Agricultural production in the United States has grown remarkably. One of the greatest periods of growth occurred between 1930 and 1980, when U.S. yields of corn, wheat, and potato increased 333 percent, 136 percent, and nearly 300 percent, respectively. Roughly half of these increases in crop yields are attributable to genetic improvements, which also led to varieties with better nutritive value and greater pest, disease, and stress resistance. The genes necessary for this crop improvement are contained in a broad array of plant materials, which when used in breeding or genetic research are termed germplasm.
Increased agricultural production has contributed significantly to the U.S. economy. Agricultural exports accounted for $28 billion, or 12 percent of total domestic exports, in 1987, the most recent year for which complete data are available. Crops and food products accounted for 81 percent of these exports. Cash receipts from the sale of crops in the United States totaled $72.6 billion in 1988, an increase of $10.7 billion from the previous year. Plants also have significant economic value to pharmaceutical, fiber, chemical, and other industries.
Sustaining agricultural productivity will require continued use of and access to a broad diversity of germplasm. Managing genetic resources, therefore, is a strategic necessity for the United States.
Preservation of the tissues, seeds, and plants that comprise the nation's plant germplasm resources is the responsibility of the National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS), a diffuse network of laboratories and research stations. The NPGS is a federal and state cooperative effort.
Its activities are supported at the federal level by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the Cooperative State Research Service (CSRS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and at the state level by state agricultural experiment stations. Since the early 1970s, the primary responsibility for management and support has rested with the ARS.
The size and scope of many NPGS collections and the volume of national and international distributions of samples from them are noteworthy. Indeed, many NPGS collections are considered to be valuable and important global resources. This accomplishment is testimony to the tireless efforts of many scientists, technicians, and other support staff.
As agricultural scientists and plant breeders improve crops, their need for germplasm will grow; the NPGS must keep pace. At the same time, concerns about the loss of biological resources place an ever greater significance on germplasm management and conservation, and on a growing international role for the NPGS. By conserving the genetic diversity of crop species and their wild relatives, the NPGS contributes to national and international efforts that address the loss of biological diversity.
To meet these increasing demands, the NPGS must be a centrally managed organization. At present, it exists within a decentralized framework in which a multitude of individuals, committees, and USDA offices have varying levels of responsibility. This framework has hampered the ability of the NPGS to function as a coordinated, well-defined system with clear-cut leadership, responsibilities, and authority. It also constrains the resolution of long-standing needs and problems.
To meet both national and global needs, the NPGS must recognize and act on the needs of the nation's germplasm collections. It must be guided by budgetary procedures that invest resources in areas of need and opportunity, and it must utilize evaluation and planning mechanisms that identify systemwide needs and cost-effective solutions to recognized deficiencies. The committee's basic conclusion is that it will remain very difficult, if not impossible, for the system to function properly without a major overhaul in its structure and administrative procedures.
This report presents recommendations that, when implemented, will further strengthen the NPGS as a viable and effective conservator of the nation's genetic resources. It examines the administration, management, and activities of a national system that traces its beginning to 1898, yet operates without a national structure. The committee concludes that the growth and ever-increasing national and international impor-
tance of plant germplasm mandates the adoption of a new approach to systemwide management, and it offers two options for achieving this goal. It considers the more viable option to be the establishment of the NPGS as an independent agency within USDA's Office of Science and Education.
GERMPLASM: A RESOURCE AND A RESPONSIBILITY
Germplasm includes older and current crop varieties, specialized breeding lines used to develop new varieties and hybrids, landraces of crops that have emerged over centuries of selection by farmers, wild plants related to individual crops, and mutant genetic stocks maintained for research, particularly when gathered together in organized collections of plants, seeds, or tissues. Germplasm collections can range from plants maintained in greenhouse or field plantings, to dried seeds in sealed envelopes held at low temperatures, to in vitro cultures of tissues or buds.
