Plant Germplasm: Improving Data for Management Decisions

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-10-10.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                                                        Ikport, to the Secretary of Agriculture

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                                                        PLANT GERMPLASM
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                                                        Improving Data for
                                                        Management Decisions

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        Program Evaluation    and
        Methodology  Division


        October 10,199O

        The Honorable Clayton K. Yeutter
        Secretary of Agriculture

        Dear Secretary Yeutter:

        We prepared this report (in two volumes) to examine the management of germplasm stores
        and the National Plant Germplasm System. In this report, we address five evaluation

        1. What information does the Agricultural Research Service (ARS)collect and how does it set
        priorities for plant germplasm management activities?

        2. What are the conditions and activities that affect a crop’s or a species’ long-term survival?

        3. How can ARSobtain the best possible data on scientists’ plant germplasm use and needs?

        4. How can ARSassess the effects of biotechnology application on the use of plant

        6. How can ARSobtain scientists’ opinions on the relative importance of activities pertaining
        to the preservation and use of plant germplasm?

        We found that despite the best effort of ARS,more can be done to make the information
        collected more complete and comparable. We developed and tested one possible new
        methodology for obtaining more complete and comparable information relevant to improving
        the management of the National Plant Germplasm System. We describe this methodology in
        detail in this report and stand ready to assist the Department of Agriculture in implementing
        this methodology or a similar one that incorporates the same basic concepts for gaining
        information on a wide range of crops, as we have recommended.

        If you have any questions or would like additional information, please call me at (202) 275-
        1864. Major contributors to this report are listed in appendix VI.

        Sincerely yours,

        Eleanor Chelimsky
        Assistant Comptroller General
Fzecutive Summary

             Effective management of plant genetic resources (germplasm) is critical
Purpose      to maintaining an effective base for world agriculture and food supplies,
             developing and improving crops, and ensuring against widespread crop
             losses from disease, pests, and other environmental stresses.

             The National Plant Germplasm System is a network of public and pri-
             vate institutions that was formed to acquire and maintain adequate sup-
             plies of germplasm to meet national needs. The Department of
             Agriculture’s (USDA'S) Agricultural Research Service (ARS)is responsible
             for acquiring and managing germplasm collections (primarily seeds and
             plants) for the system. ARSgathers information about the condition of
             many different crops and obtains germplasm specimens from a variety
             of sources to facilitate setting priorities among its germplasm manage-
             ment activities. With a germplasm management budget of $28 million,
             ARSallocates limited funds among a broad spectrum of different and
             competing needs.

             The criticality of adequate plant genetic resources to the world food
             base spurred five GAO questions relating to the management of germ-
             plasm stores in general and the National Plant Germplasm System in
             particular: (1) What information does AF@collect and how does it set
             priorities for plant germplasm management activities? (2) What are the
             conditions and activities that affect a crop’s or a species’ long-term sur-
             vival? (3) How can ARSobtain the best possible data on scientists’ plant
             germplasm use and needs? (4) How can ARSassess the effects of biotech-
             nology applications on the use of plant germplasm? (6) How can ARS
             obtain scientists’ opinions on the relative importance of activities per-
             taining to the preservation and use of plant germplasm? Answers to
             these questions as well as a new system for obtaining information rele-
             vant to improving germplasm management form the basis for this

             Throughout history, the world’s agricultural system has depended on
Background   the continued development and improvement of cultivated varieties
             through manipulation of genetic traits, usually by plant breeding.
             Breeders select and crossbreed plants with desirable traits such as taste
             and yield, nutritional quality, resistance to disease and pests, and envi-
             ronmental and climatic hardiness. The continued ability to meet world
             food needs and guard against crop loss depends on maintaining genetic
             diversity (that is, the range of traits existing within a genus or species)
             for plant breeding.

             Page 2      GAO/PEMD-91-M Improvlng Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisions

                   However, genetic diversity is continuously lost through natural selec-
                   tion, destruction of natural plant habitats, displacement of locally culti-
                   vated varieties by modern varieties, and overgrazing. Breeding can also
                   eliminate genes and reduce genetic diversity.

                   The National Plant Germplasm System was therefore established to help
                   maintain supplies of germplasm adequate to sustain national and world
                   agriculture and to guard against crop vulnerability. Through this
                   system, the United States has worked with many other countries to col-
                   lect, preserve, and exchange a wide variety of germplasm. Over 2.6 mil-
                   lion samples are held in germplasm collections throughout the world.
                   The U.S. contribution to this worldwide effort to maintain genetic diver-
                   sity is valued at $1 billion annually in increased agricultural production.
                   In administering the system, ARSis responsible for managing a network
                   of plant gene banks containing about 400,000 germplasm samples.

