NRSPOLD006: Inter-Regional Potato Introduction Project: Acquisition, classification, preservation, evaluation and distribution of potato (Solanum) germplasm
Statement of Issues and Justification
Prerequisite Criteria: Mission
- Support activities. NRSP-6 is designated the sole official NPGS project filling the role of working potato germplasm collection for the US. The US is very poor in native potato (and most other crop) germplasm, but relatively rich in resources to preserve it. Thus, making the NRSP-6 resource freely available to other countries is a key part of US policy of reciprocity to encourage those countries to share their native germplasm with us. The best way to understand the importance of NRSP-6 is to imagine how the US would use potato germplasm resources if no genebank were present. Imagine a scenario in which an individual researcher wanted to investigate a certain trait in exotic potato relatives. How would he intelligently define what "potato relative" means until he had first developed taxonomic information on species boundaries and relatedness to cultivars? And after having determined a taxonomy, how could he hope for any eventual practical application to breeding or genetics without first determining the breeding system, requirements for growth, and interspecific crossing? If, having done this, he settled on a species to study, how would he get a sample? If it did not exist in the US or he could not find or obtain it from a fellow US researcher, could he organize an expedition to Latin America to collect samples for himself? If so, he would first have to gather and organize herbarium records to find out where his species grew and at what time of the year, and gain the expertise to be able to locate and identify it in its wild habitat. He would have to negotiate formal intergovernmental agreements to collect. Then too, potato is a "prohibited" plant, which means it cannot be imported except by APHIS permit. Thus, he would have learn the protocol for coordinating with ARS Quarantine for importation of potato germplasm, and wait one to two years until quarantine had tested it for exotic diseases. When he finally had it back in his lab in the US, would he immediately advertise its existence and availability to all potato researchers worldwide (not several years later when his research results appeared in print)? He would have to determine how to efficiently preserve the material - not only needing to know the requirements for keeping it alive over long-term experimentation, but developing the technology, information and facilities to test and keep the germplasm free of diseases (which in some cases are virtually incurable). If many items were collected, an accessible and accurate system of identifying and tracking individual units would have to be developed. Even if our imaginary researcher was successful in doing all these things and discovered and published a valuable trait, what would then become of the germplasm? If his peers wanted samples for breeding or studies of other traits, would our researcher commit to providing rapid delivery of high quality, disease free propagules to his colleagues indefinitely, and transfer this responsibility to a successor when he retired? Even if availability of the physical germplasm was assured, what about its associated data? Who would catalog, organize and disseminate all the useful information generated on these particular stocks by various researchers over time? Consider also that individual researchers typically study one thing on a limited number of taxa. Who would undertake the important role of understanding the totality of the germplasm in a general sense? That is, having the breadth of experience to notice phenomena that are unique and of potential value to the potato industry and see and report opportunities for cross links between research disciplines? Who would develop such broad perspective and use it to give advice to researchers who needed help in selecting the best stocks and techniques to answer their research questions? Who would take responsibility for asking and answering the questions pertinent to finding the most efficient genebank management of genetic diversity with respect to collecting, preserving and evaluating germplasm?
The implication should be obvious. The potato research and breeding community depends on NRSP-6 and its associated programs to perform and/or coordinate all of the above tasks. Doing without NRSP-6 would be like having everyone find, buy, organize, store and share books independently, without the coordinating service of a library. The great confusion and redundancy cost of the resulting disorganization would not just be borne by major potato breeding and research states, but would eventually filter down to everyone in the form of more federal taxes needed to support an inefficient public breeding program, and in the higher development and production costs passed from grower to processor to retailer to consumer.
- development of enabling technologies. The genebank's role in efficient delivery of high quality germplasm requires development of some of the same technologies the recipient needs to exploit the germplasm. For example, both need to know the best techniques for germinating, growing and crossing the stocks. [see Appendices 2 and 3 for specific accomplishments]
- sharing of facilities needed to accomplish high priority research. In some cases the demonstration and extension of technology is not the most practical approach, but rather for the genebank to simply perform the work on behalf of the recipient. Thus, we accept special orders to generate tubers, pretreat seeds for germination, prepare rooted cuttings for immediate planting, give away pollinating devices, etc. [see Appendix 4 for specific accomplishments].
- facilitate a broad array of research activities. The breadth of potato science reflects the significance of potato as the 4th most important world food crop. Thus, NRSP-6 stocks are the subject of studies of breeding, genetics, cytogenetics, pathology, physiology, taxonomy, entomology, nematology, horticulture, biochemistry, and nutrition. For the years 1998-2003, we document 824 research papers, theses and abstracts that in some way involved the use of NRSP-6 stocks and services. [See Appendix 6 for details of support services provided and Appendix 3 for specific evaluation topics that promote stakeholder use of the germplasm].
