Don’t put all your eggs in one basket . . . or your seeds in a single genebank

On 20 May 2015, a long article was published in The Guardian about the Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV), popularly—and rather unfortunately—known as the ‘Doomsday Vault’. I’ve recently been guilty of using that moniker simply because that’s how the vault has come to be known, rightly or wrongly, in the media.

Authored by US-based environment correspondent of The Guardian, Suzanne Goldenberg, the article had the headline grabbing title: The doomsday vault: the seeds that could save a post-apocalyptic world.

You get a flavor of what’s in store, however, from the very first paragraph. Goldenberg writes: ‘One Tuesday last winter, in the town nearest to the North Pole, Robert Bjerke turned up for work at his regular hour and looked at the computer monitor on his desk to discover, or so it seemed for a few horrible moments, that the future of human civilisation was in jeopardy.’

Turns out there was a relatively minor glitch in one of the supplementary cooling systems of this seed repository under the Arctic permafrost where millions of seeds of the world’s most important food staples and other species are being stored, duplicating the germplasm conservation efforts of the genebanks from which they were sent. Hardly the stuff of Apocalypse Now. So while making a favorable case for the need to store seeds in a genebank like the Svalbard vault, Goldenberg ends her introduction with this somewhat controversial statement: ‘Seed banks are vulnerable to near-misses and mishaps. That was the whole point of locating a disaster-proof back-up vault at Svalbard. But what if there was a bigger glitch – one that could not be fixed by borrowing a part from the local shop? There is now a growing body of opinion that the world’s faith, in Svalbard and the Crop Trust’s broader mission to create seed banks, is misplaced. [The emphasis in bold is mine.] Those who have worked with farmers in the field, especially in developing countries, which contain by far the greatest variety of plants, say that diversity cannot be boxed up and saved in a single container—no matter how secure it may be. Crops are always changing, pests and diseases are always adapting, and global warming will bring additional challenges that remain as yet unforeseen. In a perfect world, the solution would be as diverse and dynamic as plant life itself.’ 

I have several concerns about the article—and the many comments it elicited that stem, unfortunately, from lack of understanding on the one hand and ignorance and prejudice on the other.

  • Goldenberg gives the impression that it’s an either/or situation of ex situ conservation in a genebank versus in situ conservation in farmers’ fields or natural environments (in the case of crop wild relatives).
  • There is a perception apparently held by some that the development of the SGSV has been detrimental to the cause of in situ conservation of crop wild relatives.
  • Because there is no research or use of the germplasm stored in the SGSV, then it only has an ‘existence value’. Of course this does not take into account the research on and use of the same germplasm in the genebanks from which it was sent to Svalbard. Therefore Svalbard by its very nature is assumed to be very expensive.
  • The role of Svalbard as a back-up to other genebank efforts is not emphasized sufficiently. As many genebanks do not have adequate access to long-term conservation facilities, the SGSV is an important support at no cost directly to those genebanks as far as I am aware. However, Svalbard can never be a panacea. If seeds of poor quality (i.e less than optimum viability) are stored in the vault then they will deteriorate faster than good seeds. As the saying goes: ‘Junk in, junk out’.
  • The NGO perspective is interesting. It seems it’s hard for some of our NGO colleagues to accept that use of germplasm stored in genebanks actually does benefit farmers.Take for example the case of submergence tolerant rice, now being grown by farmers in Bangladesh and other countries on land where a consistent harvest was almost unheard of before. Or the cases where farmers have lost varieties due to natural disasters but have had them replaced because they were in a genebank. My own experience in the Cagayan valley in the northern Philippines highlights this very well after a major typhoon in the late 1990s devastated the rice agriculture of that area. See the section about on farm management of rice germplasm in this earlier post. They also still harbour a concern that seeds in genebanks are at the mercy of being expropriated by multinationals. In the comments, Monsanto was referred to many times, as was the issue of GMOs. I addressed this in the comment I contributed.

I added this comment that same day on The Guardian web site:
‘For a decade during the 1990s I managed one of the world’s largest and most important genebanks – the International Rice Genebank at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines. Large, because it holds over 116,000 samples of cultivated varieties and wild species of rice. And important, because rice is the most important food staple feeding half the world’s population several times daily.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV), the so-called ‘Doomsday Vault’ in Spitsbergen, holds on behalf of IRRI an almost complete duplicate set of samples (called ‘accessions’), in case something should happen to the genebank in Los Baños, south of Manila. I should add that for decades the USDA has also held a duplicate set in its genebank at Fort Collins in Colorado, under exactly the same ‘black box’ terms as the SGSV.

Germplasm is conserved so that it can be studied and used in plant breeding to enhance the productivity of the rice crop, to increase its resilience in the face of climate change, or to meet the challenge of new strains of diseases and pests. The application of molecular biology is unlocking the mysteries of this enormous genetic diversity, making it accessible for use in rice improvement much more efficiently than in past decades.

