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Genetic diversity in agriculture: Temporal flux, sustainable productivity and food security

The purpose of this project is to develop a scientifically based framework for determining any changes in genetic diversity over time in four very widely grown agricultural crops (wheat, barley, maize and potatoes). Any enlargement of the genetic base or genetic erosion that may have occurred over the past 60 years in these crops will be determined and evaluated using advanced DNA marker tools. The project will include econometric analysis of diversity trends, and will help clarify the relationship between breeding and crop genome evolution. Any risk to the genetic base of the major crops in European agriculture will become evident. Recommendations will help inform policymaking, underpinning the strategic infrastructure of sustainable agriculture on a European-wide basis.

The objective of this project is:
1) to measure and compare over time the changes in levels of genetic diversity and erosion within and between current and previous varieties of important European crops (wheat, barley, maize and potatoes), using advanced DNA profiling methods, providing data from the last fifty to sixty years
2) to assess the impact of variety evaluation systems: Plant Breeders Rights (PBR), National Lists (NL), Recommended Lists (RL) or the equivalent on genetic erosion and on the delivery of an appropriate level of crop genetic diversity to the field
3) to examine consequences for yield and quality of the chosen crops of adoption of policies in the variety evaluation process, which deliver to the farmer an increase in crop genetic diversity for productive use
4) to develop proposals for monitoring genetic diversity and erosion in European variety evaluation systems using molecular and statistical analysis of candidate varieties and interpretation for incorporation into recommendations for variety use.

The results show that there has not ben a significant chnage in crop plant diversity over time or as a result of the variety in production and delivery systems, with different molecular techniques, statistical analyses and differnt crop species giving convergent results. This observation applies to the maize, wheat, barley and potato, studied in this project, and their diversity over the past 50 years. The similarity in the way diversity has been maintained between crop varieties suggests that this could be expected to be the normal situation, and we might predict that other crops would show a similar trend. The period under study has shown many changes in the way crops have been bredand delivered to agrculture but none of these activities has had a deleterious effect on crop diversity. The only significant change in diversity noted was from the study of disease resistance genes in potato, which showed an increase, attributable to the crossing with wild relatives with high specific disease resistance genes.
Use of the available diversity in agriculture has also been comprehensive. The Netherlands and Germany used fewer potato varieties than they might have done, but the UK used a larger selection. Barley has a wider range of end-user requirements, keeping the germplasm diversity uptake high. Maize showed a slight drop in diversity. Wheat experienced a significant increase in diversity.


Scientist responsible for the project

Huntingdon Road
CB3 0LE Cambridge
United Kingdom (The) - GB

Phone: +44 1223 342272
Fax: +44 1223 277602


Project ID QLRT-2000-00934
Organisation National Institute of Agricultural Botany
Area 5.1.1
Start date 01 October 2001
Duration (months) 36
Total cost 3 039 812 €
Total EC contribution   1 846 635 €
Status Completed
Web address of the project

The partners

  • John Innes Centre, United Kingdom (The) - GB

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