Adapting agriculture to climate change is one of the most urgent challenges of our time. For thousands of years humans have selectively bred plants based on characteristics such as taste, high yield, resistance to disease, growing conditions and ease of harvesting. While the domestication of plants has allowed human population growth the subsequent loss of genetic diversity has left crops vulnerable to pests, diseases and changing environmental conditions, particularly climate change. Today 50% of our calories come from just the three crops: wheat, maize and rice. What would happen if a disaster struck one of these crops? The emergence of a new disease or slight change in growing conditions could jeopardise the food supply of tens, maybe hundreds, of millions of people.
The wild relatives of today's food crops contain an incredible amount of genetic diversity, which holds the potential to help crops become more resilient to threats. But these crop wild relatives (CWR) remain largely unevaluated and are threatened by land use changes, conflict and changes in environmental conditions. Collecting the valuable genetic diversity, within these wild relatives, is vital to ensure our future food security.
This programme of work ran from 2013 to 2020 and was supported by the government of Norway and managed by the Global Crop Diversity Trust with the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and implemented in partnership with national and international gene banks and plant breeding institutes around the world.
Aim - To prioritise and collect CWR, ensure their long-term conservation, and facilitate their use in breeding new, improved crops.
The project objectives were broken down by the four project phases:
Objective: Develop a global CWR inventory, an occurrence dataset, and gap analyses detailing where CWR species have not been collected before. Identify and prioritise CWR taxa, and locations, for collection.
Progress: The Project team identified and prioritised the closest crop wild relative taxa (over 350 species in total) of 29 focal crops for collection, and the distribution of these taxa was used to identify key countries for collecting.
Objective: Organize the collecting of more than 350 priority CWR species.
Objective: Conserve 1/3 of each CWR collection within the country of origin and 2/3 in the Millennium Seed Bank's long-term -20°C store.
Progress: Between July 2013 and July 2019 3,709 unique collections/ accessions were recieved at the MSB.
Objective: Make available and send conserved collections to pre-breeders.
Progress: All CWR collections at the MSB are now available to pre-breeders and can be requested via GENESYS. We have sent Medicago to Australia, and are now looking to send seeds to over 45 pre-breeding organisations around the world.
From July 2013- July 2019, 55 batches of seeds were recieved at the MSB from 21 countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Chile, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Ecuador, El Salvador, Georgia, Ghana, Italy, Kenya, Lebanon, Malaysia, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Portugal, Spain, Sudan, Uganda, Vietnam), excluding Brazil, Ethiopia, Guatemala and Peru. This equates to a total of 3,709 unique collections/ accessions in total (target and non-target genepools), made up of 300 species (331 taxa) from 61 genera.
Nearly 1,000 germination tests have revealed that the quality of seed collections is high.
Collecting guides have been completed for 24 countries.
3,637 unique collections of 27 target (and related) genera have been made (Aegilops, Avena, Cajanus, Cenchrus, Cicer, Daucus, Eleusine, Elymus, Ensete, Hordeum, Ipomoea, Lathyrus, Lens, Malus, Medicago, Musa, Oryza, Pennisetum, Phaseolus, Pisum, Secale, Solanum, Sorghum, Thinopyrum, Triticum, Vicia and Vigna), covering 253 species (284 taxa).
The project has provided 73 people from 19 partner institutions with training, both in country and at the MSB to ensure all partners have the knowledge, support and capacity to meet the project's objectives.
The project's 'Blue Drum Kits' provide low-tech drying equipment for seed collection, processing and storage. We have shipped them to partners in 19 different countries.