Many genebanks round the world and the collections they manage do not have access to long-term and safe storage facilities. This is where the SGSV plays an important role. Genebanks can be at risk from a whole range of natural threats (earthquakes, typhoons, volcanic eruptions, etc.) or man-made threats: conflicts, lack of resources, and inadequate management that can lead to fires, flooding, etc. Just take the example of the International Rice Genebank. The Philippines are subject to the natural threats mentioned, but the genebank was designed and built to withstand these. The example of the ICARDA genebank in Aleppo highlights the threat to these facilities from being located in a conflict zone.

To understand more about what it means to conserve a crop like rice please visit this post on my blog.  There is an enlightening 15 minute video there that I made about the genebank.

It is not a question of taking any set of seeds and putting them into cold storage. Only ‘good’ seeds will survive for any length of time under sub-zero conditions. Many studies have shown that if stored at -18C, seeds with initial high viability may be stored for decades even hundreds of years. The seeds of many plant species – including most of the world’s most important food crops like rice, wheat, maize and many others conform to this pattern. What I can state unequivocally is that the seeds from the genebanks of the world’s most important genebanks, managed like that of IRRI under the auspices of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), have been routinely tested for viability and only the best sent to Svalbard.

Prof. Phil Pardey, University of Minnesota

Prof. Phil Pardey, University of Minnesota

The other aspect of Goldenberg’s otherwise excellent article are the concerns raised by a number of individuals whose ‘comments’ are quoted. I count both Phil Pardey and Nigel Maxted among my good friends, and it seems to me that their comments have been taken completely out of context. I have never heard them express such views in such a blunt manner. Their perspectives on conservation and use, and in situ vs. ex situ are much more nuanced as anyone will see for themselves from reading their many publications. The SEARICE representative I do not know, but I’ve had many contacts with her organization. It’s never a question of genebank or ex situ conservation versus on-farm or in situ conservation. They are complementary and mutually supportive approaches. Crop varieties will die out for a variety of reasons. If they can be stored in a genebank so much the better (not all plant species can be stored successfully as seeds, as was mentioned in Goldenberg’s article). The objection to genebanks on the grounds of permitting multinationals to monopolize these important genetic resources is a red herring and completely without foundation.

So the purpose of the SGSV is one of not ‘putting all your eggs in one basket’. Unfortunately the name ‘Doomsday Vault’ as used by Goldenberg has come to imply a post cataclysm world. It’s really much more straightforward than that. The existence of the SGSV is part of humanity’s genetic insurance policy, risk mitigation, and business continuity plan for a wise and forward-thinking society.’

Over the next couple of days others chipped in with first hand knowledge of the SGSV or genetic conservation issues in general.

Simon Jeppsonsiminjeppson is someone who has first-hand knowledge and experience of the SGSV, and he wrote: ‘I’m currently working as the project coordinator of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault on behalf of NordGen and I just wanted to add some of my reflections on this article some of the comments.

This article is an interesting read but a rather unbalanced one. The temperature increase that is described as putting the world heritage in jeopardy is a misconception. There has been a background study used as a worst case scenario during the planning stage of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault based on the seeds stored in the old abandoned mine shaft mentioned. These results were published in 2003 and even the most recent data (after 25 years in permafrost conditions prevailing in the same mountain without active cooling) shows that all samples are still viable. Anyone curious about this can for themselves try out various storage temperatures and find out the predicted storage time for specific crops at:

Further I have some reflections regarding some of the recently posted comments. The statement “Most seed resources for plant breeding come from farmers’ fields via national seed stores in developing countries: these countries are not depositing in Svalbard.” is wrong; more than 60% of the deposited material originates from developing countries. Twenty-three of depositors represent national or regional institutes situated in developing counties, 12 are international centers and 28 are from developed countries according to IMF. This data is readily available at:

Finally, a comment about the statement that “Seeds will not be distributed – only ever sent back to the institute that provided them. The reason is that seeds commonly have seed-borne diseases, sometimes nasty viruses and the rest.” This statement is also a misconception. The seeds samples stored in the vault are of the same seed lots already readily distributed worldwide from the depositing institutes. There are more than 1750 plant genetic institutes many of them distributing several thousand samples every year.’

maxted-nigel-Cropped-110x146Nigel Maxted is a senior lecturer in the School of Biosciences at the University of Birmingham. As I suspected, when I commented on Goldenberg’s article, Nigel’s contribution to the discussion was taken out of context. He commented: ‘I believe I have been mis-quoted in this article, I do think the Svalbard genebank is worthwhile and I hope the Trust reach their funding goal, even though ex situ does freeze evolution for the accessions included, it provides our best chance of long-term stability for preserving agrobiodiversity in an increasingly unstable world.

I was trying to make a more nuanced point to Suzanne, that I strongly support complementary conservation that involves both in situ and ex situ actions. However at the moment if we compare the financial commitment to in situ and ex situ conservation of agrobiodiversity, globally over 99% of funding is spent on ex situ alone, therefore by any stretch of the imagination can we be considered to be implementing a complementary approach? I was used to make a point and I suppose it would be naive of me to complain, but I hope one day we will stop trying to create an artificial dichotomy between the two conservation strategies and wake up to the need for real complementary conservation. Conservation that includes a balanced range of in situ actions as well to conservation agrobiodiversity before it is too late for us all.’