The phenomenal agricultural productivity of the United States has come from using germplasm to improve crops genetically. Examples include pest and disease resistance in tomatoes from obscure, wild Lycopersicon species related to the cultivated tomato and the derivation of modern corn and wheat from early landrace varieties introduced by Mexican Indians and European and Middle Eastern settlers, respectively. Modern high-yielding wheats are derived in part from semi-dwarf varieties introduced from Japan following World War II. Much of the germplasm in U.S. collections originated in other countries.
The viability of U.S. agriculture depends on a flow of enhanced crop varieties that can withstand pests, diseases, or climate extremes. The adaptability of pests and diseases, changes in agricultural practice, such as greater emphasis on the biological control of pests, and changes in consumer needs or preferences require the continuation of the varietal development process.
Genetic diversity is a natural resource. All nations share the responsibility for its management and the privilege of using it. Individuals, private organizations, and universities can contribute to the maintenance of germplasm, but the tasks of overseeing and managing genetic resources are clearly beyond the capacity of any individual or group. Coordination of the many and varied efforts in the United States, including international collaboration, must be through a national, government-supported, centrally managed program.
Germplasm activities in the United States have been largely driven by an unofficial policy of national self-sufficiency that calls for compre-
hensive collections to reduce dependence on other nations or institutions. However, global cooperative efforts to manage biological resources are of increasing importance for managing collections housed in the United States and for arranging the most appropriate and economical replenishment of seed supplies.
The nation's participation in and support of international cooperation in managing germplasm will continue to grow. The NPGS is the world's largest distributor of plant germplasm. Each year it supplies more than 230,000 samples from its collections to more than 100 nations. Eighteen specific U.S. crop collections, including those of maize, rice, sorghum, wheat, soybean, citrus, tomato, and cotton, have been designated by the International Board for Plant Genetic Resources (IBPGR) as regional or global base collections in its international network. The United States also provides back-up storage to other collections, such as that of the International Rice Research Institute in the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research system.
Economic issues, such as trade balances, property rights, and international cooperation in agriculture and the conservation of biological diversity, make it imperative for the United States to provide support and leadership in defining and implementing domestic and international programs. The NPGS must foster international cooperation to protect the world 's biological resources and preserve public and private sector access to genetic diversity for the benefit of all nations, many of which exhibit unique environmental or agroclimatic conditions.
AN OVERVIEW OF THE SYSTEM
The management of plant germplasm was formalized in 1898 when efforts to introduce useful plants were concentrated in the newly created USDA Plant Introduction Office. The Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 led to the creation of the USDA regional plant introduction stations in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and to the opening of the National Seed Storage Laboratory (NSSL) in 1958. These facilities were established to conserve germplasm, to foster its use in plant breeding, and, for the NSSL, to provide secure, long-term storage. A national program began to emerge. In the early 1970s, the NPGS arose as a collaborative federal and state attempt, with some cooperation from private industry, to better manage the germplasm of importance to U.S. agriculture.
Although often regarded as a well-defined entity, the NPGS is constrained by the absence of a clear delineation of its duties, programs, and sites, nor does the NPGS budget process lend itself to systematic management and timely initiative in areas of critical need or opportunity.
The association of such elements as the regional stations, NSSL, and the National Small Grains Collection with the NPGS is readily apparent, but many others are loosely associated. Even more important is that the system has no central administrative control, and hence it has limited capacity to identify or act on needed changes in program activities and germplasm management methods. Other assessments of the system have termed it a diffuse network (Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, 1984; Office of Technology Assessment, 1987). For example, the NPGS has no central office and staff, nor a definitive location in any USDA organizational structure. Laboratories and scientists, particularly within the ARS, may be considered to be part of the NPGS by virtue of their work on managing or enhancing germplasm.
Collections and Facilities
The national system's collections contain more than 380,000 different accessions of some 8,700 species, including virtually all of the crops of interest to U.S. agriculture. The collections are managed at various laboratories and facilities located around the country. Sites or units of major importance are the
National Seed Storage Laboratory located in Fort Collins, Colorado, for long-term, back-up storage of the NPGS collections. Of its more than 230,000 accessions, about 60,000 are not duplicated at other sites.
