05/06/18 |   Genetic improvement  Climate change

Representatives of world project to rescue wild varieties visit Embrapa Temperate Agriculture

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Photo: Paulo Lanzetta

Paulo Lanzetta - Mission represents global project of rescue of wild materials

Mission represents global project of rescue of wild materials

On Monday (4), a delegation related to a world project for the adaptation of agriculture to climate change visited Embrapa Temperate Agriculture (Pelotas, RS) to learn more about the work of rescuing wild potato relatives - one of the branches of the project in Brazil. All in all, it will prioritize 29 crops considered the most important ones by the study on a global scale. The goal is to identify, collect and conserve such materials for the conservation of the genetic variability of those different crops, and prepare them to be used in the furute development of new varieties.

Members included the journalist from Global Crop Diversity Trust (Crop Trust), an international organization for the use and conservation of biodiversity headquartered in Germany, which funds the project, Luis Salazar; the researcher from the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew and the Millenium seed bank, in the United Kingdom, Oriole Wagstaff; and the journalist from Science Magazine, one of the most prestiged academic journals of the world, Erik Stokstad, who came to Brazil to write an article about the project's activities. The visit was arranged by the Embrapa Temperate Agriculture researcher Gustavo Heiden, who coordinates the rescue of wild materials at the research center.

In the morning, the group was welcomed by the general head of the center, Clenio Pillon, and by the deputy head of Research & Development, Jair Nachtigal, who introduced them to Embrapa Temperate Agriculture's main research activities and range of operations. Then Oriole Wagstaff introduced the project and its main goals to a group of local researchers, and the researcher Gustavo Heiden explained Embrapa's participation in the work. In the afternoon, some research facilities related to rescue and conservation of wild materials were visited.

The delegation will stay at Embrapa until Friday (8), to watch the whole process of rescuing wild materials and potential uses in breeding and genetic improvement. Hence the schedule includes field collection of germplasm. On Tuesday, they will travel to the town of São Lourenço do Sul for interviews with farmers and the prospection of wild potato relatives. On Wednesday the collection will take place within the town limits of Chuí, Santa Vitória do Palmar and Rio Grande. And on Thursday, there will be collection and visitation at the in situ conservation area of the São Miguel Farm in the village of Tapes, Rio Grande do Sul. Finally, on their last day, the visitors will get to know the structures that compose Embrapa Temperate Agriculture's potato breeding program.

The Project
Managed by the Crop Trust with support from the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, the project "Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change" started in 2011 and should last ten years. With about U$ 50 million in funds from the Government of Norway, it is present in 24 countries through partnerships with national and international gene banks, and with breeding programs around the world. 

In Brazil, it is up to Embrapa to collect wild potato, sweet potato, rice and millet relatives. In the specific case of potatoes, Embrapa is one of six institutions responsible for the collection of wild materials, which also involves organizations in Peru and Uruguay. "Brazil is one othe the priority countries for the collection of wild materials, due to its diversity", Oriole Wagstaff stresses.

The stages of the undertaking include the prioritization of crops and respective collection points; the field collection per se; the conservation in gene banks to ensure the availability of materials and preserve the crops' genetic diversity; and, in the end, pre-breeding, which aims at the previous isolation of desirable genetic traits, in order to facilitate crossings with traditional varieties and thus encourage interest from breeding programs in such materials.

According to Oriole, the collection of wild materials has already been concluded in 12 of the participating countries. The materials are stored in gene banks such as the Millenium - which hosts around 10% of all plant species existing in the planet - and cannot be patented, allowing free access. 

The researcher also states that investing in wild varieties is important to rescue genetic variability, which in traditional varieties can be as low as 69%, in the case of wheat, and 35% in maize. In addition, unique traits such as drought tolerance can help in the adaptation of agricultural systems to climate change.

Translation: Mariana Medeiros

Francisco Lima (13696 DRT/RS)
Embrapa Temperate Agriculture

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