HawtinGeoff Hawtin is someone who knows what he’s talking about. As Director General of the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute for just over a decade from 1991, and the founding Executive Secretary of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, Geoff had several telling comments: ‘As someone who has worked for the last 25 years to help conserve the genetic diversity of our food crops, I welcome the article by Suzanne Goldenberg in spite of its very many inaccuracies and misconceptions. She rightly draws attention to the plight of what is arguably the world’s most important resource in the fight against food and nutritional insecurity. If this article results in more attention and funds being devoted to safeguarding this resource—whether on farm or in genebanks—it will have served a useful purpose.

The dichotomy between in situ and ex situ conservation is a false one. The two are entirely complementary and both approaches are vital. For farmers around the world the genetic diversity of their landraces and local varieties is their lifeblood—a living resource that they can use and mould to help meet their current and future needs and those of their families.

But we all live in a world of rapid and momentous change and a world in which we all depend for our food on crops that may have originated continents away. The diversity an African farmer—or plant breeder—needs to improve her maize or beans may well be found in those regions where these crops were originally domesticated – in this case in Latin America, where to this day genetic diversity of these two crops remains greatest. Without the work of genebanks in gathering and maintaining vast collections of such genetic diversity, how can such farmers and breeders hope to have access to the traits they need to develop new crop varieties that can resist or tolerate new diseases and pests, or that can produce higher yields of more nutritious food, or that are able to meet the ever growing threats of heat, drought and flooding posed by climate change?

Scientists have been collecting genetic diversity since at least the 1930s, but efforts expanded significantly in the 1970s and 80s in response to growing recognition that diversity was rapidly disappearing from farmers fields in many parts of the world as a result of major shifts in agricultural production systems and the introduction and adoption of new, higher yielding varieties. Today, thanks to these pioneering efforts, diversity is being conserved in genebanks that no longer exists in the wild or on farmers’ fields.

The common misconception that the Svalbard Global Seed Vault exists to save the world following an apocalyptic disaster is perpetuated, even in the title of the article. In reality, the SGSV is intended to provide a safety-net as a back-up for the world’s more than 1,700 genebanks which themselves, as pointed out in the article, are often far from secure. At a cost of about £6 million to build and annual running and maintenance costs of less than £200,000 surely this ranks as the world’s most inexpensive yet arguably most valuable insurance policy.’

Susan_BragdonFinally, among the genetic resources experts, Susan Bragdon made the following comments: ‘I think the author overstates the fierce debates between the proponents of ex situ and in situ conservation. Most would agree that both are needed with in situ being complemented by ex situ.

The controversy over money is because funders are not understanding this need for both and may feel they have checked off that box by funding Svalbard (which is perhaps better seen as an insurance policy—one never hopes to have to use one’s insurance policy.) Svalbard is of course sexier than the on-farm development and conservation of diversity by small scale farmers around the world. Donors can jet in, go dog sledding, see polar bears. Not as sexy to visit most small-scale farms but there are more and more exceptions (e.g., the Potato Park in Peru)

Articles like this set up a false choice between ex situ and in situ which is simply not shared except by a few loud voices. We need to work together to create the kind of incentives that make small scale farming in agrobiodiverse settings an attractive life choice.’

In her staff biography on the Quaker United Nations Office web page, it relates that ‘from 1997-2005 Susan worked with the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute as a Senior Scientist, Law & Policy, on legal and policy issues related to plant genetic resources and in particular managed projects on intellectual property rights, Farmers’ Rights, biotechnology and biological diversity, and on developing decision-making tools for the development of policy and law to manage plant genetic resources in the interest of food security.’

Comments are now closed on The Guardian website for this article. I thought it would useful to bring together some of the expert perspectives in the hope of balancing the arguments—since so many readers had taken the ‘apocalypse’ theme at face value— and making them more widely available.

When I have time, I’ll address some of the perspectives about genebank standards.

J Trevor Williams, genetic resources champion, passes away at 76

Yesterday evening I heard the sad news that an old friend and someone who was very influential at important stages of my career, had passed away peacefully at his home on 30 March, at the age of 76.

21 June 1938 – 30 March 2015

Professor J T Williams (JT to his friends, or simply Trevor) played an important role during the late 70s and throughout the 80s in establishing an international network of genebanks that today underpin world food security.

The Birmingham years
I first met Trevor in September 1970 when I joined the 1-year MSc course on Conservation and Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources at the University of Birmingham. There’s no need to write about the course here as I have done so elsewhere on my blog. Short and stocky, a whirlwind of energy – and an inveterate chain smoker – Trevor joined the Department of Botany in 1968 or 1969, having been recruited by head of department Jack Hawkes to become the Course Tutor for that genetic resources course (which opened its doors in September 1969 and continued to train students over more than three decades).

