Plant Seed Banks For Germplasm Preservation

9.5.1 Plant Introduction Stations in the U.S.

Four regional plant-introduction stations in the U.S. are located in Pullman, WA; Ames, IA; Geneva, N.Y.; and Griffin, GA. They are responsible for the management, regeneration, characterization, evaluation, and distribution of seeds of more than one-third of the accessions of the national system (i.e., nearly 197,000 accessions of almost 4000 plant species). At Ames, IA, approximately 40,079 accessions are held; the primary crops preserved include maize, grain amaranth, oilseed brassicas (e.g., rape, canola, mustard), sweet clover, cucumber, pumpkin, summer squash, acorn squash, zucchini squash, gourds, beets, carrots, sunflower, and millets. At Geneva, N.Y., approximately 14,180 accessions are held; the primary crops preserved include tomato, birdsfoot trefoil, brassicas, and onion. At Griffin, GA, approximately 82,277 accessions are held; the primary crops preserved here include sweet potato, sorghum, peanut, pigeon pea, forage grasses, forage legumes, cowpea, mung bean, pepper, okra, melons, sesame, and eggplant. At the Pullman, WA station, approximately 60,277 accessions are held; the primary crops preserved there include common bean, onion, lupine, pea, safflower, chickpea, clovers, wild rye, lettuce, lentils, alfalfa, forage grasses, horsebean, common vetch, and milk vetch.

9.5.2 National Seed Storage Laboratory in Fort Collins, CO

This laboratory houses the base collection for long-term, backup storage of the National Plant Germplasm Storage active collections. It has recently expanded and remodeled its facilities, quadrupling the storage area, and added modern research and processing laboratories. It features quality cold-storage facilities for conventional seed storage and cryopreservation (low-temperature preservation, using liquid nitrogen at -196°C) storage capacity for seeds, pollen, and vegetatively propagated germplasm. The National Seed Storage Laboratory (NSSL) can store more than one million samples. The base collection of the NSSL is not duplicated in its entirety in any other genebank. Furthermore, of the more than 268,000 accessions, about 60,628 are not duplicated at other sites.

9.5.3 International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños, Philippines

Rice is the third best-represented crop in plant gene banks. This is most likely due to the fact that rice is a staple food crop in much of the Third World, particularly Asia. One of the main gene banks for tropical rice is at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). Japan and the U.S. maintain major collections of temperate rices and act as a backup for IRRI and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) materials. IRRI has assembled the world's largest rice collection. It represents the largest germplasm collection for any crop and is regarded as one of the best-managed gene banks. It has computerized rice collection data on samples that contain 45 morphological and agronomic characteristics for each entry. As many as 38 genetic evaluation and utilization traits are added, covering disease and pest resistance to tolerance to adverse soils and climates. Its germplasm collection is gradually regenerated and fresh seed is put in medium and long-term storage. Approximately 2000 rice varieties and much wild material still remains to be collected. The gene bank at IRRI is expected to continue growing until it reaches about 130,000 accessions.19,193

9.5.4 International Potato Center in Lima, Peru

Potato is the fourth leading world crop, exceeding all others in annual production of starch, protein, and several other important "nutrients".20 It is susceptible to many diseases and pests and is one of the heaviest users of chemical inputs of any crop.21 Improved potato cultivars present a great potential benefit to the economic, environmental, and nutritional future of the world potato growers and consumers.22

The International Potato Center (CIP) accepted the global mandate for potato genetic resources when it was founded. By 1980, more than 80% of total cultivated potato germplasm had been collected. Wild species of potato have also been systematically collected. The cultivated potato collection samples are grown annually at high altitudes and stored in conservation facilities. Duplicates of all lines are replaced by a new CIP harvest in each succeeding year.23

Potato cultivars are distributed worldwide from CIP. Microtubers are more tolerant of physical and environmental disturbances and delays in transit than cultures are.22 They are now in use for distributing germplasm of potato from CIP and yam from the IITA. The CIP helped to initiate a joint database with potato gene banks around the world by sharing evaluation data and technical procedures, professional exchanges, cooperation on prioritization and organization of collecting expeditions, duplicate storage of accessions, and cooperative research.22

