Our new 16 chapter book on plant genetic resources has 34 contributors who agree that enhanced use of plant genetic resources is critically important for mitigating against the effects of climate change. The book reveals strong positive messages for the future, but also some substantial negative ones if improvements to conservation and the use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) by plant breeders do not happen soon.
- While the latest IPCC report (and Betts and Hawkins, Chapter 3) ‘confirms’ that climate change is a reality – and it will affect agriculture – already we can compare regions and see what the scale of the agricultural challenge is, and extrapolate to what will be the situation in the future (Parry, Chapter 4; Berry et al., Chapter 5).
- Even though climate change will exacerbate the problem of food insecurity – and some of the poorest countries will be affected worst (Zeigler, Chapter 1) – the good news is that breeders are confident they will be able to produce the next generation of ‘climate-adapted crops’. To adapt crops to new climate conditions it is now universally agreed that breeders need access to sources of genetic diversity – and tools to use this diversity more efficiently and effectively. The good news is that major sources of genetic diversity are already conserved in ex situ genebanks.
- It is also good news that it’s now possible through novel molecular and bioinformatic approaches to more carefully identify valuable genes and track their progress in breeding. New technologies – molecular and bioinformatic – should massively improve exploitation of PGRFA provided those resources still survive. Seed genebanks will lead to DNA sequence genebanks and then on to in silico genebanks and the creation of the ‘digital plant’ (McNally, Chapter 10) enabling the modelling of the ‘ideal plant’ for whatever conditions prevail.
- Good news also is that breeders are already addressing climate change constraints and using germplasm for submergence, drought, salinity, heat, and pests and diseases, and making progress which gives optimism for the future (Chapters 12 to 16). Drought, submergence, heat and salinity are all environmental stresses that are likely to increase as a result of climate change. For example, rice has 25 related wild species, and 22 of these have already contributed genes to new stress tolerant varieties (Zeigler, Chapter 1).
- We now have good evidence indicating that some plants in their natural environments can adapt genetically to changing conditions very rapidly – easily within 20 or 30 years and within the timescale of climate change. So as well as conservation in genebanks, plant genetic resources need to be conserved in situ in natural reserves (Maxted et al., Chapter 7) or on farms (Bellon and van Etten, Chapter 8) so that new genes can evolve and provide a greater armory against climate change than afforded just by germplasm ‘frozen’ in genebanks (Ford-Lloyd et al., Chapter 2).
Issue for concern:
International mechanisms are in place, through the International Treaty, for breeders to share germplasm for the benefit of society. But there are still political issues constraining the use of plant genetic resources currently conserved (Ford-Lloyd et al., Chapter 2). ‘Ready access’ to genetic resources has been jeopardized by the International Treaty. But, the International Treaty is the only instrument we have for allowing for the exchange and then use of PGRFA so we have to make the best of it (Moore and Hawtin, Chapter 6).
Enhanced use of PGRFA can help reduce the increasing risk of hunger predicted by climate change, but does not detract from the need to reduce or stabilize greenhouse gas emissions which would have the greatest effect on reduction of increasing world hunger (Parry, Chapter 4).
It is clear that up to now, use of PGRFA by breeders has been neither systematic nor comprehensive, and the vast majority of crop wild relatives remain untapped (Maxted et al., Chapter 7).
Critically, we know virtually nothing about how many landraces are currently being grown and fulfilling their potential for adapting to changes in the environment, so there is a need for a step change (Ford-Lloyd et al., Chapter 2).
As much as 20% of all plants, not just crop wild relatives, are now estimated to be threatened with extinction. Even within Europe substantial numbers of crop wild relatives are threatened or critically endangered in International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) terms. However, it is the genetic diversity within species that is of greater value for crop improvement, and this diversity is almost certainly being lost (genetic erosion) at a much greater rate than the species themselves, and yet their conservation is far from sufficient (Maxted etal., Chapter 7).
