Preserving genetic resources in agriculture: saffron and other EU projects

Crocusbank core collection of Saffron and Crocus germplasm for agriculture and horticulture

Crocusbank core collection of Saffron and Crocus germplasm for agriculture and horticulture

Maintaining and developing sustainable uses for agricultural genetic resources is essential for ensuring food security in a sustainable manner. In this report, the outcomes of 17 EU projects on genetic resources in animals, arable crops, forest trees and “fruits, vegetables and spices” is discussed. We were involved with the project on the Saffron Crocus, reported on pages 88-96.

CROCUSBANK (project website link) built a major collection representing the genetic variability present in the saffron crop and many wild Crocus species, working on at a global scale, with the collection maintained in Cuenca, Spain. The genetic diversity of the collection was scored with DNA, metabolite (phytochemical) and morphological markers. Despite having accessions from across Europe and Asia, there was little variation in Saffron crocus. Related work was looking at the origins of the triploid saffron crocus (and see also this link).  As well as the high-value spice crop (from the stigmas of the saffron crocus flowers, Crocus sativus), where both genotypes and production methods are challenged by social and farming changes, crocus species are highly valued as ornamental plants. The collection and its characterization will ensure the genetic resources are not lost.

A display about Saffron diversity from the Crocusbank Project

A display about Saffron diversity from the Crocusbank Project

The book of project outcomes from all the EU Agricultural Genetic Resources programme are linked here (a 13 Mb download). In summary, the programme

1. Addressed both in situ and ex situ conservation issues.
2. Led to the phenotypic and/or molecular characterisation of about 14 500 new and existing collections of agricultural and forestry species.
3. Contributed to the collection of about 5 000 new accessions (samples) of agricultural and forestry species.
4. Established searchable databases, national inventory networks, genebanks and DNA repositories.
5. Developed and published useful guidelines including standards and requirements for genetic resource conservation and use of conserved material.
6. Developed strategies for the promotion of under-utilised genetic resources and local breeds.
7. Promoted scientific knowledge in the area of genetic resources in agriculture.
8. Built useful links and collaborations among key European stakeholders.
9. Promoted awareness and information exchange on issues related to agricultural biodiversity, rural sustainability, and food quality and security.

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About Pat Heslop-Harrison

Professor of Molecular Cytogenetics and Cell Biology, University of Leicester Chief Editor, Annals of Botany. Research: genome evolution, breeding and biodiversity in agricultural species; the impact of agriculture; evalutation of research and advanced training.
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