Four regional stations in Pullman, Washington; Ames, Iowa; Geneva, New York; and Griffin, Georgia. They are responsible for the management, regeneration, characterization, evaluation, and distribution of the seeds of more than one-third of the accessions of the national system (i.e., nearly 135,000 accessions of almost 4,000 plant species).
National clonal germplasm repositories at 10 locations in the United States, including Puerto Rico, for conserving and managing fruit, nut, and other species that cannot be held in seed collections (more than 27,000 accessions of nearly 3,000 species).
National Small Grains Collection in Aberdeen, Idaho, which is responsible for more than 110,000 accessions of wheat, barley, oats, rice, rye, Aegilops (a wild species related to wheat), and triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye).
Interregional Research Project-1 (IR-1) in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, which holds about 3,500 potato germplasm accessions, including cultivated forms of the white or Irish potato and more than 100 related wild species.
Several crop-specific collections in universities or USDA labora-
tories that are devoted to maintaining and managing particular species. Among these are the cotton collection in College Station, Texas (more than 5,500 accessions); the long-season soybean collection in Stoneville, Mississippi (more than 3,700 accessions); and the short-season soybean collection in Urbana, Illinois (nearly 10,000 accessions).
The NPGS is intended to address the needs of its primary users— breeders and other researchers. It is important to structure and document NPGS collections so they can locate the accessions most likely to possess the genetic traits sought. While national collections may only occasionally be used by breeders, the traits (i.e., genes) extracted from them are often passed among breeders and other researchers and can benefit many breeding programs.
Various USDA offices are responsible for data management, acquisition, and quarantine. The Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN), intended to be a comprehensive database of NPGS holdings, is managed through the National Germplasm Resources Laboratory (NGRL), formerly the Germplasm Services Laboratory, in Beltsville, Maryland. The Plant Introduction Office and activities related to planning and coordinating plant exploration and collection are also part of the NGRL. The National Plant Germplasm Quarantine Center, also part of this laboratory, facilitates the movement of imported plant germplasm through quarantine and into NPGS collections in cooperation with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
Support for the System
It is difficult to determine precisely the actual costs of the national system. The ARS provided about $26.5 million in fiscal year 1988 for germplasm-related activities. About half of this amount was used to fund the sites and collections of the national system. Support for the principal NPGS sites and collections totaled about $13.8 million; the remaining $12.7 million went largely to evaluation and enhancement activities conducted mostly at other ARS sites. In addition, CSRS provided about $900,000 in 1988 to the four regional stations and $132,000 to IR-1. Facilities, equipment, services, and personnel at NPGS collections are frequently provided as in-kind support by the state agricultural experiment stations and universities where germplasm facilities are located. Private industry has also provided support for specific projects or activities, such as the Latin American Maize Project, which seeks to evaluate a broad range of maize germplasm from Latin America. Although cooperation has brought together diverse scientific
interests and expertise, it has complicated NPGS management and administration. For example, several different, independent advisory groups and administrative lines oversee virtually every major site.
LEADERSHIP AND ADVISORY FUNCTIONS
Leadership and advisory functions within the national system are difficult to discern. The evolution of the system has produced numerous committees and individuals with varying degrees of authority and responsibility. As the lead agency for NPGS management, the ARS administers its programs through a decentralized system of area offices and its National Program Staff. This approach impedes the efficient, coordinated management of what should be a nationally oriented system.
The NPGS has no clearly designated, central administrative leadership. As a member of the ARS National Program Staff, the national program leader for plant germplasm is charged by the ARS with planning responsibility for the national system. He or she, however, has little authority over budgets, programs, or management at individual sites, and can only offer management recommendations. These recommendations require approval from the Germplasm Matrix Team (composed of other National Program Staff with different research planning responsibilities) and the concurrence of the deputy administrator of the ARS, the administrator, and then the relevant area directors, each with multiple and different priorities. Thus, the program leader cannot ensure the implementation of programs conceived as part of planning responsibilities.