20 Ed & Mike

L to R: Prof. Jack Hawkes, Dr Mike Jackson, and Dr Trevor Williams. Graduation Day, 12 December 1975, University of Birmingham

One of Trevor’s main teaching responsibilities was a course on taxonomic methods that inspired me so much that very quickly I decided that I wanted to write my dissertation under his supervision. Fortunately, Trevor was quite happy to take on this role, and by November 1970 we had agreed on a topic: on the origin and diversity of lentils (Lens culinaris). I’d indicated an interest in working on grain legumes, a hangover, I guess, from my Southampton undergraduate days where Joe Smartt, a leading grain legume specialist, had encouraged me to apply to the Birmingham course. But why how did we settle on lentils? Trevor and I worked our way through the various genera of the Fabaceae in Flora Europaea until we came to Lens and read this concise statement under the cultivated lentil, L. culinaris: Origin not known. Well, that piqued our curiosity and we set about acquiring seed samples of as many different varieties from a wide geographical range as possible.

In 1971-72 my wife Steph also worked with Trevor for her dissertation on growth and reproductive strategies in a range of grain legumes – lentil and chickpea among them. While Trevor supervised several MSc students during his years at Birmingham, I believe he had only one PhD student – another close friend, Emeritus Professor Brian Ford-Lloyd, and together they carried out a pioneering study of the genus Beta (beets!) When I moved to the University of Birmingham in 1981, I was assigned Trevor’s old office in the Department of Plant Biology (formerly Botany).

Cambridge and Bangor
Trevor took his first degree in Natural Sciences from Cambridge University (Selwyn College, I believe), followed by a PhD at the University College of North Wales (now Bangor University) under the eminent ecologist and plant population biologist, Professor John Harper. Trevor then moved to Switzerland (I don’t remember where), and took a higher doctoral degree on the study of plant communities, or phytosociology. I’m also not sure if this was supervised by Josias Braun-Blanquet, the most influential phytosociologist of the time.

The move to Rome
In about 1977 Trevor was recruited to become the Executive Secretary of the International Board for Plant Genetic Resources that was founded under the auspices of the FAO in 1974. He remained with IBPGR until 1990. Following his retirement from IBPGR, it became the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI), then Bioversity International in 2006.Under his tenure, IBPGR sponsored a large number of collecting missions around the world – this was the germplasm collecting decade – as well sponsoring training opportunities for genetic resources specialists, not least to the MSc course at Birmingham. Although IBPGR/IPGRI remained under the auspices of FAO until the early 1990s, it had become part of the network of international agricultural research centers under the CGIAR. And Trevor served as Chair of the Center Directors for at least one year at the end of the 1980s. In 1989 the Birmingham course celebrated its 20th anniversary; IBPGR sponsored a special reunion and refresher course at Birmingham and in Rome for a number of past students. We also recognized the unique contribution of IBPGR and Trevor joined us for those celebrations – which I have written about elsewhere in my blog.

Adi Damania (now at UC-Davis) sent me the photo below, of IBPGR staff on 2 December 1985, and taken at FAO Headquarters in Rome.


Sitting from L to R: Dorothy Quaye, Murthy Anishetty, unknown, J. Trevor Willams, Jean Hanson, unknown, Jane Toll. Standing L to R: Unknown, Adi Damania, unknown, unknown, Jeremy Watts, Merril, unknown, George Sayour, Pepe Esquinas-Alcazar, unknown, Chris Chapman, John Peeters, Jan Konopka, unknown temp, unknown, John Holden, Dick van Sloten.

In the 1990s Trevor spent some years helping to organize the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) as a legal entity with its headquarters in Beijing, China. And it was there in about 1995 or 1996 or so that our paths crossed once again. I was visiting the Institute of Botany in Beijing with one of my staff from IRRI’s Genetic Resources Center, Dr Bao-Rong Lu. One evening, after a particularly long day, we were relaxing in the hotel bar that overlooked the foyer and main entrance. As we were chatting, I noticed someone crossed the foyer and into the dining room who I thought I recognized. It was Trevor, and I joined him to enjoy more than a few beers until late into the night. I didn’t have any further contact with Trevor until one evening in January or February 2012. It was about 7.30 pm or so when the phone rang. It was Trevor ringing to congratulate me on my appointment as an OBE in the New Year’s Honours List. We must have chatted for over 30 minutes, and it was great to catch up. That was the last time I spoke with him, and even then he told me his health was not so good.

But let’s not be too sad at Trevor’s passing. Instead let’s celebrate the man and his enormous contribution to the conservation of plant genetic resources worldwide. His important role will be remembered and recognized for decades to come. I feel privileged that I knew and worked with him. His incisive intellect and commitment to the conservation of genetic resources and community made him one of my role models. Thank you, Trevor, for your friendship, words of wisdom, and above all, your encouragement – not only to me, but to your many students who have since contributed to the cause of genetic conservation.