                   GAO found that although ARSgathers much valuable information      for its
Results in Brief   management decisions, the information is often incomplete and not com-
                   parable across crops, This makes it extremely difficult for ARS to set pri-
                   orities and allocate funding among the various types of genetic
                   resources and management activities. (See pages 24 - 31.)

                   ARScurrently gathers information on plant germplasm through several
                   means. Evaluations of crop vulnerability and recommendations pro-
                   vided by USM’S crop advisory committees are major sources of informa-
                   tion. However, data derived from these committees are often
                   inadequate, because ARSprovides neither funding nor detailed proce-
                   dural guidance to the crop advisory committees. (See pages 24 - 3 1.)

                   ARSsupplements crop advisory committee reports with results from its
                   research and such information as identification of germplasm collections
                   that are endangered because of circumstances such as program cancella-
                   tion or a curator’s retirement or death or special studies such as one
                   recently completed that identified the germplasm collection needs of 84
                   commodity crops. ARSis also considering the establishment of core col-
                   lections to improve the usefulness of stored germplasm resources to
                   plant breeders. (See pages 24 - 31.)

                   GAO determined that seven categories of conditions and activities affect
                   crop species’ long-term survival: the amounts and types of germplasm
                   that are acquired by germplasm managers and other crop scientists; the
                   locations in which plant species are endangered because of natural or

                   Page 8      GAO/PEMD-Sl-5A   ImprovingPlant   Germplasm Data for Management Decisiona
                 Executive Summary

                 societal factors; the conditions (for example, viability or accessibility) of
                 germplasm stored in gene banks or other important collections; the
                 amounts, types, quality, and availability of evaluation data and other
                 information that describes germplasm held in collections; the emphases
                 placed on plant breeding and research programs with respect to the
                 objectives, rationale, and use of germplasm; the susceptibility and
                 known resistance to disease, insects, pests, and other environmental
                 stresses; and the size of the genetic base of commercial crops and the
                 range of genetic and species diversity. (See pages 32 - 34.)

                 From these seven categories, GAO developed an alternative data collec-
                 tion instrument that allows ARS to collect uniform, comparable data on
                 any crop, genus, or species. The instrument was then pilot-tested to
                 determine whether different types of plant scientists who use germ-
                 plasm would and could provide the necessary data. The effort proved
                 entirely feasible; information was collected that tapped scientists’
                 knowledge in areas including the acquisition, preservation, and descrip-
                 tion of germplasm and the effects of biotechnology applications, as well
                 as their opinions on the relative importance of activities pertaining to
                 germplasm management. (See pages 35 - 60.)

                 GAO developed a framework to guide data gathering that presents (1) the
GAO’s Approach   seven conditions and activities that affect crop or species long-term sur-
                 vival, about which information can be obtained for any specific crop,
                 and (2) suggested analyses of the information obtained from germplasm
                 users for use in comparing germplasm needs among crops. Building upon
                 crop advisory committees’ lists of germplasm users (for example, pri-
                 vate and public sector breeders, researchers, and germplasm collection
                 curators), GAO identified a judgmental sample of 71 germplasm users.
                 (See pages 32 - 33.)

                 With this sample, and with the assistance of ARSofficials, germplasm
                 experts, and several crop advisory committees, GAO demonstrated the
                 application of the framework and survey using two crop genera and one
                 crop species. The two crop genera were Brassica (broccoli, cabbage, and
                 the like) and sorghum (a grain extensively used worldwide). The crop
                 species was Prunu.s persica (peaches). (See pages 35 - 60.)

GAO’s Results    vidual crops and their associated germplasm resources can be collected
                 from different types of germplasm users worldwide. This suggests that

                 Page 4       GAO/PEMD-91.5A Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decidons
                  Executive Summary

                  with the widespread application of systematic data collection methods,
                  & could more effectively assess the status of germplasm resources. For
                  example, the data could assist ARSdecisionmakers in their efforts to set
                  priorities for germplasm acquisitions and to provide descriptions of
                  stored germplasm that are most useful to scientists who need the
                  resources in their crop improvement and research efforts. Priority-set-
                  ting and resource allocation among crops and management activities
                  would be facilitated by the adoption of these methods. GAO also believes
                  that ARScould use information obtained from users of its germplasm
                  resources to tisess the effectiveness of its current Germplasm Resources
                  Information Network. (See page 6 1.)

