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Australian Plant Genetic Resources Activities in 2006 and 2007

Geoff Auricht1, R Redden2, Peter Lawrence3, Michael Mackay4, Steve Hughes1 and Richard Snowball5

1 South Australian Research and Development Institute, www.sardi.sa.gov.au Email: Auricht.geoff@saugov.sa.gov.au
2
Primary Industries and Resources Victoria, www.dpi.vic.gov.au/ Email: Bob.Redden@dpi.vic.gov.au
3
Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, www.dpi.qld.gov.au Email: peter.lawrence@dpi.qld.gov.au
4
NSW Department of Primary Industries, www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/ Email: michael.mackay@dpi.nsw.gov.au
5
WA Department of Agriculture and Food, www.agric.wa.gov.au Email: rsnowball@agric.wa.gov.au

Abstract

Australia has 5 genebanks conserving agricultural plant germplasm of major crop and pasture species. Each year these Centres introduce, quarantine, grow, harvest, store, test, regenerate and despatch seed samples to researchers nationally and internationally. This paper summarises the activities of these Centres over the past two years, when 8,000 new accessions were acquired, 7,500 were processed through post-entry quarantine, and 10,000 were added to the cold stores. These additions grew the total accessions conserved in Australian genebanks to 185,000. Managing and maintaining this large collection meant that 7,000 accessions were tested for seed viability and 12,000 were grown for fresh seed. The fresh seed is germination tested, sealed in moisture proof packaging and placed in both ‘long-term’ (-20 oC) and ‘active’ (2 oC) stores. Whilst accessions were growing, up to 32 agronomic characteristics were recorded. These data are added to the database, which is used both taxonomically and with utilisation of the collection – allowing accessions with particular traits to be targeted. Use of the Australian collection remains high with 37,500 seed samples being despatched to users nationally (90%) and internationally over the last 2 years. Collaboration with breeders has identified accessions with tolerance of abiotic stresses, or with resistances to principal diseases/new strains of major diseases. Germplasm with key traits is continuously incorporated into the breeding gene pools for crop improvement. Built up progressively over the past 30 to 60 years, the Centres represent an invaluable resource for plant research and improvement in Australia and internationally.

Key Words

genetic resources, conservation, regeneration, characterisation, seed storage, utilisation

Introduction

The importation of germplasm has underpinned agricultural development in Australia from the time of initial European settlement. While conservation of agricultural germplasm was initially very ad-hoc, commencing in 1980 the major, State-based, collections became linked through a program of Federal Government capital investment and a committee structure which oversaw this expenditure. Five agricultural genebanks were involved: Tropical Crops and Pastures in Biloela, Qld; Winter Cereals in Tamworth NSW; Temperate Field Crops in Horsham, Vic. and Temperate Pastures in Adelaide, SA and Perth, WA The capital investment program consolidated the 5 genebanks during the 1980’s and ended in the early 1990’s. Thereafter, the genebanks continued in a loose alliance until 2004. At that time the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), the common external provider of funds to all 5 collections, formed a single project funding all Centres in association with their State Government host agencies. This National GRDC project continued until 30th June 2008. One of the primary aims of the project was to foster and support the development of a secure, long-term, National program for the conservation of diverse germplasm collections of Australia’s principal crops and pastures. A key outcome of the project was the collation in a consistent format of activity across all Centres between 2004 and 2008, enabling reporting at the National level. This paper draws on these data to summarise genebank activities (acquisition, characterisation, long-term storage and distribution of seed) during 2006 and 2007.

Method and Results

Australia’s genebanks operate to well established, internationally accepted methodologies (e.g. Genebank Standards 1994, Tyler et al. 1987) so far as their resources allow. There are a range of specific protocols to which the genebanks adhere, relating to: collection strategies; seed storage and testing; legal requirements for quarantine importation or observing Material Transfer Agreements; and phytosanitary requirements for seed despatch. Whilst observing best practice in their operations, genebank Curators are also balancing their work programs to deliver on their two primary objectives: 1) the long term conservation of diverse collections of their mandate species and 2) encouraging and supporting active growth and utilisation of the collections. The latter objective is often achieved through a series of collaborative projects with the diverse users of the seed and/or data housed in the collections. These users may be public or private plant breeders, agronomists, pathologists, taxonomists, molecular biologists or other researchers in Australia or overseas.

