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Genetic Resources and Bioinformatics

Genetic resources and bioinformatics are the responsibility of the Genetic Resources Program (GRP). It contributes to CIMMYT’s overall mission of increasing crop productivity to improve food security and improve livelihoods by storing, analyzing and disseminating the world’s largest collection of maize and wheat genetic resources, which are contained in the Wellhausen-Andersen Genetic Resources Center. The Center is one of only three ISO-certified seed banks in the world and the only one in North America. In its maize and wheat gene banks, seeds are held in trust for humanity under the framework of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Moreover, CIMMYT seed is made freely available to researchers and national agriculture institutions around the globe.

GRP scientists and staff work to provide healthy, viable seed and reliable information from the maize and wheat genetic resources collections and are responsible for more than 175,000 accessions. Their work enhances the use of maize and wheat genetic resources through research and technology, excellence in data stewardship and the creation of tools and methods that enable CIMMYT and its partners to readily use the available information.

The GRP consists of various units that work in tandem to achieve CIMMYT’S goals:

The Seed Health Laboratory staff members work on the safe exchange of wheat and maize seed around the world and are responsible for thousands of exchanges of maize and wheat samples annually.

The Biometrics and Statistics Unit provides service, research and training for CIMMYT and its partners, including methodology-model solutions, statistical analyses and experiment designs. A data stewardship approach strives for responsible stewardship and provides open access to CIMMYT’s seed data and the knowledge derived from it. Through this approach data standards, documentation, curation processes and timelines are established to coordinate the receipt, storage, manipulation and quality control of field and molecular data. It also enables accurate data documentation and storage throughout the analysis pipeline, versatile institutional databases and repositories, interfaces, output and informatic tools that are used by scientists and research assistants, reporting back the user requirements to CIMMYT’s software engineers in order to achieve continuous improvement of these tools.

CIMMYT recognizes that sustainably meeting the growing global demand for food may require the responsible use all of the available technologies, including genetically modified (GM) varieties of maize and wheat. Applying the practice of “sovereignty and safety first,” each nation will determine when and how GM crops will be used in their territory and this will require a legal and regulatory framework to be in place before any work can be done in this area (see CIMMYT’s guiding principles). CIMMYT is a member of “Excellence Through Stewardship,” which “promotes the universal adoption of stewardship programs and quality management systems for the responsible use and management of biotechnology-derived plant products.”

The Seeds of Discovery (SeeD) initiative systematically explores and mobilizes genetic variation in CIMMYT’s and other gene bank collections into maize and wheat breeding programs to increase productivity resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses such as heat, drought and disease.

The GRP’s activities can be summarized as:

  • Conservation, characterization, distribution and use of genetic resources.
  • Safe distribution of seed.
  • Stewardship and ensuring open-access to CIMMYT’s data and derived information.
  • Creation of quality, open-source software.
  • Development and validation of new tools and methods for gene mining and crop improvement.
  • Capacity building in all of these areas.