Over the last half-century, genebanks have played an essential role in safeguarding global food security for the future through the conservation of plant genetic resources.
Now, based on a review of historical data from seven CGIAR Centers, researchers have confirmed that the genebanks are able to maintain high seed viability over decades, even with resource constraints.
“Overall, it was really quite a positive conclusion,” says Dr. Fiona Hay, senior researcher in the Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University and lead author of the new study published in Global Food Security.
The diversity conserved by CGIAR Centers is critical for research and breeding programs that lead to improved crop varieties, the study notes. But to fulfill their role, genebanks must ensure that the seeds and other plant materials they hold are kept viable over the long-term.
“There’s now evidence that they can remain viable for quite a long time,” Hay says of the seed samples held in trust by the CGIAR genebanks analyzed in the study. Moving forward, genebanks do not just want to safely conserve collections for a long time, but they also want greater cost-efficiency.
Reducing the number of times seeds are tested or regenerated could certainly be a game-changer. It is likely that genebanks can delay the first monitoring check for newly stored seed samples for as long as 20 years, provided that initial testing upon deposit showed high germination rates, Hay adds.
But we know too little about the initial viability of collections already in storage so they should continue to be tested regularly—that data will help researchers understand how seed viability continues to change the longer they remain in conservation.