There are gene banks all over the world that store seed of different crops. But vegetables are under-represented in these collections, which is why the Centre for Genetic Resources, the Netherlands (CGN) has started the Vegetable gene bank. The aim of the project is twofold: building up the vegetable collections and promoting the CGN as the European vegetable gene bank.
Changes in the climate, in production conditions and consumer taste mean we have to make adjustments to our food crops, including vegetables. To be able to breed vegetable crops successfully it is important to have genetically diverse planting material. In the Vegetable gene bank project, which is funded by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation, the Centre for Genetic Resources, the Netherlands (CGN) will diversify its vegetable seed collections. In addition, the CGN aims to become the European vegetable gene bank.
The CGN already has an extensive collection of vegetable seeds. Lettuce, cabbage and fruit vegetables such as paprika, tomato, cucumber and aubergine are particularly well represented. Under the Vegetable gene bank project, this collection will be extended to include asparagus, salsify or scorzonera, lamb’s lettuce and chive. The goal is to have 13,000 different samples of vegetable crops available in total. The number of samples varies widely depending on the vegetable: CGN has about 3000 samples of lettuce, but less than 100 of ‘less common’ vegetables such as salsify.
CGN gathers seeds for its collections from all kinds of sources: plant breeding companies, from the wild, local markets abroad or from botanical gardens. The aim is to have samples with as widely varied characteristics as possible for each crop.
CGN makes the seeds in its collection available to others for breeding, research or educational purposes. To ensure that this service is as useful as possible to breeders and researchers, all seeds that CGN has are first sown under glass or outside so that their properties (such as growth and disease resistance) can be studied and documented. After they have been studied, the seeds are stored in sealed packets at a temperature of -20°C in a freezer. This guarantees the quality of the seeds for anywhere from 15 to 50 years.
CGN not only wants to increase and distribute its own collection of vegetable seeds; it also disseminates information on other vegetable crop collections in Europe. Vegetable gene bank project leader Chris Kik, and CGN director Bert Visser explain: ‘Gene banks have shown little interest in vegetables anywhere in the world. That’s why CGN has decided to focus on vegetables, by both extending our own collection and providing information. Our aim is that everyone who needs vegetable seeds for research or breeding comes first to CGN.’