Remembering Trevor – updates
Trevor’s funeral was held on Wednesday 22 April at 13:30, at St Chad’s Church, Handforth, Cheshire. His sister Wendy asked that in lieu of sending flowers, donations could be made to the Millennium Seed Bank at Kew. Jill Taylor, Development Officer at the Kew Foundation has set up an ‘account fund’ in Trevor’s name – that way she can collate the donations and be able to provide the family with a total amount raised. She will of course make sure that the whole amount is used for the work of the Millennium Seed Bank. All donations can be sent for Jill’s attention:

Jill Taylor Kew Foundation 47 Kew Green Richmond TW9 3AB
Tel: 020 8332 3248
Cheques should be made payable to ‘Millennium Seed Bank’
Donations can also be made online using this live link –
 If you donate online, please also email Jill at so that she can assign it to Trevor’s ‘fund’. That email inbox is monitored by a small group so will be attended even if Jill is away.

Brian Ford-Lloyd and I attended Trevor’s funeral, along with Roger Croston, also a Birmingham MSc course alumnus and a collector for IBPGR for about two years from 1980 or so.

Trevor’s sister, the Reverend Wendy Williams (celebrating 55 years since she was ordained) gave a beautiful eulogy, highlighting Trevor’s strong Christian faith – something neither Brian, Roger or I were aware of – and the charitable work he was involved with in Washington, DC after he left IBPGR, but also in Rome during his IBPGR years. Click on the image below to read the Service of Thanksgiving.


Here’s the link to the obituary that was published on 1 May in the UK’s Daily Telegraph broadsheet newspaper.

An obituary was published online on 1 July in the international journal Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution. Click here to read.

Food for the soul . . .

The British are a nation of gardeners. And as the memories of Winter fade (although still hanging on from day to day), and Spring exerts her influence daily, it is really wonderful to see all the gardens coming into bloom. Each day there is something new to see. The fine display of snowdrops and crocuses has been over for a few weeks now, but soon all the daffodils will be in flower, their golden trumpets nodding in the breeze of a typical March day. Then they will be followed by tulips in all their glory – my favorite Spring flowers. I’ve already seen primroses during my daily constitutional, and oxslips are now opening in our garden. These floral displays are surely food for the soul, and it’s no coincidence that I made the decision, several decades ago, to become a professional botanist.

Each year, many new flower varieties are released for everyone to admire and enjoy in their own gardens. Just look at this exquisite display of daffodil varieties that I photographed at the Chelsea Flower Show a couple of years ago.

Nevertheless, plant enthusiasts always seem to want what the natural world doesn’t easily give them: the red delphinium, the blue rose, the black tulip, and even a yellow sweetpea (Lathyrus odoratus).

Although many if not most delphiniums are that beautiful blue, red-flowered varieties are now quite common. Plant breeders must have searched for ‘red’ genes in related species. Black tulips have been around for centuries. However, a really deep blue rose remains elusive. The so-called ‘blue’ roses are but a pale imitation of blue, more a pale mauve.

Sweet_Pea-01But a yellow sweetpea (Lathyrus odoratus)? From images I’ve viewed on the web, many are not true sweetpeas but other species of Lathyrus. It seems, however, that some creamy-yellow varieties have been developed, although a deep yellow one has not yet been produced that I could sniff out. Most are are white, red, pink, blue, or purple, and shades in between, and most of the varieties on the market have large, blousy and delicately fragrant blooms.

In the 1980s, when I was working at the University of Birmingham, a Malaysian student of mine, Dr Abdul bin Ghani Yunus, made a study of Lathyrus sativus, a common food grain legume in several parts of the world, particularly India and Ethiopia. It’s a so-called ‘ famine legume’, known commonly as khesari dahl, as it can survive and produce seeds under conditions where other crops fail. But it has an important major drawback: the seeds contain a neurotoxin, which can cause an irreversible paralysis if consumed without proper preparation of the seeds before cooking.

Our research was not, I hasten to add, concerned with producing a safer variety – although these have now been developed by a number of research institutes. Rather, we wanted to try and understand the origin of this crop species, and its relationships with other Lathyrus species. And to do that, we assembled a large number of seed samples of as many Lathyrus species as we could obtain from research institutes and botanical gardens around the world.

Ghani’s doctoral thesis focused on the biosystematics of Lathyrus sativus, and included making crosses with several species with yellow flowers [1]. And I still don’t know how it came about, but I was approached by someone from a ‘local’ sweetpea society who asked if we could attempt crosses between these yellow-flowered species and the sweetpea. We did make a few crosses, all unsuccessful I’m sorry to say, but we didn’t have the time or the resources to translate this hobby approach into a meaningful hybridization exercise. I’ve often wondered whether sweetpea breeders ever followed up on what we attempted three decades ago. If they did, I assume they had as little success as Ghani and I did using the yellow Lathyrus types, all of which had rather small flowers.

Breeders of food plants aim to produce healthier, more disease and pest resistant types, resilient to climate change, with better nutritional qualities, and higher yielding. Their aim is to sustain agricultural productivity, and ensure we have enough food to fill our stomachs.

