Submitted to: HortScience
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: June 27, 2004
Publication Date: February 1, 2005
Citation: Williams, K.A. 2005. An overview of the u.s. national plant germplasm system's exploration program. Hortscience. HortScience 40(2):297-301.
The Plant Exploration Program was established by USDA in 1898, several decades before the emergence of the US National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS), and continues to support international and domestic plant explorations for germplasm acquisition. These explorations are designed to fill collection gaps identified by the crop curators of the NPGS and the 40 Crop Germplasm Committees that counsel the NPGS. About 15 explorations are conducted annually under the auspices of this program. Although plant explorations to remote areas are often still the only means of acquiring unique new germplasm, the focus and methods applied by modern plant explorers have changed significantly in recent years in response to evolving germplasm needs and the new opportunities presented by recent technological advances. Modern explorations are characterized by the targeting of specific taxa and traits. New exploration techniques and tools, including geographic information systems and improved methods of data colIection, are being applied to locate, document, and assess plant genetic diversity. During the past decade, legal obstacles faced by the Program have increased due to restrictive laws implemented in germplasm donor countries that exercise their national sovereignty over genetic resources, replacing the free and open access to genetic resources that prevailed before the ratification of the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1993. The NPGS has responded to these regulatory challenges with a flexible approach that includes nonmonetary benefit sharing and increased partnerships with host countries.