First global food and agriculture plant genetics data library gets go-ahead

New gateway provides vital information on global seed pool to develop shock-resistant varieties

9 October 2015, Rome - Delegates from the136 member nations of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) have given their approval to set up an international information gateway for the genetic data of food crop seeds.

The agreement to proceed with the proposal for a Global Information System (GLIS) from the FAO-based seed treaty came during a week-long meeting of the 6th biennial Governing Body that ended in Rome on October 9.

As climate change accelerates, it is vital for farmers, scientists, plant breeders, private sector companies to be able to develop new plant varieties resistant to pests, floods and drought, in order to maintain sufficient agricultural production levels.

To do this they need to know what is where, and how to get it, currently no easy task in the myriad number of actors that hold that information.

Information is not just with seed banks and research centres but also in the plants growing in farmers' fields, and uncultivated land, the so-called crop wild relatives.

The system has to be global because no country is self-sufficient in crop germplasm that has been travelling across borders for centuries.

The potato on a German dinner table originates from the Andes, the wheat in a Pakistani chapati  from the Mediterranean and the maize in East African ugali from Mexico.

 "GLIS will contain a virtual gene library that will include data from seed banks, research centres and farmers' organisations," said the Treaty Secretary Shakeel Bhatti.

"It is going to take time to get it fully functional because of the vast array of interests involved, but it will greatly facilitate the work of all the actors along the seed value chain, in developing and developed countries."

The Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has made the first contribution to the gateway by placing with it the genome sequences of more than 3,000 rice varieties.

Photo: ©FAO/Biayna Mahari/Northfoto
A hail-damaged apricot. Climate change is leading to more frequent shocks for fruit and other crops.