Flower breeders also look for healthier and disease resistant varieties. But they also aim to produce new forms with brighter colours, bigger blooms, and more fragrant where possible, and as such, they are breeding plants as ‘food for the soul’. Just look at what the flower breeders have done in recent years. Aren’t we fortunate?

[1] Yunus, A.G. & M.T. Jackson, 1991. The gene pools of the grasspea (Lathyrus sativus L.). Plant Breeding 106, 319-328.

The humble spud

Humble? Boiled, mashed, fried, roast, chipped or prepared in many other ways, the potato is surely the King of Vegetables. And for 20 years in the 1970s and 80s, potatoes were the focus of my own research.

The potato (Solanum tuberosum) has something scientifically for everyone: the taxonomist or someone interested in crop diversity, geneticist or molecular biologist, breeder, agronomist, plant pathologist or entomologist, seed production specialist, biotechnologist, or social scientist. So many challenges – so many opportunities, especially since many potatoes are polyploids; that is, they have multiple sets of chromosomes, from 2x=24 to 6x=72.

MTJ collecting cultivated potatoes in 1974Much of my own work – both in the Andes of Peru in the early 70s and once I was back in Birmingham during the 80s – focused on potato genetic resources, understanding the evolutionary dynamics of speciation, and the distribution and breeding value of wild potatoes.

If you’re interested in species diversity, then the potato is the crop for you. In South America there are many indigenous varieties integral to local farming systems at high altitude. Grown alongside other crops such as oca (Oxalis tuberosa) and other Andean tubers of limited distribution, quinoa, and introduced crops such as barley and faba bean (that must have been brought to South America by the Spanish in the 16th century and afterwards). In a recent series on BBC TV (The Inca – Masters of the Cloud), archaeologist and South American expert Dr Jago Cooper repeatedly talked about the wonders of Incan agriculture as one of the foundations of that society yet, disappointingly chose not to illustrate anything of indigenous agriculture today. Farmers still grow potatoes and other crops on the exactly the same terraces that the Incas constructed hundreds of years ago (see my post about Cuyo Cuyo, for example). The continued cultivation of native potato varieties today is a living link with the Incas.

Native varieties of potato from Peru

Native cultivated potatoes are found throughout the Andes from Colombia and Venezuela in the north, south through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile, and into northern Argentina. One of the main centres of diversity lies in the region of Lake Titicaca that straddles the border between Peru and Bolivia.

Another important centre of diversity is in the island of Chiloé , southeast of Puerto Montt, a well-known potato growing region of Chile.

The wild tuber-bearing Solanums have a much wider distribution, from the USA south through Mexico and Central America, and widely in South America. And from the coast of Peru to over 4000 m in the high Andes. They certainly have a wide ecological range. But how many wild species are there? Well, it depends who you follow, taxonomy-wise.

SM Bukasob

SM Bukasov

Some of the earliest studies (in the 1930s) were made by Russian potato experts SM Bukasov and SV Juzepczuk, contemporaries of the great geneticist and plant breeder, Nikolai I Vavilov.

In 1938, a young Cambridge graduate, Jack Hawkes (on the left below), visited the Soviet Union to meet with Bukasov (and Vavilov) as he would soon be joining a year-long expedition to the Americas to collect wild and cultivated potatoes. His PhD thesis (under the supervision of Sir Redcliffe Salaman) was one of the first taxonomies of wild potatoes. By 1963, Hawkes had published a second edition of A Revision of the Tuber-Bearing Solanums. By 1990 [1] the number of wild species that he recognized had increased to 228 and seven cultivated ones. Hawkes (and his Danish colleague Peter Hjerting) focused much of their effort on the wild potatoes of the southern cone countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) [2] and Bolivia [3]. Working at the National Agrarian University and the International Potato Center (CIP) in La Molina, Lima, Peru, potato breeder and taxonomist Carlos Ochoa (on the right below) spent several decades exploring the Andes of his native country, and discovered many new species. But he also produced monographs on the potatoes of Bolivia [4] and Peru [5].

Both Hawkes and Ochoa – rivals to some extent – primarily used plant morphology to differentiate the species they described or recognized, but also using the tools of biosystematics (crossing experiments) and a detailed knowledge of species distributions and ecology.

MTJ and JGH collecting wild potatoes

March 1975, somewhere above Canta in Lima Province. Probably a small population of Solanum multidissectum = S. candolleanum (that now includes S. bukasovii)

I made only one short collecting trip with Jack Hawkes, in March 1975 just before I returned to Birmingham to defend my PhD thesis. Travelling in the Andes between Cerro de Paso, Huanuco and Lima, at one point he asked me to stop our vehicle. “There are wild potatoes near here,” he told me. “To be specific, I think we’ll find Solanum bukasovii”. And within minutes, he had. That’s because Jack had a real feel for the ecology of wild potatoes; he could almost smell them out. I’m sure Carlos Ochoa was just the same, if not more so.


