Genebanks from 15 countries visit IPK
The Crop Trust's Dr. Benjamin Kilian in Western Kenya with finger millet pre-breeding partner Dr. Chrispus Oduori of KALRO (left) and farmer Margaret Jubende. (Photo: Michael Major/Crop Trust)
17 May 2023
Crop Trust and Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK) invited partners from developing countries to a workshop. Benjamin Kilian, coordinator of the BOLD project and a former IPK staff member, explains the goals of the event, what the institutions can learn from each other and why returning to IPK is so emotional for him.
IPK: What is the goal of the workshop? And what are the central topics?
Benjamin Kilian: The aim of the workshop is to exchange ideas on the conservation and management of plant genetic resources. Specifically, it will focus on ex situ conservation concepts. Staff from 15 genebanks will be trained in various aspects of ex situ conservation. The aim is to subsequently apply the newly acquired knowledge and skills in the respective countries.
How many participants do you expect in Gatersleben from May 22-24? And how many genebanks will be represented?
We expect 45 participants from 15 national genebanks. They range from countries such as Peru and Ecuador to Uganda and Tanzania as well as states like Pakistan and Vietnam. Two or three experts will attend from each genebank. In most cases, these are genebank managers, curators or officers responsible for genebank documentation or IT.
Presumably, not all genebanks have such good conditions for their work as the genebank of the IPK. What can IPK and Crop Trust learn from other genebanks?
Representatives of 15 national genebanks from developing countries are attending. Not only is the range of countries wide, but there are also immense differences in the size of the collections. The genebank in Lebanon has 2,345 accessions, while the collection in Morocco has about 31,100. But the types of crops being conserved also vary, of course, which in turn requires different conservation methods. For us, the IPK is also the best possible partner for this workshop because different forms of conservation are practiced at the IPK.
Each genebank has its strengths, but also faces its own specific challenges that need to be overcome in the future. The most important point, however, is this: all of the genebanks hold important and unique collections and accessions that need to be preserved for the future and used for crop improvement. Therefore, it is important to meet, get to know each other and learn from each other. We in Germany can also learn from this and, for example, gain impetus for diversifying food in this country.
From the genebank to the herbarium, from the greenhouse to the genebank documentation - the IPK presents itself and its work in detail. What opportunities do the other genebanks have to present themselves at the workshop?
First, we want to give participants an opportunity to get to know the IPK genebank. For this purpose, there will be a variety of tours and demonstrations in the genebank, in the herbarium, in the greenhouses and in the multiplication areas of the institute. But there will also be opportunities to see genebank documentation, cryopreservation, in vitro propagation, germination testing, and phenotyping facilities during the workshop. However, since everyone can and should learn from each other, the other genebanks will also present themselves. Five short presentations are scheduled for each of the three days. Of course, the participants can also exchange ideas at the BBQ or during the breaks.
And can IPK scientists also participate in individual program activities?
Gladly! All IPK staff members are cordially invited to the Vavilov Reports Sessions in the Lecture Hall. After consultation with Manuela Nagel, IPK scientists are also welcome to participate in the scheduled tours. It will be a bit more difficult for the hands-on program activities, some of which will take place in laboratories with only limited space available.
The workshop is part of the BOLD project, which you are leading. What is this project about?
BOLD (Biodiversity for Opportunities, Livelihoods and Development) is a 10-year project to strengthen global food and nutrition security. The goal is to make a significant contribution to conserving crop diversity in national genebanks and making it accessible to breeders and farmers. Launched in 2021, the project is funded by the Norwegian government to the tune of $58 million and is scheduled to run until December 2030. Currently, the project includes six work packages and collaborates with partners in 52 countries. The aim of the workshop at IPK is for all 15 national partner genebanks of the first work package to meet in person and introduce themselves for the first time.
Nils Stein, head of the “Genomics of Genetic Resources” working group at IPK, is coordinator of the AGENT project. Here, too, the aim is to improve cooperation between genebanks, among other things by means of uniform standards. Are the two projects heading in the same direction?
Yes, we are pursuing the same goals, just in different geographical regions. Projects like AGENT, but also INCREASE focus on barley, wheat, chickpea, lentil, lupin and faba bean in Europe. The BOLD project supports genebanks and their partners in developing countries worldwide. Important collections of crops are home to Bambara groundnut, finger millet, cowpea or rice, among others. Our common vision is to develop efficient and effective conservation tools and methods to promote agricultural biodiversity.
Crop Trust and IPK have also intensified cooperation at events, most recently at a joint event with the Science Press Conference (Wissenschaftspressekonferenz) in 2022. Should this approach be continued in the future? And what is the division of tasks at the current workshop?
I think this is an important strategic partnership that should be further developed. The current workshop shows one of many possibilities. The Crop Trust brings the participants to the IPK via the BOLD project. And the IPK, in turn, with its great expertise and excellent research infrastructure, leads the further training and exchange afterwards. With this collaboration, we are acting in the spirit of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Workshops like the one at the IPK Leibniz Institute are important for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. It is also a good example of global cooperation, learning from each other and non-monetary benefit sharing. This is becoming increasingly important following the recent decisions of the CBD in Montreal.
What other options are there?
I also see further opportunities to use IPK's expertise in the development of strategies. Manuela Nagel has just recently prepared an updated conservation strategy for potatoes for the Crop Trust. The update was necessary because a lot of things have changed since the last version, which was published in 2006, such as the composition of potato collections. New technologies have also been developed to characterize and preserve the collections. For example, tremendous progress has been made in the cryopreservation of potatoes, which can now be used by genebanks worldwide. Furthermore, a new chapter on in situ conservation was included. Outstanding was that Manuela Nagel reactivated and motivated the worldwide potato community to work together on the update.
What is it like for you personally to return to IPK?
First of all, I am very pleased and grateful that we were able to win the IPK for this very important workshop. For me, the IPK genebank is the best facility of its kind in the world and an outstanding example of how conservation and utilization of plant genetic resources can succeed.
I am equally grateful for finally being able to meet some of my best colleagues and friends there again after my time at IPK from 2008 to 2014. At the end of the day, it's the personal relationships with great people and the shared experiences that also make up the life of a scientist.
And what happens next?
After this visit to IPK, the next opportunity to meet again will be in Berlin at the beginning of November, perhaps even to advance collaborations in the context of the Global Crop Diversity Summit.
This article was originally posted by The Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK) in German.