The CSRS also provides regional research funds to the NPGS as mandated by the Hatch Act (Public Law 84-352). The national program leader for plant germplasm has no authority over the distribution or use of these funds.
Individual sites, such as a regional plant introduction station, are responsible independently to each of their funding authorities, which may include ARS, CSRS, and a state agricultural experiment station. This creates parallel and duplicate sets of authorities, responsibilities, policies, and procedures for many sites.
Providing advice for managing the national system is no less complex. Many committees and individuals hold varying and frequently overlapping advisory responsibilities. These include the
National Plant Genetic Resources Board (NPGRB), which according to its charter advises the secretary of agriculture and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges on national
policies and priorities relating to the acquisition, management, exchange, and use of plant germplasm. Scientists and administrators from the public and private sectors (including universities) are appointed for 2-year terms, and may be reappointed twice.
National Plant Germplasm Committee (NPGC), the intended function of which is to guide and coordinate the system by developing policies, priorities, and proposals related to funding, research, and international relations. Members are drawn from the ARS, CSRS, experiment stations, and the private sector.
Crop advisory committees that provide expert advice on acquisition, management, and use for particular crops or crop groups (e.g., wheat, beans, leafy vegetables, or woody landscape plants). There are currently 39 of these committees comprised primarily of scientists with crop-related expertise.
Technical committees, established by CSRS for the NPGS sites, that are funded by CSRS or through an experiment station. They consist of representatives from each of the state agricultural experiment stations in the region and from appropriate federal agencies.
Technical advisory committees that provide advice to individual national clonal repositories and are composed of scientists with technical expertise in one or more of the crops maintained at that site.
Plant Germplasm Operations Committee, assembled by the ARS national program leader for plant germplasm for the purpose of discussing specific questions or actions and operations between and within the national system's sites. It is an ad hoc assembly of ARS research leaders and site managers of major NPGS sites or activities, but it has no direct authority over the NPGS.
Germplasm Matrix Team, chaired by the national program leader for plant germplasm and comprised of the ARS agricultural science adviser for plant germplasm and the ARS national program leaders responsible for research planning on commodities or subjects generally related to germplasm use (e.g., range, pasture and forage crops, plant health). The at times competing areas of responsibilities of these individuals must be balanced against concerns about plant germplasm.
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The NPGS, as presently constituted, has no discernible structure and organization. It lacks a central, clearly defined authority and process for managing its activities, formulating national policies, identifying priorities, or developing budgets necessary to act on new policies and emerging priorities. NPGS is managed by too many individuals, com-
mittees, and USDA offices. The USDA can remedy these defects by creating a more centrally managed system. It must take systematic actions in six critical areas: administration (especially in linking the budget process to key system needs), germplasm acquisition and collections, facilities and personnel, the mission of the national system, data management, and research. This section presents an overview of the committee's recommendations. A more detailed discussion with additional recommendations appears in Chapter 4.
The administrative and advisory organization of the National Plant Germplasm System should be structured to provide for efficient national coordination.
The need to coordinate nationally a variety of activities and agencies and to respond to growing international relationships has made efficient management of the national system an imperative. The system's management structure must be made more compatible with its nature and activities. For example, the conservation, management, and distribution of germplasm are service activities. At present, the NPGS is largely supported and managed by the ARS, a research agency that functions through regional area offices. More direct authority and responsibility for budget and programs of the NPGS must be vested in a centralized management unit to enable the system to respond more effectively to national needs and priorities.
Effective national coordination of the NPGS depends on establishing a management structure that links programs and policies to budgetary authority and budget process outcomes. The authority to formulate budget recommendations in accordance with the identified needs and responsibilities of U.S. germplasm efforts must reside with an office or individual intimately associated with the operation of the NPGS. This approach will also reduce the complexity of NPGS decision making and funding processes. Through a coordinated, national structure the NPGS could also take the scientific and technical lead in guiding U.S. germplasm activities with other nations and in the international community.
