Experts from around the world met at headquarters this week to begin hammering out a strategy to ensure the long-term conservation of the genetic diversity of maize, a central pillar of humanity’s food security. Pivotal to this issue is the well-being of gene banks. Both national and international gene banks have not fared well, as investment in public sector agricultural research has steadily declined and fierce competition for dwindling resources in the agricultural sciences has risen.
The meeting, sponsored by the Global Crop Diversity Trust, the World Bank, and CIMMYT, was called to initiate a global response to this growing crisis, with nothing less at stake than the survival of the genetic heritage of this essential crop. At a time when molecular genetics opens new opportunities daily to exploit genetic resources carrying resistance to combat plant diseases, insect pests, and threats such as drought, soil salinity, and heat stress, collecting and preserving the basic sources of resistance traits takes on added importance.
Given the global distribution and subsequent evolution of maize, the job is too large for a single institution or nation—thus the need for a broad-based solution, says maize genetics expert and meeting co-organizer Major Goodman of North Carolina State University.
“With the experience and expertise at this meeting,” says Suketoshi Taba, director of the CIMMYT maize gene bank, “we are posed to discuss and make recommendations, based on ground-level reality, to address the threats to conserving the genetic treasures of maize and to focus our efforts and resources.”