Plant genetic resources can be used in many ways. The range extends from the cultivation and marketing of old varieties, their use in breeding programmes, to large-scale screening in basic research and within the context of pre-breeding. Sustainable use is the use of components of biological diversity in a way that does not lead to the long-term loss of biological diversity. This will help to maintain their potential to meet the needs and wishes of present and future generations. In addition to the conservation and use of genetic resources, sustainable use systems can also serve to improve the provision of ecosystem services (e.g. pollination) and to adapt to climate change.
Genetic diversity of crops - a source for breeding and innovation
Plant production begins with healthy seeds and seedlings of efficient varieties. Variety breeding is the key to competitive agriculture. The breeding of plant genetic resources opens up innovation potentials. New varieties with resistance to biotic and abiotic influences contribute to environmental protection and increased performance. The plant genetic resources that form the basis for these innovations come either from genebanks, other collections or from natural sites. Sometimes it is also a current variety, which is improved through breeding.
Important players in plant breeding and related research and innovation are the German Plant Breeders’ Association (BDP) and the Association for the Promotion of Plant Innovation (GFPi). As the representative of the interests of the German plant breeders, the BDP is the contact for all questions relating to plant research, breeding and trade. The GFPi regularly develops research strategies with its members in order to promote innovations in plant research and to increase the visibility of the importance and necessity of plant research.
Describing the characteristics of genetic resources and making them available for breeding, research and education
Many research projects and plans have contributed to the valorisation of genetic diversity in genebanks and other research collections by combining resources with information on their characteristics and their use in breeding programmes. Genetic resources will be easier utilized by breeders when their genetic and phenotypic traits have been studied. The choice of crossing partners and selection processes is made more efficient. The most important condition is the access to seeds, which has to go hand in hand with the availability of information about their characteristics. Here, the publicly available data and individual collections contribute to use in breeding, research and education. Priority should be given to improving the availability of data (genotype, phenotype) that in addition to yield enhancement support other uses:
• Reduction of pesticides by improving plant resistance,
• Reduction of allergenic potential and health aspects (secondary plant substances),
• Characteristics for climate change adaptation (e.g. drought resistance),
• Reduction of fertilizer by symbiosis of plants with microorganisms,
• Pre-breeding for the development of public goods for German breeders,
• Further networking of the PGR data available in Germany via the National Inventory PGRDEU.
Preserving and further developing the diversity of varieties in agricultural and horticultural cultivation
Many cultivated plants have been used and continuously developed for thousands of years. The constant selection of individuals for further use has resulted in a regionally adapted large variety of selected landraces. In the course of the globalisation of markets and the concentration processes in agriculture and the food industry, numerous crop species and varieties have disappeared from large-scale cultivation in Germany. This is why it is important to preserve and sustainably use the local and regional genetic diversity of cultivated plant varieties. One possibility to expand the diversity is to cross the initial populations and to grow the offspring in evolutionary bulks. This can result in new combinations of characteristics, which are then selected and made available in new varieties.