Genebanks – repositories of genetic material (germplasm) of plants or animals – play a critical role towards a two-pronged goal: i) making the germplasm available for researchers, plant breeders and farmers in the short term and ii) ensuring that the genetic material for future food supply are preserved in the long term.
In other words, genebanks play a pivotal part in maintaining biological diversity, especially with the looming threat of climate change and other factors. The United Nations International Day for Biological Diversity is celebrated on 22 May as a reminder to everyone that biological diversity is a global asset that is fast depleting, and itsconservation, sustainable use and equitable sharing could not be overemphasized. The year 2018 marks the 25th anniversary of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Over seven million plant germplasm accessions are currently conserved in 1750 genebanks around the world, and about two million are expected to be unique.
With climate change threatening crop diversity across the globe, genebanks cease to be mere repositories of germplasm and take on the imperative role of being the source of biological genetic diversity; providing enhanced seeds that can stand up to disease, pests and a changing environment; and protecting the native agricultural heritage of farmers across the world.
Editor’s note: Rajani Kumar is a communication officer at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)
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