Prerequisite Criteria: How does this NRSP pertain as a national issue?Some states have more direct involvement in potato research or breeding, and some states have larger acreages. Some states, particularly those of the NCR do more of the type of broad, preliminary screening research that uses large number of germplasm items from the genebank. But all regions are actively using NRSP-6 stocks. As documented in Appendix 6, a total of 36 states and DC received germplasm in the past project term (eleven states in the NCR, eight in the NER, seven in the SR and eleven in the WR). Potato breeding and research programs in these states make important contributions to the states' economies, University reputations and agricultural competitiveness. As illustrated in section A., such programs that are pursuing progressive breeding and research using exotic germplasm (some in each region) often depend on NRSP-6 as the only practical source of the materials necessary for their work.
Furthermore, the benefits of NRSP-6 activities by potato states by no means stay within their borders. Every state at least has a significant and direct involvement in marketing, transportation and consumption of potato as a major part of the diet of its population. Citizens of every state have an interest in the influence potato is making on world food policy, considering how closely political stability is tied to economic and nutritional stability. Thus every state has a significant interest in potato improvement and should accept responsibility for paying a part of the cost.
If a crop could claim the following distinctions, the NRSP genebank that kept it would have a very convincing case for continuation with strong support, because it would have both a high priority with respect to national needs and extraordinary potential for significant impact:
- The major vegetable. Most widely grown and consumed vegetable in the US and world, being among the most palatable and versatile of foods, thus perhaps the most practical hope of delivering improved nutrition to the nation and world.
- Big problems to be solved. Very high requirements for quality, which translates into very high inputs of pesticides, water and fertilizer with the associated production costs and risks of food residues and environmental impact.
- Great genetic opportunities. A narrow genetic base in US cultivars compared to the genetic breadth in exotics forms. More exotic germplasm is available than for any other major crop. Almost all modern varieties have exotic germplasm in their pedigrees. Exotic forms that are more amenable to introgression than any other major crop, including recent first-time demonstration of potential in the biotech transfer of wild relatives' genes to cultivars. Past demonstrations that exotic germplasm can make important contributions in terms of specific traits, general heterosis, and opportunity for more efficient breeding methods. Past investments in this crop's germplasm have now built the world's premier collection of stocks and infrastructure within the US.
- Great potential for economic impact. Among the greatest potential for market expansion. Very high potential value-added profit in processed forms. Great differential between average and demonstrated optimum yield. Among the greatest diversity of cultivation in countries, latitudes and altitudes.
- Finesse needed. Germplasm maintenance requires special knowledge, technology and facilities for seed and clonal preservation, exclusion of systemic diseases, and prevention of genetic erosion in seed populations.
ALL OF THESE POINTS ARE TRUE OF POTATO.
Rationale: Priority Established by ESCOP/ESSChallenge 1. We can develop new and more competitive crop products and new uses for diverse crops and novel plant species. This is the heart of what NRSP-6 aims to promote. Genetic diversity of the exotics at NRSP-6 represents the potential diversity of improvements in productivity, quality and resource use efficiency realized in new cultivars.
Challenge 3 . We can lessen the risks of local and global climatic change on food, fiber, and fuel production. Potato is cultivated across a broader range of latitudes than any other major crop. Thus, the effects of climate change could be different in different growing regions, and require the screening for multiple new traits in exotic germplasm which can be incorporated into the crop. Potatoes also exist in nature in a great diversity of ecological niches, so the impact of climate change on in situ genetic diversity may be variable and call for especially close monitoring of how diversity in the genebank represents that which exists in nature. For example, changes in natural selection pressures may also implicate the need for recollecting done by genebank staff.
Challenge 4 . We can provide the information and knowledge needed to further improve environmental stewardship. As already mentioned, the heart of what NRSP-6 aims to promote is genetic improvement. Research supported by NRSP-6 will continue to find ways to make a crop that is more efficient at using fertilizer and water inputs and can naturally resist pests and diseases. That means less use of pesticides and fuel.
Challenge 5 . We can improve the economic return to agricultural producers. This can be achieved through lower input costs keeping all other factors steady. Or, quality can improve to support higher prices at the same market share. Or, yield can improve with expansion of both potato's unit value and market share so current prices are not depressed due to overproduction. The utopian scheme for the potato crop is to use germplasm to make gains in all three areas: less input costs, higher yield per area of land, and higher quality. Other initiatives that will contribute to these general goals are increasing net yield by reducing storage losses, capitalizing on virtual demand by removing the physiological limits to potato production due to the climate and other factors (disease, e.g.) in a certain growing region
Challenge 6 . We can strengthen our communities and families. NRSP-6 can have an impact on poor small farmers in developing countries who could improve their standard of living and maintain their culture because germplasm inputs gave them a more marketable and nutritious crop (by increasing frost tolerance for high altitude farmers, for example). Food security in developing countries often has a favorable influence on political stability, which reduces the money US citizens must spend to maintain military clout and foreign aid. Good health is a basic factor in the productivity and well-being of all communities and families. Health is positive in itself, but a healthy populace can also have a higher standard of living due to more productivity and less need to spend the profits from that productivity on insurance, medical care and government intervention programs
Challenge 7. We can ensure improved food safety and health through agricultural and food systems. Three points here:
- Improved potato has outstanding potential to have a significant health and nutrition impact on a population basis because it already has a regular, high level of consumption across all demographic categories in the US. Compare, for example, to blueberries which have famous levels of antioxidants per serving, but are very expensive and current consumer preference is such that they are eaten only in small quantities and irregularly.