Funds already designated by USDA offices for acquisition, preservation, and evaluation activities could make up the budget for this unit. The portion of the $26.5 million in ARS funds for these activities in fiscal year 1988 was $21 million ($22.5 million in 1989), of which $13.8 million supported work at the principal NPGS sites. The CSRS provided an additional $900,000 in 1988 for management costs at some sites. More funding could be needed for selected enhancement activities, to
accommodate the growing size of collections, to develop and operate desert and subtropical sites, and to regenerate accessions. All of these areas, however, represent current needs of the NPGS, and they are not related to administrative restructuring.
Options for Achieving National Coordination
To achieve more centralized national management will require administrative and structural changes to the system and the way it is organized within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Two options are proposed.
Organization Outside the Agricultural Research Service The national system could be established as an independent entity within USDA's Office of Science and Education. It would be responsible for all aspects of the program, including budget formulation, staff, operations, and site management. Funding would encompass the budgets already designated for germplasm activities by ARS and CSRS. This approach would enable the execution of a national germplasm program through a central authority. Furthermore, the leader of the NPGS would report directly to the assistant secretary for science and education, and could be granted authority comparable to the heads of other USDA research agencies.
This new structure would provide the national system with direct lines of leadership and authority, and would enable the NPGS to respond directly to specific needs in establishing priorities, programs, and budgets. It would unambiguously establish the NPGS as an organization whose leaders have greater visibility and control of budgets, policies, and operations and more direct line authority over sites and individuals. Program and budget guidance would be provided by the NPGRB, which represents both the participating agencies and offices and the user community.
However, this option has potential disadvantages. Outside ARS, the NPGS would stand alone as a relatively small program, competing for budgets and political support against three much larger, well-established USDA science and education agencies, the ARS, the CSRS, and the Cooperative Extension Service. It may become difficult for the NPGS to obtain cooperation from larger services, and its visibility in the USDA budget process might lessen. Separation from ARS may also distance germplasm work from the basic research that has been important to advancing NPGS activities. Finally, the ARS provides administrative
support (e.g., services related to personnel, contracts, accounting, and purchasing) that would have to be created for a new unit, and which could entail additional costs.
Elevation Within the Agricultural Research Service Under this second option, the national system would remain in the ARS, but it would be strengthened by adoption of a range of changes in management policies, budget process, and facilities. Leadership would be vested in an individual or office directly answerable to the ARS administrator. The influence of the area directors would be reduced and germplasm program planning would not be the responsibility of the National Program Staff or the Germplasm Matrix Team.
The budget for the NPGS should be separate and distinct from other ARS activities and should be directly related to identified needs and priorities. An annual budget for the national system would be developed by its leader. This budget would address recommendations, concerns, and priorities identified by the NPGRB. It should account for all ARS funds devoted to NPGS activities and include consideration of funding supplied cooperatively by other agencies.
It is clear that significant change is needed in the administration of the NPGS and in the mechanisms for formulating budgets to make them responsive to identified needs. Addressing the committee's recommendation solely through cooperative or informal agreements that perpetuate the present lines of authority over the NPGS budget and program will do little to address the committee's concerns or the system's needs. The committee considers the option to establish the NPGS as an independent unit outside the ARS to be the most likely to achieve efficient national coordination. It is aware, however, that other arrangements may be more readily achieved within political and federal budget constraints. The second option of remaining within ARS but in an elevated status would confirm the leadership role of the ARS in managing and financing the NPGS, but it could lead to reduced willingness of other agencies to provide cooperative support.
Under a centrally managed NPGS, advisory groups should each have clearly defined responsibilities, the resources to accomplish their assigned tasks, and an established pathway for assuring that their advice is used to formulate policies and procedures. These groups include the NPGRB and crop advisory committees.
The National Plant Genetic Resources Board must have greater independence as an adviser on national and international policies.
The NPGRB is chaired by and reports to the assistant secretary for science and education, a design of its charter that can constrain its ability to address controversial issues. To make it a more dynamic, responsive, and independent adviser on U.S. plant genetic resources activities, the board should elect a chair from its membership, and its members should equally represent the government offices or agencies contributing to U.S. germplasm activities and the broad user community, including industry, universities, and the private nonprofit sectors.
