Gene banks are responsible for storing hundreds of genetic materials for different plant crops. Scientists then use the genetic material to study plant growth and adaptation as well as to make improvements to the crops. A recent study conducted by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture and the Global Crop Diversity Trust has found that gene banks are missing a significant number of wild plants closely related to the world’s most important food crops.

Having the genetic material of wild crops allows scientists to study the traits of these wild crops. The wild crops are more resistant to disease and climate change. Scientists are able to take the traits they find in wild crops and implant them into our world’s staple crops. This development is incredibly important for developing nations whose crops suffer greatly from climate change.

The report looked at 29 staple crops, including rice, wheat and potato, and found that around 240 of their 450 wild relatives were missing from gene banks. The five crops most at risk are eggplant, potato, apple, sunflower and carrot. The countries with the most threatened wild plants are Bolivia, China, Ecuador, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Mexico, Mozambique, Peru and South Africa.

Over the next three years, a network of partners led by Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Partnership will collect all of these wild relatives. The project will require researchers to collect species from 30 countries. It will prioritize crops that are essential to developing countries, such as sorghum and finger millet in Africa.

“We realize that crop wild relatives are essential for us to adapt to climate change,” said Jonas Mueller, international projects coordinator at Kew. “…farming communities in developing countries are the ultimate beneficiaries of this whole undertaking. I think it’s an example of how science can help developing countries.”

– Catherine Ulrich

Sources: SciDevCropTrust, Kew
Photo: CGIAR