights, data banks, and the establishment of global networks.
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