Acquisition and Quarantine

New germplasm is acquired each year by the genebanks, either specifically for clients or for strategic purposes. Germplasm is obtained from other genebanks and as an outcome of new plant collection missions undertaken overseas or within Australia. Imported materials enter through quarantine and, subject to requirements, may subsequently be grown under specified post-entry quarantine protocols. Table 1 details genebank activity in these areas of acquisition and quarantine.

Table 1. New accessions acquired and processed through post-entry quarantine.

Activity

Acquisition

Post-Entry Quarantine

Collection

2006

2007

2006

2007

NSW Cereals

1,314

1,807

1,320

2,864

Qld Tropicals

545

276

810

593

SA Pastures

1,144

872

190

155

Vic Field Crops

361

1,213

973

747

WA Pastures

424

8

0

0

TOTAL

3,788

4,176

3,293

4,359

Once safely in the country accessions are added, as seed, to the collection. This step is either on the basis of the original, introduced seed or using seed grown locally. Table 2 shows the total number of samples added to the seed stores of each collection, along with the resultant total number of accessions conserved.

Table 2: New accessions added to the Australian collection and the total numbers conserved in the 5 genebanks.

Collection

Accessions added

Total Accessions

2006

2007

NSW Cereals

450

272

54,232

Qld Tropicals

543

276

39,535

SA Pastures

2,579

3,439

39,693

Vic Field Crops

361

1121

33,980

WA Pastures

187

410

17,367

TOTAL

4,120

5,518

184,807

Maintenance and Monitoring

In order to maintain viable seed of genebank accessions, seed samples must be routinely tested and then grown for regeneration of fresh stocks as required. Table 3 shows the level of viability testing and total number of accessions grown for seed at the Centres. Accessions grown for seed include both accessions grown for the first time and those grown on subsequent occasions to replenish seed stocks. Storing quality seed in optimum conditions is essential to minimise the frequency of testing and regeneration. Germplasm longevity is achieved through dehydration of seeds and storage in moisture proof packaging at either 2 oC or minus 20 oC.

Table 3: Accessions viability tested and grown for seed.

Activity

Germination Testing

Grown for Seed

Collection

2006

2007

2006

2007

NSW Cereals

1,323

469

751

2106

Qld Tropicals

2,782

0

902

977

SA Pastures

194

1,880

828

614

Vic Field Crops

56

91

3,061

2,079

WA Pastures

0

0

229

167

TOTAL

4,355

2,440

5771

5943

Characterisation

While accessions are being grown for seed, data are recorded on a range of traits in order to characterise the collection. These data are primarily used to assist users by allowing selection of accessions to fit particular parameters, such as early-flowering accessions with spineless pods. The data may also be useful in confirming the taxonomic identification of an accession. The number of different traits recorded is a function of both resources and trait value and is determined by the Curators in discussion with users. The emphasis is on highly heritable traits which could be expressed in all environments. Characterisation may be done by genebank staff alone or in conjunction with breeders waiting to utilise germplasm (e.g. Humphries & Hughes, 2006). Table 4 shows the number or range of traits measured at each genebank along with the number of accessions characterised in 2006 and 2007.

Table 4. Traits recorded and accessions characterised.

Collection

Traits

Accessions Characterised

2006

2007

NSW Cereals

6

1,834

2,106

Qld Tropicals

12

336

166

SA Pastures

8-32

582

23

Vic Field Crops

6-18

3,061

2,079

WA Pastures

10-19

229

207

TOTAL

6-32

6,042

4,581

Distribution

Small samples of seed are despatched to users of the collections nationally and internationally each year as the basis for on-going research or cultivar development. Table 5 shows that close to 38,000 seed samples were despatched from the Australian collections over the two year period with 90% of these used by local plant scientists and only 10% going to users in other countries. Each sample despatched is individually packaged, labelled and accompanied with data. These data range from limited passport data detailing the origin of each succession to more comprehensive data sets which include trait data.

Table 5. Accessions distributed nationally and internationally.

