Submitted to: HortScience
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 8/3/2006
Publication Date: 4/15/2007
Citation: Forsline, P.L., Hummer, K.E. 2007. Fruit exploration supported by the national plant germplasm system 1980 to 2004. HortScience 42:200-202.
Interpretive Summary: In the 1970’s, fruit scientists recognized the great need to conserve fruit and nut genetic resources in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (UDSA), Agricultural Research Service(ARS), National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS).Until then, many fruit germplasm collections at state agricultural experiment station sites were eliminated when breeders retired and their life-long collections disappeared as administrators redirected programs. From that effort came funding from the U.S. Congress, through Farm Bills for the Department of Agriculture. Seven federally funded fruit, nut, and specialty crop genebanks came into existence. As the repositories became established, the funding available for plant exploration and exchange was also increased. A mechanism for prioritizing proposals for collections of each commodity was established. Crop Germplasm Committees (CGCs), a national, and sometimes international, group of scientific experts for particular crops were formed. Crop Curators and site managers were assigned to ex officio appointments on these committees. Annually, these committees prepare and review genetic vulnerability statements and develop guidance on filling gaps in the US national plant collections through plant exploration. From 1980 to 2004, 36 exploration/exchange proposals were funded for fruit and nut crops by the USDA. The explorations included apple, grape, stonefruit (cherries, apricots, plums, peaches and nectarines), pear, small fruit (strawberries, raspberries, black berries, blueberries, cranberries and currants) and an assortment of tropical fruits and nuts. Most of the explorations were for apple (10) and small fruit (19). In some cases there were collections where combinations of fruit types were collected. These newly collected species have broadened the genepools to improve pest and disease resistance, drought, heat and cold tolerance, and improved yield and fruit quality.
Technical Abstract: Since 1980, the National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (UDSA), Agricultural Research Service, has greatly expanded. Foremost among this expansion has been the addition of seven repositories for clonally-propagated fruit and nut crops. This expansion was critical because many fruit germplasm collections at state agricultural experiment station sites were in jeopardy with retired breeders collections disappearing as breeding programs diminished. As the repositories became established, NPGS increased the funding available for plant exploration and exchange. From 1980 to 2004, 36 exploration/exchange proposals for fruit and nut crops were funded by the USDA. A key mechanism for prioritizing collections of each commodity was the development of Crop Germplasm Committees (CGCs) that prepared genetic vulnerability statements for each crop. The late Dr. Calvin Sperling was very influential in working with the CGCs (1985-1995) to facilitate the process of prioritization and international relationships. The National Germplasm Resources Laboratory (NGRL), Beltsville, Md., continues this work. The Plant Germplasm Quarantine Center, Beltsville, Md., has also been a critical link in moving germplasm into an active status in NPGS. There have been changes in procedures and protocols for collection as a result of the Convention on Biological Diversity of 1993, and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resource for Food and Agriculture of 2004. The USDA now works with countries through programs of “mutual benefit” and bilateral agreements. Over 3000 accessions have been introduced as a result of these expeditions. Other expeditions for fruit crops with funding from outside the USDA have also been made.