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Photo: Scientists removing seeds from long-term storage in liquid nitrogen. Link to photo information
One of the world's largest preservers of plant and animal germplasm, the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Click the image for more information about it.

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USDA Germplasm Center Celebrates 50th Anniversary

By Laura McGinnis
August 19, 2008

FORT COLLINS, Colo.--The U.S. Department of Agriculture's premier genebank is celebrating its 50th anniversary here today. The National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation (NCGRP), part of USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), maintains the genetic diversity of the world's crops and livestock as living germplasm that is distributed nationally and internationally to improve agricultural productivity, fight hunger, improve nutrition, reduce pesticide use and restore ecosystems.

"In 50 years, the NCGRP has made invaluable contributions to the preservation of precious genetic resources," said ARS Administrator Edward B. Knipling. "These efforts continue to benefit the United States and the world by ensuring that diverse animal and crop germplasm is available to breeders and researchers."

More than 1 million samples of plants, animals, insects and microbes are housed at NCGRP.

The germplasm that is preserved at NCGRP is an irreplaceable natural resource that underpins U.S. food security and the global supply of food, fiber and biofuels. These samples carry genes vital for combating emerging pest and disease problems and environmental threats. Variation within the collection is used to develop new products and specialty crops. Rapidly advancing research in genomics and gene discovery make daily use of the huge collections at NCGRP.

During the 50 years of the center's existence, NCGRP research has made major strides in the technology that keeps germplasm alive for decades or centuries. NCGRP scientists introduced freezer and cryogenic storage of plant germplasm to the world, and found new ways to capture and preserve genetic diversity of crops and livestock. Managing large collections requires advanced data systems and tools to identify and efficiently collect essential genetic variation. NCGRP scientists are world leaders in developing and implementing these state-of-art tools.

Like its germplasm, the technology developed at NCGRP is freely shared with genebanks everywhere. NCGRP facilities, operations and research are the model used to develop genebanks globally. NCGRP partners with other ARS facilities, governmental agencies, industry and international collaborators to support global efforts to improve human health and guide sustainable use and management of the Earth's biodiversity.

Formerly known as the National Seed Storage Laboratory (NSSL), the Center changed its name in 2001 to reflect the diverse array of plant materials it stores, and to acknowledge the addition of the National Animal Germplasm Program (NAGP) and initiatives to preserve genetic diversity of agronomically important insects and microbes.

In recognition of the NCGRP's 50th anniversary, the Colorado Senate passed a joint resolution earlier this year, recognizing the center for "globally renowned scientific research, preservation efforts and service."