W_OLD6: Management and Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources

(Multistate Research Project)

Status: Inactive/Terminating


The need, as indicated by stakeholders:

Plant genetic resources (germplasm) are the reproductive or vegetative propagating material of plants, including the current crop cultivars, obsolete cultivars, primitive cultivars (landraces), wild and weedy relatives of cultivated species, and special genetic stocks (including elite breeder's lines and mutants). Because the majority of our crop species originated elsewhere in the world, US agriculture is almost entirely dependent on introduced plant species. To meet the need for new germplasm, the US Department of Agriculture began sponsoring international plant expeditions in 1898, and the Regional Plant Introduction Stations were established in the late 1940s and early1950's to conserve and distribute introduced germplasm. The Western Regional Plant Introduction Station (WRPIS) station was established in 1947 through a joint Federal-State partnership, designated as Multi-state Research Project W-006 (W6), developed between the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) and the Western State Agricultural Experiment Stations. It now includes the USDA-ARS Plant Germplasm Introduction and Testing Research Unit in Pullman, WA and the National Temperate Forage Legume Genetic Resource Unit in Prosser, WA. Collectively, personnel from these two units conduct some of the most extensive and well-recognized genetic resource management projects nationally and internationally. As a critical component of the USDA National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS), the WRPIS manages the genetic resources of cool season food and forage legumes, grasses, common beans, oilseeds, vegetables, beets, ornamentals, medicinal crops and related wild species. The stakeholders and customers for this project include researchers, plant breeders, educators, and commercial producers in the western states, in the U.S. and throughout the world. Each year the WRPIS distributes over 5,000 packets of seed samples to requesters within the western region and from Sept. 2009 to Sept. 2013, a total of 28,625 packets of seed samples were used in various projects in the western states. These distributions impact both fundamental and applied research by generating new knowledge of plant science, underpinning plant breeding to improve existing crops and by providing germplasm to develop new crops for the niche markets.

The importance of the work, and what the consequences are if it is not done:

According to U.N estimates, global population is predicated to increase by 2.4 billion by 2050, with the US population increasing 40% to 438 million. This, along with warmer temperatures and disrupted precipitation patterns associated with climate change, presents a food security challenge that will require breeding crop cultivars that are more productive in less favorable environments. In response, scientists and breeders are mining genes conferring resistances to pathogens and pests and tolerance to abiotic stresses from existing plant genetic resources. The U.S. scientists and breeders rely on introduced germplasm to provide new genes to improve major crops, minor regional crops, and to develop new crops. The problems addressed by this project's "Management and Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources" are to conserve and provide genetic resources for specific crop species to support such endeavors.

Currently, this project manages a total of approximately 94,000 accessions collected worldwide. Assigned crop plant species and their wild relatives represent 1,277 genera, 4,604 species and 5,143 taxa. The value of these collections continues to grow as international access to germplasm is increasingly limited by political and environmental factors.

This collection has had enormous impact on agricultural in the U.S., and especially in the western states, where many of these crop species are economically important. For example, lettuce is the most valuable vegetable crop in the U.S. with the annual production value of exceeding $2 billion. And two western states, California and Arizona, account for more than 90 percent of U.S. lettuce production. The lettuce collection of both wild and cultivated accessions has been screened extensively for disease resistance and other favorable traits to improve and sustain the production of this crop. According to USDA Crop Statistics, more than 42 million tons of alfalfa, worth more than $8 billion, was produced in the US in 2012. More than one-third of that was in the western states. The alfalfa collection has more than 50,000 entries and has been extensity utilized. Cool season food legumes (chickpea, pea, and lentil) are major crops in Washington and Idaho. The recent booming chickpea industry is supported by cultivars developed from the WRPIS collection. Our collection of native plant species ensures the availability of native species needed for the revegetation and ecosystem restoration for the inter-mountain west. In addition to the Western States, the W6 project fills germplasm needs nationwide, such as the lentil industry in North Dakota, beans in Michigan, and forage and turf grasses throughout the Midwest and Atlantic states.

This project also provides needed germplasm to researchers producing high-impact scientific results with practical application. There is no better example than purple false brome, Brachypodium distachyon (L.) Beauv. It has a small stature, a rapid life cycle, and most importantly, a small genome evolutionarily similar to important cereal crops like wheat and barley. In 2001 this little known grass species was proposed as a model plant for studying grass functional genomics. Functional genes discovered in this model plant will have immediate applications to the genetic improvement of food (wheat) and energy (switchgrass) crops. In February 2010, the complete genome DNA sequence of this grass was published in the journal of Nature. The sequenced diploid inbred line Bd21, or W6 36678, was derived from PI 254867, which was collected from Iraq and maintained in WRPIS since 1959. PI 254867 became the first PI from WRPIS with a whole genome sequenced and published. Since 2001, WRPIS has distributed seed of this PI to over 150 requesters in more than 20 countries.

Without the W6 germplasm collection much of the genetic foundation of our crops would not be available for research and development, and meeting the future needs of agriculture in the western states and nationally would be severely compromised.

The technical feasibility of the research:

There is ample land resource available for regeneration, seed increase and for phenotypic evaluations of germplasm on the three research farms at Pullman, WA, Central Ferry, WA and Prosser, WA, each site provides suitable climate conditions to respective plant species. Standard cultivation practices have been developed by dedicated and experienced staff for specific plant species and genera. The seed storage facilities on the WSU campus are adequate for proper conservation of seed samples for short and medium term stoage, and the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation (NCGRP), Fort Collins, Colorado and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Svalbard, Norway are available for security back-up and long-term storage. The Internet-based Genetic Resource Information Network (GRIN) database connects our managed accessions and associated information with our users. We receive excellent technical support from the USDA-ARS Database Management Unit, Beltsville, Maryland to ensure researchers and breeding programs have updated access to GRIN for searching and requesting needed genetic resources.

The advantages for doing the work as a multistate effort:

Over the past 56 years, this project has been operating as a successful multistate project. Although the germplasm collection managed by this project has national and international significance, most of the species are important crops in the western states. Our stakeholders and customers include professors, professional researchers and breeders in public universities, private companies, non-profit organizations and government agencies. The multistate effort allows an effective interaction between our germplasm curatorial staff and the user community. The germplasm collection managed by this project is covered by eleven crop specific Crop Germplasm Committees (CGC) whose members consist of state, federal, and private researchers that meet either annually or biennially to provide guidance for plant genetic resource acquisition, conservation, management, and distribution. More importantly, the W6 technical advisory committee has dedicated representatives from each participating state and meets annually to assess the need and the status of the conservation and utilization of the plant genetic resources and associated information managed by this project.

What the likely impacts will be from successfully completing the work:

This project will provide a continuous supply of critically needed high quality germplasm samples to the global plant research community for scientific research and product development. Phenotypic evaluation and genomic characterization provided by this project will enable breeders to more efficiently identify and utilize germplasm with desirable traits and alleles for improvement in both quality and productivity of crop species. Marker-assisted selection has been proven a powerful tool for expediting the process of genetic improvement for many crop species. This project will generate information on marker-trait associations and identify user-friendly DNA markers for breeders to use. Genetically enhanced breeding lines developed through this project will speed the development of new cultivars with desirable agronomic traits and improved resistance to insect pests, disease and abiotic stresses. The quality and productivity of crop plants will be maintained and improved to ensure that U.S. agriculture remains viable and competitive.

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