Boost for conservation of plant gene assets

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is part of a drive to protect plant genetic resources. Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Svalbard Global Seed Vault / Mari TefreAn international treaty aimed at protecting and improving access to the world’s plant genetic resources is set to dole out its first round of research grants this week amid cash-flow problems that could endanger future awards.

The grants, which will support research into new crop varieties and plant-conservation efforts in developing countries, mark the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. The treaty is best known for its role in paving the way for construction of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway — an underground cavern containing a stock of plant seeds from around the world.

Some 120 nations are party to the treaty, and those that have ratified it are legally bound to pass on genetic information about the world’s 64 most important food crops, including potatoes and wheat — making the information freely available to researchers, plant breeders and farmers. This information might be held in gene banks or in the form of crops growing in a farmer’s field, for example.

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