                  Because the survey was designed and tested to obtain data on virtually
                  any type of plant germplasm, GAO notes that ARS could, over time, imple-
                  ment the method for many crops at the cost of mailing the survey and
                  analyzing the results, Established in this manner, a data base of infor-
                  mation describing the status of the crops could be used to help set priori-
                  ties and to more effectively allocate the limited germplasm budget. (See
                  page 61.)

                  GAO’S effort has shown that it is feasible to collect data that directly
Recommendation    target the information needs of germplasm management. Therefore, to
                  supplement information currently obtained and to facilitate germplasm
                  management decisions, GAO recommends that the administrator of ARS
                  determine which crops would most benefit from the full implementation
                  of GAO’S methodology, or a similar one that incorporates the same basic
                  concepts, and implement it for those crops.

                  ARScommented on a draft of this report. (The letter is in appendix V.)
Agency Comments   Some concerns were raised about the difficulty of implementing the data
                  collection method, particularly because of lack of funding and support
                  for the effort. In response, GAO offered to share with AIWsoftware and
                  questionnaire design to minimize the initial implementation costs for

                  Beyond this, ARScommended GAO’S effort to develop a methodology to
                  aid in the assessment of priorities on a crop basis for germplasm held in
                  the National Plant Germplasm System. ARS said that GAO’S refinement of
                  questions asked of scientists working in the field provides an excellent
                  base from which to examine agency priorities and funding justifications.

                  Page 5       GAO/PEMD4145A Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management   Decisions


Executive Summary
Chapter 1
Introduction             Loss of Genetic Diversity and Crop Vulnerability
                         Difficulty of Predicting Germplasm and Crop
                               Improvement Needs
                         AR3 Management of Germplasm
                         The Difficulty of Decisionmaking
                         Objectives, Scope, and Methodology

Chapter 2
USDA’s Data              Where ARS Gathers Information
                         Advice Prom Outside Sources
Collection and           How ARS Sets Priorities                                 29
Priority-Setting for
Chapter 3                                                .’                      32
A Framework to Guide
Data Collection
Chapter 4                                                                        36
Feasibility of           Collecting and Analyzing Uniform Data                   36
                         Summary                                                 47
Obtaining Uniform
Data About Scientists’
Germplasm Use and
Chapter 5                                                                        48
Determining the          Potential Effects of Biotechnology
                         How Knowledge of Biotechnology Use Can     Assist
Effects of                   Germplasm Managers
Biotechnology on         Extent of Use of Biotechnology Techniques               60
Germplasm Use

Chapter 6                                                                                              64
Opinions About the       Opinions About the Importance of Germplasm Activities
                         Opinions About Activities Within Germplasm
Relative Importance of        Management
Preservation and Use
Chapter 7                                                                                              61
Conclusions and          Recommendation to the Secretary of Agriculture
                         Agency Comments and Our Response
Agency Commenk,
and Our Response
Appendixes               Appendix I: Members and Expertise of GAO’s Advisory                           66
                         Appendix II: Fifteen Types of Scientists Who Use                              67
                         Appendix III: Relative Importance of Major Germplasm                          68
                             Activities for Three Crops
                         Appendix IV: Implementation of GAO’s Methodology                              70
                         Appendix V: Comments From the Department of                                   76
                         Appendix VI: Major Contributors to This Report                                78

Glossary                                                                                               79

Tables                   Table 1.1: ARS’s Germplasm Management Activities                              16
                         Table 1.2: Comparison of Crop Selection Criteria                              22
                         Table 1.3: Questionnaires Mailed Out and Returned                             23
                         Table 4.1: Locations of Completed, Planned, and                               36
                             Recommended Acquisition Locations
                         Table 4.2: Respondents With Unique Accessions and                             38
                             Whose Accessions Were Offered and Accepted by
                             ARS in the Last 6 Years
                         Table 4.3: Respondents’ Top Four Breeding and Research                        44
                         Table 4.4: Full-Time-Equivalent Staff and Funding Levels                      44
                             for Breeding and Research

                         Page 7     GAO/PEMD-Sl-5A Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decbions

