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ARS Home » Plains Area » Fort Collins, Colorado » Center for Agricultural Resources Research » Agricultural Genetic Resources Preservation Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #355703

Research Project: Efficient and Effective Preservation and Management of Plant and Microbial Genetic Resource Collections

Location: Agricultural Genetic Resources Preservation Research

Title: Conserving wild crop cousins


Submitted to: Meeting Proceedings
Publication Type: Other
Publication Acceptance Date: 8/31/2018
Publication Date: 9/21/2018
Citation: Greene, S.L. 2018. Conserving wild crop cousins. Meeting Proceedings. N/A.

Interpretive Summary: URL: Citation: Greene SL (2018) Conserving wild crop cousins. Sustainable Secure Food Blog, ASA/CSSA/SSSA

Technical Abstract: Farmers are experiencing a turbulent ride navigating our unpredictable weather. We rely on them to produce food, fiber and other plant-based items the world relies on in our everyday lives. Developing crops that can handle the vagaries of nature is an important strategy for handling climate change. Domestication through breeding made species easier to farm, higher yielding and more nutritious. Yet, it came with the trade-off of a loss of diversity, since potentially useful traits were left behind in the wild. Plant breeders are increasingly turning to close “wild cousins” of crops, hoping to rediscover useful traits. These “crop wild relatives,” as breeders call them, have not undergone any type of domestication. Examples are wild strawberries and apples, native forms of lettuce, and even native beans. Their fruits, grains and roots are not as large as domesticated crops. Some might be bitter, or have poor texture. But, these hardy plants have traits that helped them live in some harsh conditions. And, these traits are useful to breeders in the fight to create a sustainable and secure food supply.Breeders can use these species because they interbreed with their more modern crop relatives. New genetic tools make the process of incorporating useful wild variants into domesticated types more efficient. Crop wild relatives are some of the most promising resources that plant breeders can use to develop cultivars adapted to extreme conditions. These crop wild relatives hold promise to resolve today’s agricultural problems. Ironically, they are also vulnerable to climate change, and threats such as habitat modification, pollution, invasive species, and other human impacts.The first step to conserving crop wild relatives is to identify and inventory them. A growing list of countries,including the United States and Mexico have published national inventories. Canada has identified the need for an inventory as a priority. The Crop Science Society of America’s journal, Crop Science, has published both the US and Mexico inventories. A global inventory of 1,667 crop wild relative species of 173 globally important crops, provided interesting information on the status of crop wild relatives in North America.. First, North America is an important source of crop wild relatives. Canada possessed crop wild relatives closely related to sunflower, currant, gooseberry, and strawberry. Mexico was rich in many species, especially close relatives to maize and bean. The United States also had many species, especially relatives closely related to sunflower, grape, stone fruits, and small fruits (blackberry, blueberry, etc.) Second, many of these species are vulnerable and not secured in gene banks. Some are vulnerable to extinction. The United States inventory of crop wild relatives contains 3,500 species! Five species are known or presumed to be extinct in the wild. Four percent of the inventory were ranked as “globally critically imperiled” or “imperiled.” Almost six percent were “vulnerable.” This highlights the need for finding and preserving the germplasm of crop wild relatives. Species identified as high priority to collect and conserve include: • Cucurbita okeechobeensis, a close relative of squash; • Chiloensis subsp. sandwicensis, related to strawberry, • Helianthus niveus subsp. Tephrodes; a close sunflower relative; and • Manihot walkerae, a relative of cassava. Although many crop wild relatives are common, their representation is also limited in gene banks. There is a need to identify where crop wild relatives occur, and protect them in their natural habitats. Equally important is their collection and preserving in gene banks, where they can be readily sent to scientists and plant breeders. Conservation of wild plant genetic resources requires the cooperation of many players: different federal, state and tribal agencies, non-governmental