ARS Plant Collections Help Safeguard Crops
O'Brien January 5, 2010
In the months ahead, Agricultural
Research Service (ARS) scientists plan to collect walnuts from Kyrgyzstan,
grasses from Russia, and carrots and sunflowers from fields across the
Southeastern United States in efforts that will enhance one of the nation's
most effective tools for protecting the food supply.
Researchers will make the trips to collect plants with useful
characteristics. The collected material will become part of the
U.S. National Plant Germplasm
System (NPGS), a network of gene banks that plays an integral role in
preserving genetic traits that can be used to combat emerging pests, pathogens,
diseases and other threats to the world's supply of food and fiber.
The NPGS collections are made up of approximately 511,000 samples of
seeds, tissues and whole plants kept at more than 20 ARS gene banks around the
country. Many of the gene banks also receive support from universities and
state agricultural experiment stations.
ARS scientists use collection materials for research and mail out
thousands of samples of materials free of charge each year to researchers and
educators in the United States and countries throughout the world.
ARS also funds approximately 15 expeditions every year to search for
new samples of crops and crop relatives with unique traits, such as drought
tolerance and pest resistance. The trips, coordinated by the ARS
Germplasm Resources Lab (NGRL) in Beltsville, Md., are conducted with
collaboration from host countries and include benefits for these countries.
Useful traits in the samples added to the NPGS may be incorporated
into crop cultivars, often many years later. For example, a peanut found in a
Brazilian market in 1952 is a source for resistance to a wilt virus for most of
the peanuts grown in the Southeastern United States and in many other nations.
A wheat plant collected in Turkey in 1948 effectively resisted a fungal
pathogen that emerged as a major threat 15 years later. Its genetics are now
incorporated into virtually every wheat variety grown in the Pacific Northwest.
Requests for material are filed through the
Germplasm Resources Information Network
(GRIN), an online database (www.ars-grin.gov) that identifies and keeps track
of every sample in the collection.
about this and other ARS collections in the January 2010 issue of
Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is the U.S.
Department of Agriculture's principal intramural scientific research
agency. The research supports the USDA priority of promoting international food