          Table 4.6: Resistance Traits for Which Respondents Are                        46
              Searching and Traits That Need Greater Emphasis
          Table 6.1: Respondents Using Biotechnology Techniques                         61
          Table 6.2: Respondents Reporting Changes in Emphasis                          62
              From the Use of Biotechnology Techniques
          Table 6.3: Respondents Whose Use of Germplasm Has                             63
              Changed Because of Biotechnology Techniques
          Table 6.1: Relative Importance of the Major Germplasm                         66
              Management Activities for Domestic and Foreign
          Table 6.2: Domestic and Foreign Respondents Identifying                       67
              Acquisition Activities That Should Be Emphasized to
              a Great or Very Great Extent
          Table 6.3: Respondents Identifying Preservation                               58
              Activities That Should Be Emphasized
          Table 6.4: Respondents Identifying Description Activities                     68
              That Should Be Emphasized
          Table 6.6: Respondents Identifying Crop Improvement                           69
              and Research Activities That Should Be Emphasized
          Table IV. 1: Other Genera Our Respondents Work With                           71

Figures   Figure 1.1: Transplanting Seedless Grape Varieties                            13
          Figure 1.2: Seeds in Uniform Containers for a                                 16
               Germination Test
          Figure 3.1: USDA’s Germplasm Management Activities                            34
               Related to GAO’s Framework
          Figure 4.1: Preservation Conditions Regulated or                              40
               Recorded by Sorghum Respondents
          Figure 4.2: Maintenance Activities Performed by Sorghum                       41
          Figure 4.3: Descriptive Information of Great or Very                         .42
               Great Importance to Sorghum Respondents
          Figure 4.4: Percentage of Funding Received From Various                       46
               Sources by Prunu.s per&a Respondents

          Page 8     GAO/PEMD-Sl-6A Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisiona


AR!3       Agricultural Research Service
CRIS       Current Research Information System
DNA        Deoxyribonucleic acid
GAO        General Accounting Office
GRIN       Germplasm Resources Information Network
NAS        National Academy of Sciences
NPGS       National Plant Germplasm System
Ol-A       Office of Technology Assessment
           Plant Germplasm Operations Committee
RFLP       Restriction fragment length polymorphism
USDA       US. Department of Agriculture

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Chapter 1


                     Germplasm is the material in seeds or other plant materials that controls
                     heredity. The availability of plant germplasm and the genetic diversity
                     it contains is essential for the continued development and improvement
                     of crop varieties and to protect them against loss from biological and
                     environmental stresses. For this reason, over 2.6 million accessions, or
                     samples, of germplasm are held in collections throughout the world.’
                     Plant breeders worldwide use this germplasm to develop new, superior
                     crop varieties that can ensure a stable, plentiful supply of high-quality
                     food, feed, and fiber. The Office of Technology Assessment ((JTA)
                     reported in 1987 that these crop genetic resources have accounted for
                     60 percent of agricultural productivity increases and for annual contri-
                     butions of about $1 billion to U.S. agriculture.

                     However, the use of germplasm for crop improvement, as well as other
                     natural and societally influenced factors, can result in the loss of genetic
                     traits that might protect crop varieties against disease, pests, and other
                     environmental stresses. This loss of genetic diversity (the range and
                     variation of genes in a species or crop variety) increases the likelihood
                     that crops will be vulnerable to ever changing stresses.

                     To maintain genetic diversity and ensure that supplies of germplasm are
                     adequate to meet future crop improvement needs, the US. Department
                     of Agriculture’s (USDA’S) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is respon-
                     sible for acquiring and preserving germplasm collections in the National
                     Plant Germplasm System (NPGS) and for making accessible new sources
                     of germplasm for meeting agricultural and industrial needs.

                     Loss of genetic diversity and of plant species diminishes the amount of
Loss of Genetic      genetic resources that will be available to future generations for crop
Diversity and Crop   development and improvement. Further, lack of diversity in commercial
Vulnerability        varieties of a crop can lead to the vulnerability of the crop to wide-
                     spread loss. Measures of genetic diversity are difficult to define, and
                     uneven knowledge about the approximately 260,000 plant species of the
                     world makes losses of diversity difficult to assess.2According to one
                     estimate prepared for (JTA, at least 60,000 plant species may be at risk of
                     extinction within the next 30 to 40 years.

                     ‘Donald L. Plucknett et al., Gene Banks and the World’s Food (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University
                     Press, 1987), p. 110.

                     2U.S.Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, Technologies to Maintain Biological Diversity, vol.
                     2, contract papers part A, papers l-6 and 8, plant technologies, PB87-139200 (Washington, DC.: U.S.
                     Government Printing Office, December 1986), p, 37.