The board should provide budgetary and program guidance to the leader of the NPGS and make recommendations on the policies, priorities, and activities that comprise U.S. germplasm efforts. It should prepare for the secretary of agriculture, the Congress, and others an annual report on U.S. germplasm activities and the effectiveness of the NPGS in achieving the board's budget and program recommendations.
The National Plant Germplasm Committee should be disbanded.
When originally established in 1974, the committee was a source of information about, and an advocate for, the national system. Over the years, committee membership has become more of an administrative obligation, which has led to the appointment of several representatives who lack direct responsibilities for, or involvement in, the NPGS. Today there is no clear role for the NPGC that is distinct from other advisory groups.
The crop advisory committees should be provided financial support, and a mechanism should be created to use their reports when developing policies and priorities.
Crop advisory committees prepare reports on national and international developments concerning specific crop species. They discuss implications for the United States and make recommendations for strengthening NPGS activities. Although a potentially important source of knowledgeable and technical information and advice for the national system, the committees receive no financial support and there is no established mechanism for using their reports. Some financial support for travel and administrative expenses would enable those members without other resources to participate in meetings. The information contained in reports could be gathered and analyzed, and used to aid the national system in establishing its priorities and resource allocations. The responsibility for analyzing reports could be assigned to an existing committee or to one drawn from the committees' chairs. Furthermore,
liaison between chairs and the NPGRB needs to be established so their substantive policy concerns are addressed.
Germplasm Acquisition and Collections
Collections must be managed as national, not regional, resources.
The distinction between regional plant introduction stations, which are viewed as being supported by both the ARS and the states within their respective regions, and national clonal germplasm repositories, which are considered as having more national focus, should be eliminated. These facilities should be designated as national plant germplasm centers. Elimination of the administrative differences would promote cooperation among all of the centers and would simplify the system 's structure.
Curators with specific knowledge should be appointed for each major crop or crop group, and they should be given management responsibilities.
There is now no plan to ensure that knowledgeable, suitably trained curators oversee acquisition and management of the major or essential collections in the national system. At present some site managers oversee several crops. Curators must have specific knowledge about their crop plants and be familiar with their collection, documentation, regeneration, evaluation, and enhancement. They should work with the appropriate crop advisory committee and the leader of the NPGS to develop and implement plans for the management and enhancement of germplasm.
The National Plant Germplasm System must devote more of its resources to regenerating seed accessions.
Regeneration of seed lots with low germination is a continuing need. A large proportion (almost 50 percent) of the accessions at NSSL are below the minimum desired size (550 seeds). Regeneration of these samples is urgently needed. Where responsibility for providing fresh seed cannot be assigned to an existing site, funds should be available to secure regeneration on a contract basis with appropriate supervision and safeguards. Where regeneration is required outside the United States the NPGS should make contractual arrangements with the appropriate international groups or foreign government agencies.
A plan should be developed for monitoring, supporting, and conserving important special collections.
Special collections have proved to be invaluable, both to the scientific
understanding of genetic processes controlling plant growth, development, and physiology and to the development of improved crop varieties. They include collections developed by individual researchers for specific crops and those assembled for basic research. Administration of special crop collections in ARS is complicated because funding and program responsibilities related to them are intermingled with other commodity-based programs. For important special collections, back-up storage should be provided within the NPGS.
The management of large collections, such as those for wheat, corn, and soybeans, could be aided by the identification of core subsets, but this method must be applied cautiously.
The identification of core subsets of no more than 10 percent of the total accessions has been considered as a potential management tool for large collections. Subsets of collections could be useful for setting priorities to evaluate specific characteristics, such as disease resistance. Breeders who find core samples with the genetic traits they seek could use them as guides to select others in larger collections from, for example, the same regions or environments that possess germplasm with similar traits. However, a misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of core subsets could result in irreparable damage to collections. Core subsets are not a means of eliminating redundancy or of combining or bulking accessions. Further, while these subsets should receive priority for evaluation, the maintenance of other accessions must not be neglected. Core subsets are inappropriate for collections that are small or that represent a limited geographic area.
