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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Beltsville, Maryland (BARC) » Beltsville Agricultural Research Center » National Germplasm Resources Laboratory » Research » Research Project #434403

Research Project: Develop, Enhance, and Operate GRIN-Global and Other Genetic Resource Information Systems to Support the U.S. National Plant Germplasm System and Other USDA-ARS Genetic Resource Collections

Location: National Germplasm Resources Laboratory

2023 Annual Report

Objective 1: Operate GRIN-Global and other USDA-ARS genetic resource information management systems to safeguard and deliver invaluable passport and descriptive data, and comply with information management system directives from USDA-ARS, USDA, and the U.S. Federal government as a whole. Sub-objective 1.A: Administer and maintain GRIN/GRIN-Global hardware and software systems to ensure uninterrupted operations, in compliance with policies and procedures to protect information integrity and security. Sub-objective 1.B: Document GRIN-Global with guides and manuals, and train NPGS users to facilitate acceptance and efficient usage of the system. Sub-objective 1.C: Deliver information about other agricultural genetic resources collections and related programs through GRIN web pages. Objective 2: Continue to expand the capacity and capabilities of the GRIN-Global plant genetic resource information management system to meet the needs of crop curators and genetic resource users, and to ensure smooth integration of its data with information from other sources, such as model organism databases. Sub-objective 2.A: Enhance GRIN-Global by optimizing database, middle tier, and presentation tier features and functions. Sub-objective 2.B: Expand the capability of GRIN-Global to exchange data with other accession-based information management systems.

The GRIN-Global software will be enhanced by the Development Team using agreed upon tools, principles, and practices. The features and functions will be improved for the Curator Tool used by National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS) genebank staff, the Administrator Tool used by system administrators, the Middle Tier that enforces the business rules, and the Public Website used by global researchers and germplasm requestors. New software releases will be scheduled at regular intervals. All released versions of the software will be deposited into the GRIN-Global international code repository and made freely available to collaborators. The project will provide as much technical assistance to international partners as is feasible, and will participate in global genebank community discussion, planning and implementation events. Documentation, training, and help materials will be developed using a variety of formats to ensure maximal and efficient utilization of the system by NPGS genebanks. NPGS genebank staff will be provided ongoing opportunities to receive training on using GRIN-Global. The project will provide secure and reliable access to the information management system for internal and external users. All hardware and software components will be operated in compliance with USDA and ARS cybersecurity policies and procedures. The project will also operate the GRIN pages that document the USDA National Genetic Resources Program. These include providing public access to informational pages or searchable databases for animal, insect, microbial, and plant collections. GRIN will also serve as the public repository of information about the activities of the National Genetic Resources Advisory Council of USDA.

Progress Report
Four new versions of the Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN) Global public website and server components were released between June 2022 and June 2023. The most prominent of many enhancements made in the past year are: 1) Enhanced the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines compliance for the site, which improves the experience for users with physical limitations (e.g. color blindness); 2) The ability to search the accession note/narrative field was added; 3) A 150 minimum character count was implemented when requestors complete the intended use narrative entry in the shopping cart checkout process. This helps us better discern legitimate requests and learn more about the kinds of research our stakeholders are performing; 4) The capability to search crop wild relatives by common name was added; 5) The ability to search images by 34 different plant parts was added as an advanced search feature; 6) A list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) was developed specifically pertaining to request fulfillment, order processing, and shipping procedures. A link to these FAQ is included in the acknowledgement email automatically sent in response to all incoming requests. This action was taken to preempt the excessive number of follow-up emails being generated on these topics and to standardize replies to inquiries. This is the final report for project 8042-21000-284-000D. It’s five-year accomplishments represent a maturation of the GRIN-Global site from its launch version in 2015 to build upon basic functionality and increase the emphasis on enhancements that improved the user experience and provided better service to stakeholders. The many highlights are documented in the 2019-2023 annual reports. One of the most significant changes was our taking action to control the worsening problem of requests for free plant material from home and community gardeners, for basic K-12 school projects, and other non-research requests (NRR). Our Non-Research Request (NRR) Tool allows us to filter and separately evaluate incoming germplasm requests that have characteristics suggesting they are not within our distribution policy. The tool also allows for a uniform NPGS-wide means of communicating with requestors, and to the genebank locations about multi-site requests. This process is saving thousands of staff hours annually at the 20 NPGS locations from dealing individually with NRR. Another significant change over the five-year duration of this project was the approach used to deliver and host the site. At the beginning of this project, GRIN was still being operated from servers maintained in-house by NGRL and on premise at BARC. In 2019, we moved to a cloud-based hosting approach using a contractual vendor. In 2022, GRIN migrated to the ARS Azure, an ARS-wide consolidated instance of the Microsoft Azure cloud managed at the REE level. Overall, the changes in hosting approaches for GRIN during this project have been positive by providing a more secure environment, and with standardized best operating practices. Project 8042-21000-284-000D has been replaced by project 8042-21000-301-000D, which will report future progress and accomplishments related to GRIN applications.

1. GRIN is available continuously as a global resource. The Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN) database, operated by ARS scientists in Beltsville, Maryland, was publicly available almost continually throughout fiscal year 2023. GRIN provided valuable and comprehensive information about agricultural genetic resources, especially those of the U.S. National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS). As of June 2023, NPGS genebanks have distributed more than 100,000 plant germplasm samples in the calendar year based on requests received through GRIN. This material is used by global scientists to improve crop production and protection and enhance global agricultural sustainability.

2. GRIN-U launched as an open access site for plant genetic resources (PGR) education and training. A new member of the GRIN family of applications was launched in July 2021 to support a NIFA-funded project to enhance educational and training opportunities in plant germplasm conservation and utilization, and genebank operations. The site, called GRIN-U, is freely available online. This project is providing a framework through which project collaborators at ARS, Colorado State University, and Iowa State University, can publish visual (videos, virtual tours, podcasts) and printed (e-books, infographics, manuals) materials on a variety of topics related to PGR management and plant genebank operations. About 45 new content items were added between June 2022 and June 2023, including an ongoing effort to collect and publish “success stories” describing how PGR have directly contributed to crop production and protection efforts. We also initiated a quarterly electronic newsletter highlighting new content. As of June 2023, the site has served about 5,000 users from 122 countries since it was launched, with the top five user origins being, in order, the U.S., China, Canada, India, and Brazil. This site will help train a new generation of plant scientists and technical staff, as well as the broader university student and general public communities, about the importance of PGR in global food production and security.