                     Page 10          GAO/PEMD-Sl-IA      Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisions
chapter 1

The loss of genetic diversity has occurred naturally through evolution
for millions of years. Plant varieties that have been able to adapt to dif-
ferent environmental factors, or have been resistant to disease and
pests, have survived natural selection, while others have become

Human influence on the use of land has contributed to the loss of genetic
diversity through a variety of causes, including industrialization, urban
expansion, deforestation, and changes in land use and agricultural prac-
tices. Most natural genetic diversity originated and still resides in devel-
oping countries such as those in Africa, Asia, and South America.
Development has brought the destruction of the native habitats of plant
varieties and their wild and weedy relatives, thus eliminating resources
of potential value for future agriculture and research.

In an effort to preserve germplasm, some organizations and nations
have established gene banks where seeds and plant material are stored.
However, diversity can also be lost through inadequate germplasm
storage and maintenance practices, potentially resulting in the loss of
whole collections of seeds or plants. For example, gene banks are poten-
tially vulnerable to inadequate maintenance techniques, poor manage-
ment practices, natural disasters, and technical problems such as power
failures or fires, any of which can decrease the viability of stored seeds
or result in the destruction of unique plant material.

In breeding plant germplasm into extremely productive varieties,
breeders have also reduced the genetic diversity in these varieties and
have made them more uniform. This uniformity results when breeders
inadvertently eliminate certain traits (such as resistance to disease and
pests) that did not contribute directly to the desired characteristics
(such as high yield) for which the breeders were searching.

As the use of the improved varieties has increased, they have replaced
many of the local varieties-landraces-traditionally    grown by
farmers. These landraces typically contain greater genetic diversity
than uniform varieties, because they have coexisted, and sometimes
crossbred, with their wild relatives. Though some landraces have been
collected and are now stored in gene banks, many of these locally culti-
vated resources have become extinct.

Widespread and continued use of genetically uniform crop varieties is
often characterized by a narrowed genetic base of germplasm used in
the breeding process. Although uniformity may lead to greater yields

Page 11     GAO/PEMD-BMA   Impnwing Plant Germplasm Data for Management De&ions
Chapter 1

and make possible the sophisticated methods of mechanized sowing, fer-
tilization, and harvest, widespread use of uniform crop varieties also
increases the probability of devastating crop losses. For example, the
1970 southern corn leaf blight epidemic destroyed 15 percent of the U.S.
crop-with     losses of up to 50 percent in some states. Genetic diversity
in varieties and hybrids can be an important source of protection
against environmental stresses that are not predictable, by reducing the
probability that entire crop populations will be affected by them.

Commercial crop breeders can also reduce the uniformity of improved
crop varieties by incorporating traits from new sources of germplasm,
including landraces and distant relatives. However, research and
breeding efforts and funding are generally concentrated on today’s
major commodity crops such as corn, soybean, and wheat. With this
commercial focus, lower-valued crops, as well as germplasm whose
value has not yet been identified, tend to receive less emphasis. Because
the future value of such crops and germplasm is difficult to foresee, the
acquisition and preservation of germplasm that adequately represents
plant genetic diversity is important.

The importance of protecting crops against vulnerability through the
introduction of genetic diversity has been emphasized over the past
decade. The role of germplasm preservation in affording this protection
was expressed in a 1983 USDA program plan:

“Crops becomevulnerable when stressesfrom diseases,insects, drought, or temper-
ature extremes exceed the crops’ ranges of tolerance or resistance to such factors.
The results can vary from localized yield reduction to disastrous crop failures over
large areas. Protection from crop lossesthrough control [of stresses]is far more dif-
ficult and costly than is protection through increased genetic diversity among vari-
eties of a given crop.”

Further, the report stated that developmental crop breeding ties
together the work of germplasm collection, screening, and genetic anal-
ysis as scientists sort from the many objectives or traits that might be
pursued those with a high probability of success.

To develop and improve successful varieties and to meet future
unknown stresses, breeders need an adequate supply of germplasm with
diverse genetic characteristics. Even if such germplasm is available,
however, introducing traits from wild or distantly related germplasm is
time-consuming and difficult. Figure 1.1, for example, shows a plant
physiologist and a graduate student working at the Fresno, California,

Page 12        GAO/PEMD-Bl-SA Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Deddone
                                      chapter 1

figure 1.1; lranaplantlng   Swdlens
drape Varieties

                                      field location, transplanting seedless grape varikties from growth
                                      chamber containers to greenhouse soil pots as part of an effort by
                                      the genetics unit of the Horticultural Crops Research Laboratory to
                                      develop new and improved varieties for fresh and dry fruit markets.

