Species diversity is rapidly declining world-wide. The loss of genetic variation within species containing gene variants required for broadening or replenishing the crop breeding pools will diminish the genetic potential available for the adaption of our crops to new challenges. Accordingly, genetic diversity (genebank accessions, populations in their natural habitats) and data linked with these conservation units are a valuable, indispensible public good.
By signing the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (PGRFA) in 2004, the Federal Republic of Germany committed to develop a complementary conservation strategy. The aim is to promote and protect the genetic diversity of crops in agricultural production systems (on farm) and the diversity of crop wild relatives in their natural habitats (in situ). The conservation in genebanks (ex situ) will further secure genetic resources and provide them for research and development projects.
Genetic diversity results inter alia from the adaptation of wild and cultivated plant species to different site conditions. Part of this diversity can be collected and conserved in the form of seeds, plants or parts of plants in gene banks. However, the conservation of genetic diversity in its entirety can only succeed if species are preserved in their natural environments where they can adapt dynamically to changing environmental conditions.
Thus, the conservation of genetic variation of breeding-relevant wild species in situ and the management of genetic diversity of cultivated species in agricultural systems (on farm) is the most important long-term measure for the conservation of our plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA), which must be supplemented and secured by the operation of gene banks. Toward this end, the institute elaborates methods for the conservation of genetic diversity on farm (e.g. evolutionary bulk of winter barley) and in situ (e.g. wild celery: https://netzwerk-wildsellerie.julius-kuehn.de/) and develops implementation concepts on this basis. The recently founded Wild Celery Network is managed by a specific coordinating unit established at the Institute.
At national level, the Institute is contributing to the implementation of the Agrobiodiversity Strategy and to the National Program "Plant Genetic Resources (PGR)" of the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL).
Genetic reserves for wild species
Although intra-specific diversity is of particular and increasing importance to supplement the gene pools of our crops, conservation of wild species within the framework of nature conservation has so far played only a minor role. The selection of areas for establishing genetic reserves of specific wild species is a suitable measure to achieve this purpose.
Generation of an evolutionary bulk population
A so-called evolutionary bulk population allows for highest recombination of gene variants (alleles). For this purpose, genotypically and phenotypically contrasting plants are used to form a population according to a hierarchical crossing scheme. These plants are being reproduced at several locations over several years and, thus, are exposed to diverse selection pressures. In this way, environmental adaptability of barley is will be preserved and valuable material for plant breeding research as well as genetic recombinants be created that may be used to adapt the crop to a changing climate.
Another obligation concerns information on plant genetic resources. Contracting parties such as Germany shall make an inventory of plant genetic resources that are important for our food and agriculture. They shall collect and document data on the potential value of plant genetic resources for agriculture as well as on their use or threat of extinction.
We run crop-specific databases for oats (European Avena Database, EADB) and for beet (International Database for Beta, IDBB). By doing this, JKI provides information on the breeding value of species and accessions. The data mainly resulted from EU-funded projects (such as AEGRO or AVEQ) which had been coordinated by our institute.
In cooperation with JKI’s IT department, the institute is currently developing ROBUSTUM (https://www.robustum.de/) as a versatile information system to support and document plant breeding programmes.
We are actively collaborating with the Advisory and Coordination Committee for Genetic Resources of Agricultural and Horticultural Crops (BEKO) of the BMEL as well as with the working groups and networks of the European Cooperative Programme for Plant Genetic Resources (ECPGR, Rome) http://www.ecpgr.cgiar.org/working-groups/wild-species-conservation/: Wild Species Conservation in Genetic Reserves Working Group, Avena Working Group, Documentation and Information Working Group. By doing so, we contribute to the development of national and European programmes in order to conserve and make use of plant genetic resources.
The institute contributes to the National Expert Programme "Plant Genetic Resources". It expresses expert statements on recent developments within the European Cooperative Programme for Plant Genetic Resources (ECPGR) and on inquiries resulting from ongoing negotiations regarding the International Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.
Stakeholders engaged in the conservation and sustainable use of PGR, include genebanks (ex situ, in situ and on farm management), plant breeding research institutes, commercial plant breeders, NGOs and polititians. The ECPGR provides a platform for cooperation among the numerous actors but the resources of the ECPGR programmes and actions are very limited. A comprehensive SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis revealed how to improve cooperation on European level. The results and recommendations are published on the homepage of the PGR Secure project.
The Institute operates the coordinating unit of the wild celery specific network. This unit supports local partners in the conservation of populations and their intra-species diversity as well as in monitoring. It collects, secures and maintains data on wild celeriac occurrences and integrates the network into the planned higher-level Network of Genetic Conservation Areas in Germany.