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PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA,  ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2019. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 26 April 2019

Summary and Keywords

Food security is dependent on the work of plant scientists and breeders who develop new varieties of crops that are high yielding, nutritious, and tolerate a range of biotic and abiotic stresses. These scientists and breeders need access to novel genetic material to evaluate and to use in their breeding programs; seed- (gene-)banks are the main source of novel genetic material. There are more than 1,750 genebanks around the world that are storing the orthodox (desiccation tolerant) seeds of crops and their wild relatives. These seeds are stored at low moisture content and low temperature to extend their longevity and ensure that seeds with high viability can be distributed to end-users. Thus, seed genebanks serve two purposes: the long-term conservation of plant genetic resources, and the distribution of seed samples.

Globally, there are more than 7,400,000 accessions held in genebanks; an accession is a supposedly distinct, uniquely identifiable germplasm sample which represents a particular landrace, variety, breeding line, or population. Genebank staff manage their collections to ensure that suitable material is available and that the viability of the seeds remains high. Accessions are regenerated if viability declines or if stocks run low due to distribution. Many crops come under the auspices of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and germplasm is shared using the Standard Material Transfer Agreement. The Treaty collates information on the sharing of germplasm with a view to ensuring that farmers ultimately benefit from making their agrobiodiversity available.

Ongoing research related to genebanks covers a range of disciplines, including botany, seed and plant physiology, genetics, geographic information science, and law.

Keywords: genebank, germplasm distribution, orthodox seeds, plant genetic resources, seed conservation

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