                                      Private sector breeders concentrate on developing products that offer
                                      the promise of good return on investment, while public sector breeders
                                      have traditionally enhanced or improved germplasm by identifying

                                      Page 13        GAO/PEMD-Bl-BA Improving Plant Gennplasm Data for Management Decisions
                       Chapter 1

                       useful traits and breeding them into interim products, which private
                       sector breeders can more readily incorporate into commercial varieties.

                       Germplasm and crop improvement needs are difficult to predict because
Difficulty of          of ever changing environmental and human factors that demand respon-
Predicting Germplasm   sive changes in crop improvement efforts. Over time, diseases and pests
and Crop               adapt to a crop’s defenses, making it necessary for scientists to develop
                       new crop varieties and products such as pesticides. Major climatic
Improvement Needs      changes may change plant habitats, forcing agricultural modifications.
                       Changing agricultural and land use practices modify the land’s ecology,
                       forcing scientists to develop new, cost-effective materials and methods
                       to meet the new needs. In addition, scientists must develop higher-
                       yielding crops to meet the projected long-term nutritional needs of a
                       world in which the population is expected to increase substantially for
                       the remainder of this century and beyond.

                       New scientific knowledge and techniques may also affect crop improve-
                       ment possibilities. Advances in biotechnology (advanced techniques that
                       use biological systems to produce products) may allow much more rapid
                       development of crop varieties. For example, biotechnology applications
                       may allow scientists to more readily and precisely transfer genes
                       between plants, even distantly related varieties, than is possible with
                       conventional plant breeding methods. Biotechnology also permits scien-
                       tists to analyze specific genes and thereby “screen” or select needed
                       germplasm more rapidly. In addition, conservation biology, a rapidly
                       evolving discipline involving new theoretical models, research findings,
                       and emerging management techniques, challenges traditional
                       approaches to conservation. This change, sparked by basic research in
                       population biology and genetics, may help scientists develop better
                       germplasm preservation strategies, thereby facilitating decisions on
                       germplasm storage needs.

                       The Agricultural Research Service is responsible for preserving and dis-
ARS Management of      tributing plant germplasm and improving the productivity, quality, and
Germplasm              other desired characteristics of crops. Working within an annual germ-
                       plasm budget of about $28 million (fiscal year 1989 funding), ARSman-
                       ages germplasm collections and repositories containing about 400,000
          *            germplasm accessions. In managing these resources, ARSofficials deter-
                       mine germplasm preservation needs within and among different crops
                       and germplasm management activities, manage germplasm collections,

                       Page 14       GAO/PEMD-BMA   Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisiona
                                ChaRtm 1

                                and conduct research to evaluate and improve germplasm. Table 1.1
                                lists and defines ARS’Sgermplasm management activities.

Table 1.l : ARS’r Cilstmplarm
Management Actlvlticba          Activity                       Definition
                                Acquisition                    Collecting plant germplasm from natural habitats and from
                                                               exchange with other scientists or gene banks
                                Preservation                   Storing and maintaining plant germplasm in gene banks
                                                               throughout the world to ensure that a diverse supply of
                                                               germplasm is available to breeders and researchers and
                                                               sufficient genetic diversity exists in gene banks to ensure
                                                               the long-term survival of cultivated crop varieties
                                Distribution                   As part of the preservation effort, providing germplasm from
                                                               National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS) collections to
                                                               scientists or breeders worldwide
                                Description (evaluation)       Identifying, evaluating, and providing accurate written     __
                                                               descriptions of stored plant germplasm and its genetic
                                Enhancement (prebreeding)      Incorporating desired traits of wild germplasm into a
                                                               domesticated crop variety, so that the resulting variety will
                                                               be suitable for crossbreeding with commercial varieties
                                Breeding                       Developing new crop varieties or improving existing ones
                                                               (especially commercial crops) by making crosses over
                                                               several generations
                                Biotechnology                  Developing and applying advanced techniques, including
                                                               molecular genetics, to identify and manipulate genes or to
                                                               improve storage technologies for plant germplasm

                                ARScoordinates the operation of NPGS and collaborates with other agen-
                                cies; national and international organizations that preserve, manage,
                                and exchange germplasm; and a set of advisory committees. NPGS has
                                been evolving since USDA was founded in 1862, but the first official facil-
                                ities for storing germplasm were established under the Agricultural Mar-
                                keting Act of 1946 (Public Law 733,79th Congress).