Facilities and Personnel
The National Seed Storage Laboratory must be expanded.
The present structure of the NSSL, described in the report, Expansion of the National Seed Storage Laboratory: Program and Design Considerations (National Research Council, 1988), is antiquated and insufficient to meet the needs of the national system. Further, the capacity does not exist for the laboratory to provide full back-up storage for the NPGS collections. Appropriation of adequate funds to expand the facility in accordance with its growing needs and responsibilities should be a national priority.
Facilities and programs of the National Plant Germplasm System should undergo periodic external review.
National germplasm centers and crop-specific collections should be
reviewed regularly to ensure that their programs, resources, and staff capabilities meet the needs of the germplasm for which they are conservators. Reviewers should have scientific or management experience in plant germplasm or its use, and should be drawn from outside the national system. The appropriateness of a site's location should also be considered.
While it is not advisable for collections to be moved frequently, the location of collections should be based on scientific considerations and opportunities for cooperation with universities or experiment stations. It is, however, essential that collections be situated in areas that are ideal for their growth and performance. Where support from an experiment station has declined, the potential to move the activity to another location should not be overlooked.
Sites should be established for the growth and maintenance of germplasm that requires short day-lengths or arid environments.
Many collections of corn, cotton, and beans include accessions from tropical areas that flower and produce seed only during short days. For example, some accessions in the bean collection at the Regional Plant Introduction Station in Pullman, Washington, must be grown during winter in a heated greenhouse, making them expensive to maintain. Constraints, such as the need to keep materials disease free or to prevent cross-pollination, may necessitate the use of such controlled environments. For many accessions, however, a suitable facility with short day-lengths and cool but frost-free conditions must be found in a tropical environment. Arrangements could be made with another nation or an appropriate international organization. An irrigated site in the arid desert of the southwest United States where diseases and pests are less abundant is also needed to maintain the germplasm of crops, such as jojoba, some sorghum and beans, several grasses, and selected small grains.
The Mission of the National System
The National Plant Germplasm System should develop clear, concise goals and policies that encompass the conservation of plant genetic resources that reflect the world's biological diversity and crop resources of immediate use to scientists and breeders.
Assessments of the scope and extent of current collections are needed, and these must be used to develop long-range management plans. Efforts are needed to expand some collections to make them more representative of the available diversity. Consideration must be given
to ecogeographical areas from where accessions originate, how broad based or narrow based the collection is in terms of known or suspected genetic traits, and what genes might be obtained by utilizing various transect or other sampling procedures when rare alleles are sought. These factors must be weighed against cost, accuracy, need, and other criteria for obtaining suitable material from recognized collection centers in other areas of the world.
Collection and conservation priorities should be established to address collection completeness and include close wild relatives and non-crop-related species that may possess useful genes. A policy should encompass crop genetic resources and endangered species of native and exotic taxa, and should include consideration of in situ conservation, where appropriate.
The United States must address the problem of global loss of biological diversity. This can be done in significant part through conserving the genetic diversity of crop species.
The increasing responsibilities of the United States to contribute to and expand efforts for preserving global germplasm resources must be recognized. In this context, the NPGS must be a proactive system that develops long-term plans and policies for broader collections that encompass a greater range of diversity. This commitment must be reflected in the mission of the national system, and it must be supported by the USDA, the Department of State, and the Congress.
International Policies and Cooperation
The National Plant Germplasm System must take a more active role in developing U.S. policies that guide relations with the Food and Agriculture Organization, international agricultural research centers, and other international agencies and national institutions.
While the NPGS has accepted responsibility for several collections that are designated as part of an international network, the Department of State defines and manages international relations. No cohesive, scientifically based policy exists to guide the nation's international activities related to plant genetic resources.