9.5.5 Crucifer Genetics Center in Madison, Wl

The Crucifer Genetics Center (CrGC) has been established for the purpose of developing, acquiring, maintaining, and distributing information about seed stocks of various crucifers (members of the cabbage family, Brassicaceae) as well as crucifer-specific symbionts, namely, pathogens (organisms that cause disease in crucifers). It distributes seed from various genetic stocks of rapid-cycling brassicas (short life cycle from seed to seed), some wild crucifer species, a large number of mutants of Brassica, Raphanus (radish), and Arabidopsis (a cress), and pathogen symbiont cultures. The CrGC has been instrumental in introducing rapid cycling brassicas into laboratory teaching experiments for students in elementary and high school and in colleges and universities for the study of plant genetics, development (flowering and fruiting), physiology (gravitropism, phototropism, and hormone action), and plant pathology. One of these plants, Arabidopsis, has been shown to develop from seed to seed in outer space on NASA's Space Shuttle. For humans, conservation of crucifer germplasm, as done at the CrGC, is important for humans; many of the brassicas (e.g., broccoli) are important in preventing cancer in humans.

9.5.6 Commercial Seed Companies that Save and Sell Heirloom Seeds and Seeds of Rare and Endangered Plants

Because of the loss of crop diversity with the advent of the green revolution and the breeding of crop varieties grown as monocultures, we have lost thousands of varieties of plants because they are no longer sold. This has happened with rice, wheat, maize. With the loss of crop diversity, we have also witnessed a loss in disease and insect pest resistance, a loss of protein and essential nutrients in many of the grain crops, a loss in desirable flavor and texture in many vegetables, and an increase in the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation water. Many of the desirable cultivars of apples and roses, once widely grown, almost completely disappeared from commercial nursery catalogues.

The situation today is changing rapidly. Many of the "old-fashioned" rose cultivars or apple cultivars are now reappearing in the catalogues, primarily driven by consumer demand for more plant diversity and varieties that do not require so much in the way of fertilizer, pesticide, and water inputs. The same can be said for cucurbits (squash and melon), maize, legume crops (peas, beans, and their relatives), herbs, prairie plants, medicinal plants, woodland wild flowers, native trees and shrubs useful in landscaping and in forest restoration projects, aquatic plant species used in ponds to purify polluted water from sewage treatment plants, and species of plants which are good scavengers of heavy metal pollutants in soils. Let us cite just a few examples of sources of seeds of rare and endangered plants.

• Henry Doubleday Institute at Ryton Gardens, Coventry, U.K. has a heritage seed program whereby it distributes heirloom and rare varieties of seed plants that are generally not commercially available. The seed is not registered with the European Community, so it cannot be sold, but it can be donated. We do not know if their seeds are exportable to the U.S.

• The Seed Guild is an organization located in Lanark, U.K. that buys seed from botanical gardens throughout the world, making them available to amateur gardeners and commercial outlets. The Guild provides an opportunity to obtain unusual and rare seeds which are not generally on commercial seed lists. Their annual newsletter provides information on seed collecting expeditions and new sources of seed supply.

• Three commercial seed companies: Redwood Seed Company (P.O. Box 361, Redwood City, CA, 94064) is an alternative seed company;

Sandy's Exotic Plant Seed Company (7179A Nebraska, Fairchild, WA 99011) has available rare, exotic, and unusual seeds from around the world; and Prairie Moon Nursery (Route 3, Box 163, Winona, MN 55987) sells seeds of rare ferns, cacti, forbs (herbaceous plants), grasses, sedges, rushes, trees, shrubs, vines, and prairie mixtures.

