European genebanks assess each other to improve strategies and practices

January 13, 2022

As part of the EU Horizon 2020 project GenRes Bridge, experienced genebank employees visited each others genebanks and gave advice on strengthening the strategies and practices of the hosting genebank. These peer reviews turn out to be an effective instrument to exchange knowledge and experiences with other national genebanks.

The main purpose of genebanks is to conserve genetic material of crops and livestock species, both long and short term, and to make this material available for scientific research and breeding purposes. National genebanks for livestock collaborate in the European Genebank Network for Animal Genetic Resources (EUGENA). The European genebank network for agricultural and horticultural crops is the European Cooperative Programme for Plant Genetic Resources (ECPGR). The networks facilitate the exchange of knowledge, methods and information regarding the management of the genebank. This is stimulated because of the unique character of the genebanks and the specific needs of conservation and management of the special collections of genetic material.

Genebanks for livestock

In 2021, three national genebanks for animal genetic resources participated in the first peer review of genebanks for livestock speciesas part of the EU GenRes Bridge project. These were:

  • the French Cryobanque National of Institut de l’Elevage (Paris, France);
  • the Dutch national genebank for livestock species of Centre for Genetic Resources, the Netherlands (CGN) at Wageningen University & Research (Wageningen, the Netherlands); and
  • the National genebank of Slovenia at the University of Ljubljana, Biotechnical Faculty (Ljubljana, Slovenia).

The peer reviews were experienced as very valuable by the participating members of the review panel. All three genebanks provided access to information and facilities, and the interesting and varied programmes included meetings with the executive staff. The discussions about the practices, strengths and possibilities for improvement were thorough and had an open character. As a result, those involved concluded that peer reviews are a good way to share knowledge and practices and achieve transparency between genebanks.

Genebanks for crops

The approach for the livestock peer review was based on experiences gained in the first cycle of genebank peer reviews, initiated by CGN. These took place in 2019 as part of the GenRes Bridge project. Three European genebanks for plant genetic resources assessed and advised each other. These reviews were also experienced as very positive activities. More information about this can be found in the Dutch article ‘A look behind the scenes of a fellow genebank: the basis for collaboration’.

In 2020, the EU-project Global Access to Plant Genetic Resources (AGENT) was launched, in which 11 genebanks will conduct peer reviews. In addition, the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV) has enabled CGN to review fellow genebanks. Because COVID has limited the possibilities to travel and organise meetings, these plans have not yet been realised.

Image: Review group at the French Cryobanque National