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Rescue package for plant genetic diversity

Some of the world's most remote regions contain the forebears of our cultivated crop species. A team of geneticists from Europe and Asia came together to make sure that our plant genetic heritage does not suffer further losses.
Rescue package for plant genetic diversity
Modern agricultural practices are honed for maximum profit. Monoculture means standardised planting, cultivation and harvesting, usually by machine. Growing only one crop in an area means all plants are virtually genetically identical. The downside to this is that genes are being lost forever at an exponential rate including valuable genetic content for traits like disease resistance and potential pharmaceutical therapies.

Regions of the world where cultivated plants originated, known as Vavilov centres, are located chiefly in developing regions. Preservation of genetic diversity is absolutely crucial for food security and supplying the world's food and plant-based resources. It follows therefore that European researchers communicate with their counterparts in these genetically strategic regions.

The EU-funded 'Networking on conservation and use of plant genetic resources in Europe and Asia' (Diverseeds) project took up the challenge to establish a communication platform between plant scientists. Regions involved were two of the eight Vavilov centres, southeast Asia and China with Israel (as a middle eastern representative). Guided by the International Treaty of Plant Genetic Resources (PGR), their primary aim was to draw up a list of recommendations and strategies for plant genetic preservation.

Through a series of hands-on workshops, information was collated for the first international Diverseeds meeting held in the Biodiversity Centre in Rome in conjunction with the ECPGR Inter-Regional Cooperation Network (IRCN). Here, scientists aired priority issues such as common ground and gaps to be filled to comply with the implementation of the genetic resources treaty.

Since then, a wider group of experts on genetic diversity and other important stakeholders such as local farmers has become involved through online conferences. A final conference held in China resulted in recommendations and a strategy to ensure continuation of the fruitful networking achieved by Diverseeds.

Without exception, networking and cooperation provide benefits for all parties concerned. The models and recommendations from the Diverseeds project can be extended to a rescue package for genetic diversity anywhere in the world's vast ecosystem.

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