9.5.7 Seed Banks in Botanical Gardens Established for International Seed Exchange

The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew Seed Bank, located at Wakehurst Place, U.K., was founded in 1974. It provides storage for seeds of some 4000 plant species from more than 100 countries. It is the most diverse collection anywhere in the world. It also holds a long-term collection of seeds sampled from wild populations within the U.K. and the world's arid and semi-arid lands. Their emphasis is placed on threatened plant populations and in the drylands, especially for plants of local economic value. Some 3750 plant species are conserved according to internationally accepted standards for long-term conservation. When numbers permit, seed is offered for distribution. Samples are made available through a List of Seeds published every other year and distributed to organizations doing research work, and subject to a commercialization agreement in the event of any commercial success, a policy of apportioning profits to the seeds' country of origin. This policy aims to abide with the spirit of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and to keep pace with subsequent changes in national and international attitudes and legislation.4

The CPC, located at the Missouri Botanic Garden in St. Louis, MO, maintains a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the U.S. Department of Agriculture NSSL in Ft. Collins, CO. Under this MOU, the NSSL stores seeds from rare U.S. plants in the Center's National Collection of Endangered Plants at no cost to the Center or its participating institutions. The CPC's National Collection of Endangered Plants represents perhaps the most fundamental reserve of plant germplasm for many of the rarest plants in the U.S.

9.6 botanical prospecting —

ethnobotanical field research

There is a correlation between plant genetic resources and the development of new pharmaceutical products. This correlation integrates biological, ecological, chemical, medical, legal, and economic aspects. The issues can involve property, resource and access right, reciprocity, technology transfer, export, and patent and royalty rights.23 The force behind biodiversity prospecting is the demand for new genes and chemical compounds and to research the supply of these resources in wildland diversity. Interest has increased in the pharmaceutical industry. Development and improvement of screening techniques has increased the rate for chemical testing. Ethnopharmacology is another force. This field, which involves the use of plants and animals in traditional medicine, can greatly increase the probability of finding a valuable drug. Drug exploration based on indigenous knowledge may prove to be more cost and time effective than random screenings. An example is Shaman Pharmaceuticals, a California-based company, which bases its drug exploration on plants used in traditional medicine.24 In the U.S., approximately 25% of prescriptions are of drugs with ingredients that are derived from plant extracts or their derivatives. The demand for genetic resources in agriculture will grow as techniques for genetic manipulation improve and research investments show a return. Between 1985 and 1990, the umber of biotechnology patent applications grew by 15% annually.25 As a example, two drugs derived from the rosy periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus), vincristine and vinblastine, alone earned $100 million per drug for Eli Lilly Company.26 In addition, Paclitaxel (taxol) sold more than $600 million in 1996, and etoposide (from Podophyllum or mayapple) more than half that figure.

The stakes in drug development are high and the payoff is uncertain. Finding a valuable compound has a high cost since the probability of locating one with a desired action is low. It is often necessary to test as many as 10,000 substances in order to find one that may reach the drug market.23 Developing a successful drug can require screening of some 1000 plant species. Research and development cost is generally high, an average of $231 million per drug, with nearly 12 years needed to go from source to market.27

International laws directly affect biodiversity prospecting. Intellectual Property Rights and Human and Indigenous Rights are measures to be used for the protection of traditional cultural manifestations (cultivated plants, medicines, and knowledge of useful properties of plants).18 These laws guarantee rights to participate in the use, management, access, and conservation of these resources and should involve sharing in the benefits. The objectives of such laws should include conservation of plant and animal diversity, sustainable development of genetic resources, and the fair and equitable sharing of the resultant benefits.23 INBio is a private, nonprofit organization established to facilitate conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. Other private, nonprofit intermediaries are based in developed countries. In the U.S., for example, the New York Botanical Garden, the Missouri Botanical Garden, and the University of Chicago have all contracted with private pharmaceutical companies and public research organizations to provide samples of biodiversity for pharmaceutical development. It is important that pharmaceutical companies involved in such contracts return an equitable share of their profits from any plant-derived drugs they develop from such plants to the indigenous peoples from whom these plants and the knowledge about their medical uses are obtained. Good role models are provided by Shaman Pharmaceutical Company in South San Francisco, CA and Naniquah Corporation in Girdwood, AK (Figure 9.25).