- Potato has had obvious appeal - it's cheap, good-tasting in many forms, and filling. But since it is not leafy-green, its known and potential contributions to health have not been emphasized. With potato becoming almost the "poster child" for the lifestyle change of 25M US citizens now significantly avoiding high-carb/glycemic foods, we need to identify and quantify, for example, potato antioxidant and anti-cancer compounds that will be eliminated in the US diet, and their likely impact.
- Because about 1.3M acres of potato are cultivated in the US and 48M worldwide, reducing the need for chemical inputs in the potato crop through genetic means could significantly reduce the exposure at all levels at which agrichemical use now poses a health risk (manufacture, transport, storage, grower, consumer). The Environmental Working Group reports potato as being among the "dirty dozen" of fruits and vegetables containing pesticide residues, in fact, having the highest average ppm of any of the items tested (http://www.foodnews.org/reportcard.php on May 4th 2004). This is a striking expression of the need to continue NRSP-6 service so genetic alternatives to pesticides can be found and deployed. [See Appendices 3 and 5 for specific service activities that are promoting use of NRSP-6 germplasm and thereby a more productive, versatile, profitable, nutritious and environmentally safe potato crop]
Rationale: Relevance to stakeholdersNRSP-6 stakeholders are researchers, breeders and those who use their product (i.e., producers). Here are the reasons why there is a continued need and relevance of NRSP-6 service to stakeholders, and why US scientists (and foreign ones, for that matter) will depend on NRSP-6 germplasm more, not less in the future:
- No other public or private programs have come forward as being willing or able to provide the unique services of NRSP-6. Fifty years of public support of this genebank has resulted in the world's premier collection of over 5,000 items of germplasm for the world's most important non-cereal crop. At least 40% of these are unique. Failure to acknowledge a continued need for NRSP-6 presumably would call for discarding this germplasm or entrusting it multiple state and private programs with no centralized government oversight. Neither choice would be consistent with the best interests of US agriculture, or historic US germplasm policy.
- The need for potato research and breeding is not declining. Development of technology has enhanced the quantity and impact of research and publications involving germplasm. There are more private breeders, more seedlings grown for yearly selection, more sophisticated facets of evaluation, and more varieties being released. The onus to gather, format and distribute information efficiently has greatly increased because communication and data management technology has made it possible. There is a growing need for adapted varieties in rapidly expanding production areas like Asia. World demand is nowhere near saturation, since there are huge population centers with only a fraction of the per capita consumption potential demonstrated in the US and Europe. Similarly, world yield index is still far below the potential demonstrated in areas where genetics are finely tuned to growing conditions (average yields in India and China are less than half of that in US), showing that there is still a great deal NRSP-6 germplasm can contribute.
- Acquisition of germplasm from foreign genebanks or directly from the wild is getting even less practical for US researchers. Other genebanks have faced financial problems or reorganization which have reduced their capacity to maintain availability of germplasm and services. Countries with native potato germplasm to share are doing so less freely due to policies reflecting feelings of national ownership and problematic expectations of "benefit sharing" that have delayed access indefinitely.
- Despite advances in quarantine testing technology and organization, access to imported germplasm will continue to be delayed by one or two years. And if we want to avoid the wasted time and expense of having quarantine repeatedly process the same material for multiple importers, we need the coordination, information and preservation provided by a genebank.
- Pressure to reduce agrichemical inputs that may threaten the health of humans and the environment has increased, making genetic solutions through germplasm even more urgent.
- Physiological constraints such as a need for cold tolerance (applied especially to the mountain growing regions like the Andes but everywhere subject to the global cycle of wider weather fluctuations), heat and CO2 (global warming), water and fertilizer use efficiency (loss of Klamath basin water rights, phosphates in lakes, nitrates in groundwater, energy costs for pumping water and making fertilizer) have increased, as well as a general need to increase the adapted range of potato to production areas where it would benefit the world economy.
- Technology has increased the possibilities for germplasm use making it more valuable. The prospects of easily identifying and mining genes from exotic germplasm (reducing the long and expensive process of conventional breeding) makes the service of NRSP-6 even more valuable. Even if GMO's are banned, consider this one example: We are just opening the door of genomics that will make it possible to tag genes in very weedy, uncrossable species and then very efficiently screen for those genes in germplasm that can be easily used for conventional breeding. This application of biotech to more efficient screening has enormous potential.
THESE FACTORS SHOW THE HIGH AND RAPIDLY INCREASING OPPORTUNITY COSTS OF DECIDING TO REDUCE INVESTMENT IN NRSP-6 SERVICE.
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