USDA Introduces a Multi-Year Plan to Strengthen U.S. Genebank Management of Plant Germplasm
Contact: Maribel Alonso
WASHINGTON, November 17, 2023 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released today the National Strategic Germplasm and Cultivar Collection Assessment and Utilization Plan in support of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) U.S. National Plant Germplasm System’s (NPGS) mission.
The USDA-ARS NPGS is confident that implementing this plan will address current operational and research challenges. The collection is vital for maintaining the nation’s food supply by providing breeders and researchers the germplasm they need to furnish U. S. consumers with abundant, safe and affordable agricultural products.
The NPGS, a network of 22 genebanks primarily operated by USDA-ARS, often in strong partnership with land-grant universities, evaluates, characterizes and preserves unique germplasm collections, including seeds, tissues, tubers and buds. These collections offer researchers and breeders access to genetic diversity, which is crucial to developing pest-resistant and environmentally-resilient crops in response to emerging diseases and pests, fast-changing climates and market demands.
The genebanks currently maintain more than 617,000 unique kinds of plant germplasm from more than 100 different crops and distribute over 200,000 samples of that germplasm yearly for research, education and breeding purposes. In addition, NPGS scientists conduct research to enhance methods for maintaining and improving germplasm while ensuring all information and data associated with these vital materials are accessible through the Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN)-Global.
As directed by Congress in the 2018 Farm Bill, the plan provides an overview of the current NPGS status, strengths and weaknesses, and operational capacities for managing plant germplasm, which includes acquisition, maintenance, characterization, distribution, evaluation and genetic enhancement. It identifies the operational backlogs, inadequate plant germplasm management capacities and other crucial operational and research needs that threaten the availability of germplasm for crop improvement.
More importantly, this comprehensive 10-year plan includes strategies for meeting the preceding challenges based on data-driven assessments and recommendations from NPGS scientists and leadership, with guidance from the National Genetic Resources Advisory Council. When successfully implemented, these strategies will result in:
- Maintenance of more plant germplasm that are disease-free, securely backed up and available for research and breeding.
- Enhancement of knowledge of the intrinsic genetic variation and high-value traits in that germplasm.
- Acquisition, conservation and development of new plant germplasm with valuable traits.
That plan is now publicly accessible at https://www.ars-grin.gov/Collections#plant-germplasm and https://www.ars.usda.gov/crop-production-and-protection/plant-genetic-resources-genomics-and-genetic-improvement/docs/npgs-plan/
NPGS is primarily funded through appropriations to the USDA-ARS from the U.S. Congress and receives valuable support from state land-grant universities and many agricultural stakeholders.
The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific in-house research agency. Daily, ARS focuses on solutions to agricultural problems affecting America. Each dollar invested in U.S. agricultural research results in $20 of economic impact.