ServiceXS promotes agrobiodiversity

ServiceXS promotes agrobiodiversity

Currently there are more than 6 billion people living on our planet. This number is expected to grow to 9 billion by the year 2050. How are we going to feed this enormous population? Since 1980 the agricultural production pro capita is declining. Of course, we want to eliminate hunger and change this trend, but this will require an increase of our agricultural production by 70% in the next four decades. The easiest solution would be to give more land to farmers. It implies however, that we will give up the last pieces of rainforest and other nature reserves. An alternative is to use more insecticides, including currently banned aggressive chemicals. Both options are widely rejected for obvious reasons.

The only remaining alternative is to improve agricultural production by using optimized crops. Breeders can develop races that are adapted to climate changes, resistant to insects, and still provide high yields. To create these optimized cultivars, they cross current cultivars with old land races and wild relatives that show the desired trait. Land races are locally cultured crop varieties that are being passed on to next generations of farmers since ages. Land races are well-adapted to their local environment, but yields are usually relatively low. Land races are rapidly disappearing, since they are being replaced by commercial cultivars. Wild relatives are also threatened  as many are on the list of endangered species. Hence, the breeders may have the skills to improve crops sufficiently, but the genetic material to use by them is declining.

A new EU-project, called PGR-Secure, is aiming to help the breeders by promoting the conservation of crop wild relatives and land races. PGR stands for ‘Plant Genetic Resource’. The PGR Secure project obtained a 4 million Euro support from the European FP7 program and started last month. ServiceXS is the only commercial enterprise joining this Consortium. Together with scientists from Birmingham, Wageningen and 7 other academic centers, we will show how an important group of vegetables – Brassica (Cabbage) -  can be conserved and characterized in detail.  Results will be made available to breeders. The characterization involves phenotyping and genotyping. ServiceXS will play a role in the latter activity by sequencing the transcriptome of 11 Brassica species.