Preserving Genetic Variety of Valuable Specialty
October 10, 2007
Whats a specialty
crop? It can be any of hundreds of fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, nursery
plants and other crops that add variety to the diet and beauty to the garden.
To protect all U.S. cropsand provide material for developing new and
better onesthe Agricultural Research Service's (ARS) National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS) maintains genetic
material, or germplasm, at more than 20 genebanks around the country. Many NPGS
locations conserve germplasm of specialty crops.
Genetic Resources Unit at Geneva, N.Y., ARS scientists identified
previously unknown genetic variations in tomato, a specialty crop that nets
about $2 billion dollars annually. Molecular biologist
Labate, computational biologist
Baldo and geneticist
Robertson also found greater genetic variety than commonly believed to
exist in tomato. Understanding how to harness this variation could help
breeders improve the U.S. tomato crop.
Forsline has coordinated the addition of a large gene pool of wild apple
germplasm to the Geneva unit. The germplasm, which was collected in Central
Asia, represents the main center of origin for commercial apples, and may
contribute to new cultivars.
NPGS research also contributes to domestic and international plant
preservation. At the Beltsville, Md.,
Woody Landscape Plant
Germplasm Repository, part of the
and Nursery Plants Research Unit, curator
Conrad and his colleagues are collecting and conserving woody landscape
tree and shrub accessions as part of a national effort to preserve genetic
At the ARS National Clonal Germplasm Repository (NCGR)
in Corvallis, Ore., curator
Hummer and other researchers have been working with international
organizations to develop a global conservation strategy for strawberry genetic
resources. In 2006, the NCGR hosted an international panel to develop protocols
for conservation standards. These efforts could result in greater protection
for wild species and increased accessibility to genetic resources.
These and similar programs at NPGS locations throughout the country help
ensure the strength of U.S. agricultural crops.
more about plant preservation research in the October 2007 issue of
Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.