Relatively few crop wild relatives (9%) are conserved in genebanks, and even fewer conserved in natural reserves. So, currently there is no guarantee that the genes we need for combating climate change will be available in newly adapted forms when we need them.
Would you like to purchase a copy? You can order online from CABI. When ordering from CABI online purchasers can use this code (CCPGRCC20) for a 20% discount off the retail price. The discount code is valid until 31 December 2013. The standard prices are £85.00, U5$160.00, or €11 0.00. The discounted prices are £68, $128, or €88 .
Susan J. ARMSTRONG
Senior Lecturer, School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK
Mauricio R. BELLON
Principal Scientist, Bioversity International, Via dei Tre Denari 472/a, Maccarese, Rome, Italy
Senior Research Fellow, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, Dyson Perrins Building, South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3QY, UK
Richard A. BETTS
Professor and Head of the Climate Impacts, Met Office Hadley Centre, FitzRoy Road, Exeter, Devon EX1 3PB, UK
Research Associate, Institute of Agriculture, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia
Joana Magos BREHM
Collaborator, Centre for Environmental Biology, University of Lisbon, Portugal and Research Assistant, School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK
Postdoctoral Fellow, Wageningen UR Plant Breeding, PO Box 16, 6700 AJ Wageningen, The Netherlands
Former Barley Breeder, International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), Aleppo, Syria (now retired)
Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Agronomy, 2004 Throckmorton Plant Science Center, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 66506, USA
Johannes M.M. ENGELS
Honorary Research Fellow, Bioversity International, Via dei Tre Denari 472/a, Maccarese, Rome, Italy
Professor and Director, International Centre for Plant Breeding Education and Research (ICPBER) and Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture (CLIMA), The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley WA 6009, Perth, Australia
Jacob van ETTEN
Theme Leader – Climate Change Adaptation, Bioversity International, Regional Office of the Americas, CIAT, Recta Cali – Palmira Km. 17, Palmira, Colombia
Emeritus Professor, School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK
NERC Advanced Research Fellow, National Centre for Atmospheric Science, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Earley Gate, PO Box 243, Reading, RG6 6BB, UK
Former Director General, International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI), Maccarese, Rome, Italy (now retired)
Abdelbagi M. ISMAIL
Principal Scientist – Plant Physiology, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), DAPO 7777, Manila 1301, Philippines
Former Head of the Genetic Resources Center and Director for Program Planning and Communications, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), DAPO Box 7777, Manila 1301, Philippines (now retired)
Research Fellow, School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK
David J. MACKILL
Adjunct Professor, Department of Plant Sciences, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA and former Principal Scientist – Rice Breeding, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), DAPO 7777, Manila 1301, Philippines
Al Imran MALIK
Research Associate, Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture (CLIMA) and Institute of Agriculture, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia
Senior Lecturer in Genetic Conservation, School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK
Kenneth L. McNALLY
Senior Scientist II – Molecular Genetics and Computational Biology, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), DAPO Box 7777, Manila 1301, Philippines
Mary A. MGONJA
Principal Scientist and Program Leader (Genetic Resources Enhancement and Management), International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Regional Office for Eastern and Southern Africa, United Nations Avenue, World Agroforestry Centre, Gigiri PO Box 39063-00623, Nairobi, Kenya
Head, Social Sciences Division, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), DAPO Box 7777 Manila 1301, Philippines
Former Legal Counsel, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, Italy (now retired)
Former Reader, Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth University, Penglais, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, SY23 3DA, UK(now retired)
Visiting Professor, Grantham Institute and Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London, London, SW7 2AZ, UK
P.V. Vara PRASAD
Associate Professor and Director of K-State Center for Sorghum Improvement, Department of Agronomy, 2004 Throckmorton Plant Science Center, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 66506, USA
Senior Lecturer and Head of Education,School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK
Doctoral Researcher, Institute for Climatic and Atmospheric Science (ICAS), School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK, CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), Cali, Colombia, and International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Cali, Colombia
Ian D. THOMAS
Research Scientist, Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth University, Penglais, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, SY23 3DA, UK
Hari D. UPADHYAYA
Principal Scientist, Assistant Research Program Director – Grain Legumes, and Head – Gene Bank, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Patancheru 502 324, Andhra Pradesh, India
Senior Scientist – Resistance Breeding, Wageningen UR Plant Breeding, PO Box 16, 6700 AJ Wageningen, The Netherlands
Robert S. ZEIGLER
Director General, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), DAPO Box 7777, Manila 1301, Philippines
1. Food security, climate change and genetic resources
Robert S. Zeigler
2. Genetic resources and conservation challenges under the threat of climate change
Brian Ford-Lloyd, Johannes M.M. Engels and Michael Jackson
3. Climate projections
Richard A. Betts and Ed Hawkins
4. Effects of climate change on potential food production and risk of hunger
5. Regional impacts of climate change on agriculture and the role of adaptation
Pam Berry, Julian Ramirez-Villegas, Helen Bramley, Samarandu Mohanty and Mary A. Mgonja
6. International mechanisms for conservation and use of genetic resources
Gerald Moore and Geoffrey Hawtin
7. Crop wild relatives and climate change
Nigel Maxted, Shelagh Kell and Joana Magos Brehm
8. Climate change and on-farm conservation of crop landraces in centres of diversity
Mauricio R. Bellon and Jacob van Etten
9. Germplasm databases and informatics
Helen Ougham and Ian D. Thomas
10. Exploring ‘omics’ of genetic resources to mitigate the effects of climate change
Kenneth L. McNally
11. Harnessing meiotic recombination for improved crop varieties
Susan J. Armstrong
12. High temperature stress
Maduraimuthu Djanaguiraman and P.V..Vara Prasad
William Erskine, Hari D. Upadhyaya and Al Imran Malik
15. Response to flooding: submergence tolerance in rice
Abdelbagi M. Ismail and David J. Mackill
16. Effects of climate change on plant-insect interactions and prospects for resistance breeding using genetic resources
Jeremy Pritchard, Colette Broekgaarden and Ben Vosman
MICHAEL JACKSON retired from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in 2010. For 10 years he was Head of the Genetic Resources Center, managing the International Rice Genebank, one of the world’s largest and most important genebanks. Then, for nine years, he was Director for Program Planning and Communications. He was also Adjunct Professor of Agronomy at the University of the Philippines-Los Baños. During the 1980s he was Lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Birmingham, focusing on the conservation and use of plant genetic resources. From 1973-81 he worked at the International Potato Center, in Lima, Perú and in Costa Rica. He now works part-time as an independent agricultural research and planning consultant. He was appointed OBE in The Queen’s New Year’s Honours 2012, for services to international food science.
BRIAN FORD-LLOYD is Emeritus Professor of Conservation Genetics at the University of Birmingham, former Director of the University Graduate School, and former Deputy Head of the School of Biosciences. During his tenure as Director of the University Graduate School he aimed to ensure that doctoral researchers throughout the University were provided with the opportunity, training and facilities to undertake internationally valued research that would lead into excellent careers in the UK and overseas. He drew from his experience of having successfully supervised over 40 doctoral researchers from the UK and many other parts of the world in his chosen research area which included the study of the natural genetic variation in plant populations, and agricultural plant genetic resources and their conservation.
MARTIN PARRY is Visiting Professor at The Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London, and also Visiting Research Fellow at The Grantham Institute at the same university. Until September 2008 he was Co-Chair of Working Group II (Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability), of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) based at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, UK Meteorological Office. Previously he was Director of the Jackson Environment Institute (JEI), and Professor of Environmental Science at the University of East Anglia (1999-2002); Director of the JEI and Professor of Environmental Management at University College London (1994-99); foundation Director of the Environmental Change Institute and Professor of Geography at the University of Oxford (1991-94); and Professor of Geography at the University of Birmingham (1989-91). He was appointed OBE in The Queen’s New Year’s Honours 1998, for services to the environment and climate change.