Dutch study investigates the authenticity of heirloom cultivars stored at genebanks
Loss of diversity in crops has prompted many in the global agricultural community to store seeds in genebanks. The seeds can then be used for breeding new cultivars, research, or for crop variance. Crop breeds that have all but disappeared from agriculture are stored and available to the general public.
However, genebanks are modern institutions that were established after many of the old cultivars were no longer in use. The seeds stored for old cultivars were collected from numerous sources, many with little information concerning the seed. Therefore, genebanks could be storing seeds that do not genuinely represent the original cultivar.
Scientists at the Netherlands’ Center for Genetic Resources have examined the extent of the problem of non-authenticity of old cultivars in genebank collections. Using a large lettuce collection from a Dutch genebank, researchers sampled and compared DNA from seeds presumed to be identical because they bared the same cultivar name. The results of DNA testing indicated that many supposedly identical seeds did not match and levels of authenticity were lower than originally presumed, especially in older cultivars. In addition, even recently stored cultivars showed a 10% lack of authenticity.
Mark van de Wouw, the author of the study, expressed his surprise by saying, “From my experiences with other genebanks I did suspect there might be a problem with the authenticity of the seeds that was sent out to users, but I did not realize the problem to be this large. Although current procedures in the genebank avoid to a large extent that new mistakes are being made, the level of mislabeling in the past has apparently been high. It is obvious that systematized efforts need to be made to check the authenticity of the heirloom cultivars in genebank collections.”
The full study is published in the March/April 2011 issue of Crop Science.
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