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Rebecca Povilus




Rebecca (Becky) Povilus

Vegetable Crop Germplasm Curator

Plant Genetic Resources Unit (PGRU)

(315) 787-2425



I am geneticist and curator of the PGRU’s NE9 Vegetable Crop Collections, as well as an evolutionary-developmental biologist with a long-standing interest in seed biology.

The NE9 site in Geneva, NY houses the seed bank that holds the USDA’s collection of many of the vegetables that we eat everyday: tomatoes, brassicas (a group that includes cole crops like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, mustard greens, and kohlrabi), onion, winter squash, radishes, buckwheat, physalis (tomatillos and ground cherries), celery, asparagus, and more. We also have collections of the wild relatives of domesticated crops, as they are important reservoirs of genetic diversity. Together, this collection consists of over 16,000 unique accessions (“types” of plants) that span more than 15 species.

The NE9 Vegetable Crop Germplasm Collection


# Accessions (“types” we have)



Brassicas (cole crops)




Cucurbits (winter squash)








Physalis (tomatillos)









The NE9 vegetable collection includes some of the most economically important vegetable crops. In 2022, tomatoes accounted for the largest share of all fresh market and processing vegetables produced in the United States, being valued at about 1.7 billion dollars. Onions were the next most valuable vegetable crop in 2022, with a total value of about 1.6 billion dollars. (Source: USDA 2022 Vegetable summary)

Each of the crops in the NE9 vegetable collection face unique challenges: old and new diseases, climate-related stressors such as drought and extreme temperatures, and even changes in agricultural technologies and consumer preferences. As a germplasm curator, my goal is to conserve, maintain, distribute, evaluate, and increase genetic resources for these crops. These genetic resources are a key tool for plant breeders and researchers as they explore plant biology and develop new crop varieties that can withstand current and future challenges to our agriculture/food systems.

My research focuses on: 1) characterizing the vegetable collection, both in terms of important phenotypic traits as well as genetic diversity, 2) understanding how curatorial practices (like seed-saving methods) contribute to the health of a germplasm collection, and 3) continuing to explore the widely underappreciated diversity in developmental processes that underlie plant embryology - particularly in the context of how plants make healthy, viable seeds.


Education And Professional Experience

Postdoctoral Researcher and Fellow (2017-2023), Whitehead Institute, Cambridge MA

Ph.D. in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (2017), Harvard University, Cambridge MA

B.S. in Plant Biology, Earth Sciences (2009), University of Michigan, Ann Arbor MI


Looking for Plant Germplasm? Germplasm Requests : USDA ARS

Learn more about the collections a the NE9 site in Geneva NY: Plant Genetic Resources Unit (PGRU)