Conserving Plant Genetic Resources

Plant genetic resources (living plant materials that include genes) are essential parts of the agricultural production system that sustains the world’s population. Seeds, plant tissues, and other genetic resources collected from throughout the world provide the raw materials that farmers and plant breeders use to improve crop quality and productivity. Furthermore, genetic diversity makes crops less vulnerable to widespread damage from pests, diseases, and stresses. Preserving genetic resources is vital for the homeland security of American food and fiber, especially in the Southern Region where agriculture is based primarily on crops such as peanuts and sorghum that were imported centuries ago from other parts of the world. Moreover, many samples can no longer be obtained from their native environments due to changes in land use or policies.

Conserving genetic resources in “gene banks” ensures that these materials are available to farmers for years to come. It also ensures that these materials are available for current and future research projects. Researchers use plant genetic resources to breed new crop varieties with specific characteristics like disease resistance, drought tolerance, or color; develop pharmaceutical or medical products; and determine the origins of a particular species. This research provides the public with a more abundant, stable, and environmentally sustainable food supply with improved nutritional or pharmaceutical qualities. In order for plant breeders, pathologists, anthropologists, ecologists, and other scientists to be able to make the best and most efficient use of plant genetic resources, they must be properly classified, well-described, routinely evaluated for quality, and easily accessible. Proper conservation of plant genetic resources enables valuable research and provides security from devastating crop disasters, agroterrorist attacks, and other possible blows to crop production.

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