Policies for international cooperation in germplasm activities should permit an unambiguous mechanism for establishing U.S. positions on international genetic resources issues. In the past, it has been unclear where responsibility for recommendations on U.S. positions resides. Thus, concerns expressed by scientists, administrators, or advisers with regard to germplasm policy seemed to disappear. The National Plant
Genetic Resources Board, as an adviser on germplasm issues, should provide a forum for the discussion of these issues.
The United States should become a member of the Commission on Plant Genetic Resources of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Joining the commission should not be considered an endorsement of all of its actions or policies. Rather, it would enable the United States to gain a voice in developing and directing the commission as well as shaping its long-term agenda. The Department of State should include the NPGS and the NPGRB in the process of developing policies and actions for consideration by the commission. The leader of the national system or his or her designee should be part of any U.S. delegation to commission meetings. [The United States joined in September 1990.]
The National Plant Germplasm System should cooperate with other nations to conserve, collect, maintain, and regenerate germplasm.
Many nations are now becoming reluctant to allow the indiscriminate collection and exchange of germplasm. The United States must seek policies that promote open and cooperative collection, management, and exchange, and that include opportunities to promote in situ conservation of important resources. Cooperation would benefit and enlarge the quantity of germplasm and technical expertise available to other nations.
The United States should pursue agreements with other national or international germplasm centers for access to or regeneration of important germplasm resources. The NPGS holds, for example, accessions of Andean Maize landraces, but there are no U.S. facilities suitable for regenerating these high-elevation, short day-length materials. Cooperative agreements are needed with other nations to regenerate such germplasm.
The United States should work with neighboring countries to establish a North American cooperative program in genetic resources.
Canada and Mexico have national germplasm systems, both of which are smaller than the NPGS, but may be complementary to it. In a regional cooperative program, the United States, Canada, and Mexico would mutually benefit. The United States, for example, could obtain assistance in maintaining or regenerating accessions for which no suitable environment is available domestically. Many cotton accessions, for example, must be grown under contract at sites in Mexico. Duplication of the U.S. wheat collection with Agriculture Canada to provide a
supplementary backup to that in the NSSL is another example of cooperation. Similarly, these neighbors can benefit from cooperation with NPGS facilities, which can provide, for example, back-up storage, testing, or technical assistance.
The Germplasm Resources Information Network must better reflect the collections of the National Plant Germplasm System.
The GRIN is an effective database management system for the NPGS collections, but its inventory and descriptive data are incomplete. For many accessions there is little specific information beyond the accession number, crop name, and where it is held. Data on geographic origin (passport data) and basic characteristics (characterization data) may exist within NPGS records, but they often are not available through the network. These kinds of data are essential to breeders and other researchers who seek particular genetic characteristics. Much greater emphasis must be placed on making such data available through GRIN.
A research advisory committee should be established to assess and guide the system's research activities.
Research is essential to sustain an effective genetic resources management system. For example, seed biology studies are the basis for developing nondestructive methods for assessing seed viability; cryobiology research could lead to extended storage of in vitro cultures or short-lived seed; population genetics efforts could improve collection, maintenance, and regeneration methods; and biotechnology research may enable more efficient and rapid use of the genes contained in germplasm collections. No mechanism for adequately reviewing or promoting research presently exists. An advisory committee could assess research needs, resources, and accomplishments and could consider research proposals from scientists in the NPGS. It could also oversee periodic external peer review of NPGS research. Existing in-house peer review lacks scientific and technical rigor.
Funds should be made available for competitive, goal-directed research in areas of specific need.
Competitive grants should be used to fund research for which expertise is not available within the national system. The program could be managed either by the NPGS or within the existing USDA Competitive
Research Grants Office. A competitive grants program would enable the national system to promote goal-directed research in areas of specific need for which permanent staffing is inappropriate. Framing guidelines for proposals and awarding grants could be the responsibility of the research advisory committee, proposed above.
With the appropriate administrative organization, the NPGS would become an effective mechanism for ensuring agricultural security, both nationally and internationally. The dedication of NPGS scientists and the significance of their work have long been recognized. The impact of their contributions, however, has often been hampered by an inadequate administrative structure. The changes proposed in this report are intended to remedy this situation.