                                Today, the system is user-oriented, having a goal of acquiring, pre-
                                serving, and distributing plant germplasm. It includes ARSoperational
                                units, four regional plant introduction stations, National Potato Plant
                                Introduction Station, eight national clonal germplasm repositories, and
                                various other crop-specific collections, each of which contains one or
                                more particular crop species.

                                Scientists at these facilities maintain, evaluate, and distribute plant
                                germplasm and conduct various types of research. In addition, the

                                Page 16         GAO/PEMD-91-SA Improviug Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisiona

Flgure 1.2: Seeds in Uniform Contalnwrr
for a Germination Tert

                                                                                      ,,.   ,,
                                          National Seed Storage Laboratory at Fort Collins, Colorado, stores a
                                          wide range of plant germplasm long term and conducts research on
                                          germplasm preservation techniques. See figure 1.2, for example,
                                          which shows open bags of seeds at the National Seed Storage Labora-
                                          tory being prepared for planting of a germination test. When dried
                                          and sealed in preparation for storage, seed samples are placed in uni-
                                          form containers of flexible packaging material made (from the inside
                                          out) of 40-pound white kraft paper, polyethylene, 0.005 foil, and
                                          polyethylene. When properly sealed, such containers are essentially
                                          moisture proof.

                                          Page 16      GAO/PEMDN-SA   Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Declsious
Chapter 1

ARSalso maintains the National Germplasm Resources Laboratory,
which coordinates the acquisition and exchange of germplasm between
the United States and other countries and documents and catalogs
acquired germplasm for inclusion in the NPGScollections. The laboratory
assigns plant introduction numbers, publishes a USDA plant inventory,
and manages the Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN)-a
centralized, computerized data base containing an inventory of NPGS
accessions as well as descriptive information about them. Finally, the
laboratory assists with the quarantine and distribution of plant mater-
ials obtained through exploration or exchange.

ARScoordinates its efforts with scientists from the federal, state, and
private sectors of the agricultural research community. A number of
agencies and groups provide funding, local facilities, seed increases
(growing-out seed to replenish stocks), germplasm evaluations, and gen-
eral policy and program direction. These include the Cooperative State
Research Service, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the
state agricultural experiment stations located at land grant colleges, and
private industry. ARSalso coordinates with other agriculture-related
organizations such as the Soil Conservation Service, the Extension Ser-
vice, the Office of International Cooperation and Development, and the
State Department’s Agency for International Development.

In making germplasm management decisions, ARSworks with several
advisory committees, which provide expertise and guidance on germ-
plasm needs, collection gaps, adequacy of germplasm descriptions,
regeneration needs, evaluation plans, and research needs. For example,
39 crop advisory committees provide expert advice to the National Pro-
gram Leader for Germplasm on germplasm management priorities. Each
committee represents the germplasm user community for a particular
crop or group of crops. In addition, the National Plant Genetics
Resources Board advises the secretary of USDA on national plant germ-
plasm needs and policy matters related to germplasm preservation.
Another advisory group, the National Plant Germplasm Committee,
coordinates federal, state, and private research and services. Also, the
Plant Germplasm Operations Committee, composed of the curators of
the gene banks and clonal repositories, coordinates day-to-day opera-
tional activities by identifying germplasm problems and needs, imple-
menting operational changes, and reviewing plant exploration proposals
and priorities.

International organizations with which ARS coordinates its activities
include the International Board for Plant Genetic Resources and the

Page 17        GAO/PEMD-91.5A Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisiona
                    Chapter 1

                    International Agricultural Research Centers, both of which are spon-
                    sored by the Consultative Group for International Agricultural

                    In carrying out its germplasm management responsibilities, ARSmust
The Difficulty of   make intrinsically difficult decisions about how to set priorities and allo-
Decisionmaking      cate resources among competing projects, including its various germ-
                    plasm management activities, as well as among various crops. In
                    addition, the uniformity of information on which to base decisions can
                    vary widely among crops. For example, one crop advisory committee
                    may submit detailed information on crop needs and status, whereas
                    another committee may submit very sparse or general information or
                    none at all.