Essay on Naniquah Corporation

Naniquah is an Alaskan corporation dedicated to the discovery of lead compounds for pharmaceutical development from the state's flora and ethnobotanical traditions. Encompassing 1,518,807 sq. km (586,412 sq. mi.), Alaska is one-third the size of the contiguous U.S. Great climatic variations occur in this vast area and

FIGURE 9.25 Dr. Maureen A. McKenzie, Chief Executive Officer, Naniquah Corporation in Girdwood, AK standing next to Michael Parks, President of Naniquah Corporation at site of Medicinal/Fragrance/Culinary Herbs Garden at the University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Garden. (Photo courtesy of Peter Kaufman.)

FIGURE 9.25 Dr. Maureen A. McKenzie, Chief Executive Officer, Naniquah Corporation in Girdwood, AK standing next to Michael Parks, President of Naniquah Corporation at site of Medicinal/Fragrance/Culinary Herbs Garden at the University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Garden. (Photo courtesy of Peter Kaufman.)

include temperatures ranging from -26.7°C (-80°F) in winter to 37.8°C (100°F) in summer, with corresponding total darkness or daylight, and precipitation of less than 15.2 cm (6 in.) in the far north to more than 381 cm (150 in.) in the southeast. Extreme climate and rugged, complex geology make Alaska unforgiving of human occupation and sparsely inhabited (population 650,000), but exert remarkable effects on the flora that present opportunities for identification of novel natural products.

Noteworthy is a relatively young, but complex, flora (Figures 9.26 through 9.34) characterized by many species that achieve their northernmost range extension in Alaska.28 Influenced by warm Pacific currents, an old-growth, temperate rainforest, encompassing the Tongass and Chugach National Forests, spans the coastline from the Inside Passage in the southeast through Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska to Kodiak Island. Taiga (spruce-birch) forest dominates the Interior, whereas tundra vegetation covers the cold, arid North Slope, Seward Peninsula, and wetter Western coastal plain. A unique tundra-type vegetation in the Aleutian Islands is created by cool year-round temperatures and ample rainfall. Mountain ranges throughout southern and central Alaska support alpine vegetation, whereas prehistoric glaciation patterns created refugiums, especially in the Yukon Flats, for rare plants that predate the Ice Age.29 As an anthropological crossroad via Beringia, Alaska harbors plants from different continents in unlikely remote subarctic and arctic habitats.

Approximately 89% of Alaska's land is government held, and over half of this is allocated to national and state parks, preserves, recreation areas, wildlife refuges, conservation areas, and military installations. Another 10% belongs to Alaska Native corporations, formed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act

FIGURE 9.26 Fireweed in Brotherhood Park in Juneau, AK, backdropped by Mendenhall Glacier and the Coast Mountains, Tongass National Forest, Alaska. (Copyright Kim Heacox/Ken Graham Agency.)

(ANCSA) of 1971, and the remaining 1% to private interests. Despite some development from petroleum, mining, construction, tourism, fishing, and timber industries, expansive areas remain pristine. Alaska is largely inaccessible by road and, as a result, frontier lifestyles in remote settlements and Native villages coexist with modern economic and technological imperatives.

FIGURE 9.27 Unalaska Island, AK. (Copyright Dan Parrett/Ken Graham Agency.)

Tongass National Forest Timber
FIGURE 9.28 Old growth temperate rainforest (Sitka spruce, Picea sitchensis and western hemlock, Tsuga heterophylla) in Kadashan Valley, Chichagof Island, Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska. (Copyright Kim Heacox/Ken Graham Agency.)

Unlike other Native Americans and indigenous peoples, Alaska Natives (Figures 9.35 and 9.36) never faced displacement to reservations. The ANCSA settlement with the Federal and State Governments transferred, by tribal demographics, $962.5 million and surface/subsurface rights for 40 million acres of land to 13 regional corporations and more than 200 village corporations.30 Through birthright, individuals with at least one-quarter Aleut, Athabascan Indian, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Koniag or Inupiat, Yu'pik, Bering Straits (Siberian), or Chugach Eskimo heritage became shareholders in the regional and village corporations. Two exceptions to ANCSA, a reservation and tribal government, persist today by choice of their members. The main objectives of ANCSA were to secure citizenship for Alaska Natives, with attendant legal rights and responsibilities, and independence from government welfare through economic self-determination.