David Spooner

The potato taxonomist’s mantle was taken up in the early 1990s by USDA Agricultural Research Service professor David Spooner at the University of Wisconsin. Over two decades, and many field expeditions, he has published an impressive number of papers on potato biology. More importantly, he added molecular analyses to arrive at a comprehensive revision and understanding of the diversity of the tuber-bearing Solanums. In fact, in December 2014, Spooner and his co-authors published one of the most important papers on the biodiversity of wild and cultivated potatoes, recognizing just 107 wild and four cultivated species [6]. For anyone interested in crop evolution and systematics, and potatoes in particular, I thoroughly recommend you take the time to look at their paper (available as a PDF file).


[1] Hawkes, JG. 1990. The Potato – Evolution, Biodiversity and Genetic Resources. Belhaven Press, London.
[2] Hawkes, JG & JP Hjerting. 1969. The Potatoes of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay – A Biosystematic Study. Annals of Botany Memoirs No. 3, Clarendon Press, Oxford.
[3] Hawkes, JG & JP Hjerting. 1989. The Potatoes of Bolivia – Their Breeding Value and Evolutionary Relationships. Clarendon Press, Oxford.
[4] Ochoa, CM. 1990. The Potatoes of South America: Bolivia. Cambridge University Press.
[5] Ochoa, CM. 2004. The Potatoes of South America: Peru. Part 1. The Wild Species. International Potato Center, Lima, Peru.
[6] Spooner, DM, M Ghislain, R Simon, SH Jansky & T Gavrilenko. 2014. Systematics, diversity, genetics, and evolution of wild and cultivated potatoes. Bot. Rev. 80:283–383
DOI 10.1007/s12229-014-9146-y.


1989: the plant genetic resources course at Birmingham celebrates 20 years

In September 1969, the first ever one-year course on plant genetic resources conservation and use (leading to the graduate Master of Science degree) was launched at the University of Birmingham, in the Department of Botany. It was the brainchild of Professor Jack Hawkes, an internationally-renowned potato taxonomist, and one of the leading lights in the 1960s of the emerging genetic resources conservation movement.

Twenty years on, and Brian Ford-Lloyd and I wrote a short article for some newsletter or other – unfortunately I didn’t keep a record of which one. I think everyone was surprised that the course was still going strong and attracting many students. After all, Sir Otto Frankel had told Jack Hawkes in 1968 or thereabouts that the course would meet its demand within 20 years.

In September 1989, to mark the 20th anniversary of the course’s foundation and the first intake of students, the International Board for Plant Genetic Resources¹ (IBPGR) sponsored a refresher course of about three weeks for a small number of students at Birmingham and at IBPGR headquarters in Rome, Italy. During the Birmingham component, the participants also visited the Welsh Plant Breeding Station² in Aberystwyth, the Vegetable Genebank³ at the National Vegetable Research Station, Wellesbourne, and the Royal Botanic Gardens – Kew at Wakehurst Place in Sussex.

L to R: Elizabeth Acheampong (Ghana), ?? (Indonesia), Trevor Williams, Gordana Radovic (Yugoslavia), Zofia Bulinska-Radomska (Poland), Singh (India), Carlos Arbizu (Peru), Carlos Carpio (Philippines), EN Seme (Kenya), Andrea Clausen (Argentina), Songkran Chitrakong (Thailand), Joseph Okello ? (Uganda)

To mark the occasion, a rather rare medlar tree (Mespilus germanica) was planted during a special ceremony attended by several university dignitaries as well as Professor Hawkes as the first course director, and Professor Jim Callow who became head of the Department of Plant Biology (formerly Department of Botany) and Mason Professor of Botany, and the second course director  in 1982 after Hawkes’ retirement. IBPGR Director Professor Trevor Williams (formerly the MSc course tutor at Birmingham before his move to Rome in the late 1970s) was another of the honored guests.

And that same evening, the Dean of Science at that time, Professor George Morrison hosted a dinner to celebrate the MSc Course attended by course staff and past students.

L to R: Ray Smallman, Trevor Williams, Jack Hawkes, Jim Callow, George Morrison

L to R: Jack Hawkes, Jim Callow, George Morrison, Mike Jackson, Ray Smallman, Trevor Williams

L to R: Mike Lawrence (staff), Singh (India), Joseph Okello (Uganda), Richard Lester (staff), Zofia Bulinska-Radomska (Poland)

L to R: Brian Ford-Lloyd (course tutor), Elizabeth Acheampong (Ghana), John Newbury (staff), Gordana Radovic (Yugoslavia), Dave Marshall (staff), Carlos Carpio (Philippines), Songkran Chitrakon (Thailand)

L to R: Andrea Clausen (Argentina), Dave Astley (Vegetable Genebank, Wellesbourne), Carlos Arbizu (Peru), ??, EN Seme (Kenya), Mike Kearsey (staff)

In 1996 there was another get-together of PGR students who had passed through Birmingham over the previous 27 years, including someone from the very first intake in 1969, Mr Trevor Sykes from Canada. I was a member of the second intake in September 1970. But this get-together had not been arranged. We had come together at the FAO International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources in Leipzig, Germany. Most were members – leaders even – of national delegations to the conference. Thus was the impact – and continuing impact – of this important training course conducted over more than 30 years at the University of Birmingham.

