U.S. Department of Agriculture:

Information on the Condition of the National Plant Germplasm System

RCED-98-20: Published: Oct 16, 1997. Publicly Released: Oct 16, 1997.

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Robert A. Robinson
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Office of Public Affairs
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO surveyed the 680 members of the 40 crop germplasm committees (CGC) for their views on the sufficiency of the National Plant Germplasm System's (NPGS) principal activities focusing on: (1) acquiring germplasm to ensure the diversity of the collections in order to reduce crop vulnerability; (2) developing and documenting information on germplasm; and (3) preserving germplasm.

GAO noted that: (1) just over half of the CGSs reported that the genetic diversity contained in NPGS' collections is sufficient to reduce the vulnerability of their crops; (2) considering both this collection and all other freely available collections, almost three-quarters of the committees said that the diversity in these collections is sufficient for reducing their crops' vulnerability; (3) at the same time, the committees identified several concerns affecting the diversity of their collections, and they ranked the acquisition of germplasm as the highest priority for the germplasm system if more funding becomes available; (4) current acquisition efforts are hindered by problems in obtaining germplasm from some countries and by the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) management of the quarantine system, which has contributed to the loss of germplasm and delays in its release for certain plants; (5) according to the crop committees, many of the system's collections lack sufficient information on germplasm traits to facilitate the germplasm's use in crop breeding; (6) officials of the germplasm system acknowledged that some information on plant traits, such as resistance to disease or plant structure, has not been developed because it is considered to be a lower priority than preserving germplasm; in other instances, the information has been developed by scientists outside of the system and has not been provided for entry into the database; (7) preservation activities--viability testing, regeneration, and the long-term backup storage of germplasm--have not kept pace with the preservation needs of the collections; (8) only minimal viability testing--testing the seeds in a sample to determine how many are alive in order to prevent the loss of the sample--has occurred at two of four major locations; (9) in addition, the system has significant backlogs for regenerating (that is, replenishing) germplasm at the four major locations; and (10) over one-third of the system's germplasm is not stored in the system's secure, long-term storage facility, thereby increasing the risk that samples located around the nation could be lost through environmental damage or other catastrophes.

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