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International Partnership to Develop a Global Plant Genebank Information System

By Kim Kaplan
February 11, 2008

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Bioversity International are partnering with the Global Crop Diversity Trust to develop a powerful but easy-to-use, Internet-based information management system for the world's plant genebanks.

The nucleus of the system will be ARS's existing Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN), a database that already houses information about the more than 480,000 accessions (distinct varieties of plants) in ARS’s National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS). In addition to serving as the information backbone of the NPGS, GRIN has been adopted by Canada’s national genebank system as their information management system. ARS has a long-term commitment to maintaining and enhancing GRIN, which it began developing more than 20 years ago.

As more genetic and agricultural data are generated about the wide range of plants preserved in genebanks around the world, the huge amount of information is increasingly difficult to manage and make accessible. This is especially the case for smaller genebanks in the developing world that may lack the capacity and resources to develop their own information management systems.

Now, thanks to the partnership between the Global Crop Diversity Trust, ARS and Bioversity, software upgrades will enable the GRIN system to be used by genebanks of all sizes, making more information about more plants available to researchers. The new system will help genebanks conserve and use precious genetic resources more effectively, and also help researchers, farmers and producers make the best possible use of information.

For example, ARS recently screened a key part of the U.S. wheat and barley collection to find genes that provide resistance to a new rust fungus, Ug99, that could threaten 80 percent of the world's wheat. Ug99 first surfaced in Uganda in 1999, and has since been found in Kenya and Ethiopia.

The Global Crop Diversity Trust will contribute a $1.4 million grant to support this three-year project. ARS will contribute the equivalent of more than $900,000 in in-kind co-financing. Bioversity is providing its expertise in information systems and its strong links with genebanks, particularly in the developing world.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency. The Global Crop Diversity Trust is an independent international organization whose mission is to ensure the conservation and availability of crop diversity for food security worldwide.

Bioversity International is the world's largest international research organization dedicated solely to the conservation and use of agricultural biodiversity.