Birmingham PGR students from Birmingham at the Leipzig conference in 1996. Trevor Sykes (class of 1969) is wearing the red tie, in the middle of the front row, standing next to Andrea Clausen (Argentina) on his left.

Birmingham PGR students from Birmingham at the Leipzig conference in 1996. Trevor Sykes (class of 1969) is wearing the red tie, in the middle of the front row, standing next to Andrea Clausen (Argentina) on his left.

Front row, L to R: Quat Ng (IITA [Malaysia]); Elizabeth Acheampong (Ghana); Rashid Anwar ? (Pakistan); Ayfer Tan (Turkey); Eliseu Bettencourt (Portugal); Trevor Sykes (Canada-UK); Andrea Clausen (Argentina); Athena Della (Cyprus); Rosa Kambuou (Papua New Guinea); Lyndsey Withers (IPGRI [UK – taught in vitro conservation]); Elizabeth Matos (Angola [UK]); Nestor Altoveros (Philippines).

Second row, L to R: Jane Toll (IPGRI [UK]); Franck Attere (IPGRI [Benin]); KPS Chandel (India); Jean Hanson (ILRI [UK]); Herta Kolberg (Namibia); George Ayad (IPGRI [Egypt]); Eltahir Mohamed (Sudan); Samuel Bennett-Lartey (Ghana); Ladislav Dotlacil (Czech Republic); Albert Cox (Gambia); Joseph Okello (Uganda); Mike Jackson (IRRI [UK]); Didier Balma (Burkina Faso); Unknown; Stephen Smith (Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. [UK]); Jean-Marie Fondoun (Cameroon); Lázló Holly (Hungary); Mahamadou Ibrahim ? (Niger); Wilson Marandu (Tanzania); Geoff Hawtin (IPGRI – Director General [UK]); EN Seme (Kenya); Luis Gusmão (Portugal).

Missing: Raul Castillo (Ecuador) and Zofia Bulinska-Radomska (Poland) – who were working on a draft document when I had organized this photo opportunity.


¹ IBPGR became the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI) in October 1991. In 2006, IPGRI merged with the International Network for Bananas and Plantains (INIBAP) to form Bioversity International.
² Now part of the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University.
³ Now the Genetic Resources Unit at the Warwick Crop Centre, University of Warwick.

Something for your Christmas stocking – Plant Genetic Resources and Climate Change hits the shelves 11 December!

It’s taken just over two and half years, more than 2,400 emails, and many, many hours of editing. But Plant Genetic Resources and Climate Change, edited by myself, Brian Ford-Lloyd and Martin Parry will be published by CABI on 11 December.

Brian was first approached by CABI commissioning editor Vicki Bonham in April 2011. He was reluctant to take on the book by himself, but suggested to Vicki that the project would be feasible if he could persuade Martin and me to be co-editors. I was on vacation in the USA at the time, visiting the Grand Canyon and other locations in Arizona and New Mexico when Brian first contacted me about the possible project. Getting involved in a new book was the last thing on my mind.

The next steps were to produce an outline of the book and find authors whose arms we could twist to contribute a chapter. In the end the book has 16 chapters, as I have described elsewhere. Only two authors let us down and never completed a chapter before we met our deadline with CABI. The contract with CABI was signed in February 2012, and we submitted the final edited chapters by the end of March this year. After that things moved quite fast. We completed the review of page proofs by mid-September, and the figures a couple of weeks later. Early on we agreed I should take on the role of managing editor as I was the only one who was fully ‘retired’ at that time.

Martin Parry

And on Monday this week, David Porter (Books Marketing Manager at CABI) and his colleague Sarah Hilliar came up to Birmingham to video Brian and me (and two other authors, Nigel Maxted and Jeremy Pritchard of the University of Birmingham) for a short promotional video about the book. Unfortunately, Martin Parry was unable to join us.

So now the hard work is over and Plant Genetic Resources and Climate Change is about to be published. There are many interesting key messages, and the preface provides an excellent guide to the rest of the book.

Plant Genetic Resources and Climate Change: available mid-December 2013

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.

Positive messages:

  • 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 .


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

Geoffrey HAWTIN
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)

Shelagh KELL
Research Fellow, School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK

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

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 

Samarendu MOHANTY
Head, Social Sciences Division, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), DAPO Box 7777 Manila 1301, Philippines

Gerald MOORE
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)

Martin PARRY
Visiting Professor, Grantham Institute and Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London, London, SW7 2AZ, UK

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

Research Scientist, Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth University, Penglais, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, SY23 3DA, UK

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

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
Martin Parry

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

13. Drought
Salvatore Ceccarelli

14. Salinity
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.