Year

2006

2007

Total

Collection

National

International

National

International

NSW Cereals

14,295

363

9,502

409

24,569

Qld Tropicals

1,088

223

1,549

225

3,085

SA Pastures

2,159

769

884

319

4,131

Vic Field Crops

1,913

558

1830

139

4,440

WA Pastures

488

455

185

65

1,193

TOTAL

19,943

2,368

13,950

1,157

37,418

The interest of Curators does not end with seed dispatch. Curators are keen to incorporate additional research results from users to help build the pool of knowledge about their collection. They may also be involved in on-going germplasm evaluation programs (e.g. Hughes et al., 2008)

Discussion

The operations of the 5 Australian genebanks continued strongly in 2006 and 2007. In 2007, a dip in monitoring, characterisation and seed despatch activities in-part reflected lower funding in 2007/08 across all genebanks, especially in the two pasture genebanks. On the other hand, demand from national and international scientists was stronger in the two year period than ever before with 38,000 seed samples being despatched. This strong demand continued into 2008, driven not only by traditional users but by the relatively new discipline of molecular biology. Traditional users are confronting new challenges of drought, climate change or salinity as well as requiring new sources of diversity for plant breeding to cope with new strains of disease and pests. Molecular biologists require not only stable reference samples of key accessions but also diversity for marker studies, gene identification and other support works for breeding programs. Genebank accessions are therefore feeding into both traditional and molecular based streams of plant improvement and the distinction between the two is lessening as more and more the strengths of both approaches are combined to form efficient national programs.

Core collections are an example of how molecular level data can feed back to help manage a collection. Core collections are identified subset of accessions which encompass the highest genetic diversity in the smallest number of samples (often 10 to 20% of the full collection). They are based on different datasets which increasingly include molecular data. They improve the utilisation of germplasm collections and increase the efficiency of managing genebanks (Brown et al., 1989 and Skinner et al., 1999). The recent development of a core collection of Trifolium spumosum held in the Australian Trifolium Genetic Resource Centre adds to the core collections for Medicago developed by Skinner et al. in providing a successful model for future work in the Australian collections. A further core collection, this time of subterranean clover, is currently under development at the University of Western Australia in collaboration with DAFWA, Murdoch University, and 5 international genebanks (Ghamkhar et al., 2007).

Distribution of small seed samples from Australia’s genebanks has, to-date, been free of charge to all users. This is an important feature of national and international collections globally. By adhering to this universal practice Australia has maintained the goodwill of overseas countries on which we rely as the original source of the germplasm of all our major crop and pasture species. The ability of our 5 genebanks to continue to function in this way is reliant on broad-based funding support. Efforts to secure this funding base beyond mid 2008 have, to-date, failed, particularly for the pasture collections. Consequently, the ability of the genebanks to meet the future needs of users and the expectations of the international community is under serious question.

Conclusion

Australia’s genebanks contain 185,000 accessions of a diverse array of our major crop and pasture species and as such they underpin our agricultural systems. The genebanks are widely utilised nationally and internationally across many disciplines of science, meeting the requirements of both traditional and new users. Natural germplasm diversity is, directly and indirectly, the source of new plant varieties across all our major crop and pasture species. Unfortunately, the role of the genebanks is often unrecognised when the resultant cultivar is finally released. This omission may well be contributing to a lack of broader understanding of the role and vital importance of the genebanks. The Australian genebanks are a critical resource, one that urgently requires a new system of management and funding at the National level now that the current national project has drawn to a close from mid-2008.

References

Brown AHD (1989). Core collections: a practical approach to genetic resources management. Genome 31: 818-824.

Genebank Standards (1994). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, Rome.

Ghamkhar K, Snowball R and Bennett SJ (2007). Ecogeographical studies identify diversity and potential gaps in the largest germplasm collection of bladder clover (Trifolium spumosum L.). AJAR 58(7): 728-738.

Hughes SJ, Snowball R, Reed KFM, Cohen B, Gajda K, Williams AR and Groeneweg SL (2008). The systematic collection and characterisation of herbaceous forage species for recharge and discharge environments in southern Australia. AJEA 48: 397-408.

Humphries AW, Hughes SJ (2006). Preliminary evaluation of diverse lucerne (Medicago sativa sspp.) germplasm to identify new material for livestock and cropping based farming systems in Australia. AJAR 57:1297-1306.

International Crop Information System for Germplasm Data Management. Arlet Portugal, Ranjan Balachandra, Thomas Metz, Richard Bruskiewich, and Graham McLaren. (2007). In Plant Bioinformatics. Methods in Molecular Biology, Humana Press (USA). David Edwards (ed / in press).

Skinner DZ, Bauchan GR, Auricht GC and Hughes SJ (1999) A method for the efficient management and utilization of large germplasm collections. Crop Sci. 39(4):1237-1242.

Tyler BF, Chorlton KH, Thomas ID (1987) Collection and field sampling techniques for forages. In ‘IBPGR training courses: lecture series 1. Collection, characterisation and utilisation of genetic resources of temperate forage grass and clover’. (Ed. BF Tyler) pp. 3-10. (Board for Plant Genetic Resources: Rome).

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