Although ANCSA corporations are financially successful, Alaska Native lifestyles continue to revolve around traditional subsistence activities, such as seasonal hunting and gathering. Land, with the food and medicinal plants and wildlife it bears, is a rigorously guarded resource of the Native corporations and affiliated tribal councils. The tribal councils affirm and protect cultural and spiritual values, thousands of years old, from continuing erosion through Western lifestyle acculturation and loss of elders.

FIGURE 9.29 Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) sprouts in boggy woods, Alaska.

(Copyright David Job/Ken Graham Agency.)

FIGURE 9.29 Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) sprouts in boggy woods, Alaska.

(Copyright David Job/Ken Graham Agency.)

Perhaps more immediately compelling than plant conservation in Alaska is preservation of the Native peoples' traditional knowledge. Upon Western contact, Alaska Natives were considered generally healthy despite harsh living conditions.31 The past 30 years of modernization, however, coincide with dramatic increases in diabetes,32,33 certain cancers,34,35 and infectious diseases36 in the Alaska Native population. Thus, acculturation is implicated in the etiology of these conditions, and suggests disease chemopreventive roles for traditional Native foods and health practices. Of 2000 common Alaskan plants, many of the vascular species belong to the Apiaceae, Asteraceae, Betulaceae, Brassi-caceae, Fabaceae, Polygonaceae, Rosaceae, and Salicaceae families2837 and are rich dietary sources of vitamin, antioxidant, bioflavonoid, sterol, and phytoestrogen compounds. Approximately 50% of the flora represents traditional medicinal plants31 under investigation for pharmacologically active components relevant to a variety of therapeutic applications.

Naniquah has entered into two types of agreements with ANCSA corporations to achieve its drug discovery objectives through ethnobotany and random screening efforts. In compliance with Alaska law, one exchanges equity in the Company for access to land. The second provides typical royalties generated through patent rights to cooperating tribal entities for disclosures of commercially valuable natural products. Naniquah is also pursuing a collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service

FIGURE 9.30 Devil's club (Echinopanax horridum) and black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) in Chugack National Forest, AK. (Copyright Dicon Joseph/Ken Graham Agency.)

to assess the pharmacological value of rare plants or species threatened with extinction in Alaska.


The following individuals are gratefully acknowledged for helpful discussions in the preparation of this essay: Dr. Ken Winterberger, U.S. Forest Service, PNW Regional Research Laboratories, Anchorage, AK; Patrick M. Anderson, Esq., Juneau, AK; Carl R. Propes, Jr., MTNT, Ltd., McGrath, AK; and Ashley Schmiedeskamp, Cook Inlet Region, Inc., Anchorage, AK.

What Does Naniquah Mean?

Naniquah (Singing Bird) was the daughter of Black Hawk, the Sac war chief born in what is now Rock Island, IL, a part of the Quad-Cities metropolitan area. Locally, Chief Black Hawk is revered for the bravery and staunch principles he demonstrated during the War of 1832, the result of a false treaty with the white man. Chief Black Hawk and his family hold sentimental association for

FIGURE 9.31 Richardson's saxifrage (Boykinia richardsonii) in Denali National Park, Alaska. (Copyright Barbara Brundege/Ken Graham Agency.)

the founders of Naniquah who believe that the Sac name for Singing Bird is appropriate for a company dedicated to the treatment of diabetes, cancer, and other devastating conditions. People afflicted with these diseases and their loved ones will indeed have cause to rejoice if Naniquah's efforts to relieve their suffering are successful. The company owes its sincere thanks to Lisa Langdon and Regina Mahieu of the Quad-Cities League of Native Americans and to Muriel Wano and her family, the remaining living descendants of Chief Black Hawk, for their counsel and blessing.

Note: Naniquah Corporation is located in Girdwood, AK. Essay was written by Maureen McKenzie, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer.

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