RESEARCH, ACQUISITION, MANAGEMENT, AND DOCUMENTATION OF PLANT GENETIC RESOURCES
Location: Plant Germplasm Introduction and Testing
Title: Genebanks Pay Big Dividends to Agriculture, the Environment, and Human Welfare
Submitted to: Public Library of Science Biology
Publication Type: Other
Publication Acceptance Date: May 1, 2008
Publication Date: June 1, 2008
Citation: Johnson, R.C. 2008. Genebanks Pay Big Dividends to Agriculture, the Environment, and Human Welfare. Public Library of Science Biology. http://biology.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi10.1371/journal.pbio.0060148(See URL).
Interpretive Summary: As crop genetic resources continue to erode worldwide, the need to acquire and maintain germplasm is ongoing and urgent. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that today only 150 plant species are under extensive global cultivation, with just 12 crop species providing 80% of the world's food. Although modern agriculture feeds more people on less land than ever before, it also results in high genetic uniformity by planting large areas of the same species with genetically similar cultivars, making entire crops highly vulnerable to disease, drought, and insect infestation. The Irish potato famine of the mid-1800s, which claimed an estimated 1.5 million lives, and the heavy losses to the 1970 US corn crop from southern corn leaf blight, costing an estimated US$1 billion, provide dramatic illustrations of the risks of genetic uniformity and dependence on just a few crops. As part of the National Plant germplasm System (NPGS), the Western Regional Plant Introduction Station (WRPIS) in Pullman, Washington, acquires, maintains, conserves, evaluates, and distributes plant genetic resources needed to improve crops, develop new crops, and provide plant material for environmental restoration. This article explains the improtant role that the NPGS and the WRPIS play in germplasm maintenance and distribution to support agriculture in the U.S. and worldwide.