                    When data are missing or existing data are fragmented, decisions must
                    be made without the data tools that are the basic requirement for deci-
                    sionmaking. Concerns about insufficient information and its effect on
                    M’S management effectiveness have been cited for years in various
                    studies. In our 1981 report, for example, we found that USDA

                    “does not know the universe of germplasm stored in the United States, and . . .
                    [wlithout knowing what germplasm is available and what has been collected, mean-
                    ingful planning for collection is difficult and subject to omissions.“4

                    Since then, other studies have cited the need to assess the adequacy of
                    the germplasm base for each crop or group of crops and to broaden and
                    strengthen each base by additional exploration, evaluation, or enhance-
                    ment work. The studies found that scattered distribution of material

                    3The International Board for Plant Genetic Resources is an autonomous international scientific organ-
                    ization established in 1974 to promote and coordinate an international network of genetic resource
                    centers to further germplasm preservation and use. The Consultative Group for International Agricul-
                    tural Research was set up in 1971 to help coordinate the efforts of public and private institutions,
                    international and regional organizations, and representatives from developing countries to support a
                    network of 13 international agricultural research centers.

                    4SeeU.S. General Accounting Office, Setter Colle

                    Page 18         GAO/Pm9MA           Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decbione
                        Chapter   1

                        among public and private institutions, inadequate knowledge about spe-
                        cific institutional collections and diversity, and deficiencies in descrip-
                        tive information cause a lack of use of many collections and hinder
                        decisionmaking and priority-settingP

                        Currently, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is concluding a study
                        of NPGS and crop vulnerability. According to NAS officials, their vulnera-
                        bility study has been hampered by insufficient data on the number of
                        varieties and acreage planted of a given commercial crop. In addition,
                        they found that the crop advisory committee network does not in its
                        present form work well because of limitations in membership and funds
                        and the inconsistent reporting of information on which to base decisions.

                        Because of the long-term and continuing criticisms of ARS’S effectiveness
Objectives, Scope,and   in managing germplasm and assessing crop vulnerability, we sought to
Methodology             demonstrate ways in which ARScould gather uniform and comparable
                        information from germplasm users on the various factors that affect
                        vulnerability, in order to assist with germplasm management decision-
                        making. Specifically, we addressed the following five evaluation

                        1. What information does ARS collect and how does it set priorities for
                        plant germplasm management activities?

                        2. What are the conditions and activities that affect a crop’s or a species’
                        long-term survival?

                        3. How can ARS obtain the best possible data on scientists’ plant germ-
                        plasm use and needs?

                        4. How can ARSassess the effects of biotechnology applications on the
                        use of plant germplasm?

                        6. How can ARS obtain scientists’ opinions on the relative importance of
                        activities pertaining to the preservation and use of plant germplasm?

                        ‘?I .S. Department of Agriculture, National Plant Genetic Resources Board, Plant Germplasm: Conser-
                        vation and Use (Washington, DC.: October 1984); Council for AgriculturalScience and Technology,

                        Page 19         GAO/Pm91.6A         Jmproving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisions
Chapter 1

To answer these five questions, we combined an information synthesis
with data from selected case studies. We conducted a literature review;
interviewed ARSmanagers, curators, and other experts; and reviewed
planning, budgetary, strategid, and other ARSdocuments. For our case
studies, we developed a framework for analyzing available information
about crops and a corresponding mail-out questionnaire.

Although ARS is responsible for acquiring, preserving, distributing,
describing, and improving germplasm and crops, the scientists (public,
private, and foreign) who themselves work with germplasm are the
most knowledgeable about its condition and needs. Therefore, we
believed it was important to obtain information directly from scientists
on the factors that influence their activities, as well as their opinions on
such things as the most important germplasm management activities for
their crops. Accordingly, our study focuses on these users.

To answer evaluation question 1, we interviewed managers and program
and research leaders and other personnel from ARS’S headquarters and
the director of AR&S Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, all located
in Beltsville, Maryland. We also interviewed curators and research
leaders at several regional plant introduction stations and clonal reposi-
tories. In addition, we analyzed documents obtained from these officials,
including various reports, mission and responsibilities statements, pri-
orities for acquisition, and project funding,

To answer question 2, we conducted a literature review and interviewed
scientists within and outside ARS.In order to categorize our findings for
this question, we developed a framework that identifies the conditions
and activities most likely to affect the long-term survival of a crop or
species as well as its associated germplasm. The various components of
the framework represent the areas in which uniform and comparable
information should be collected for many crops and their associated
germplasm. We formed an advisory panel to assist us in developing and
modifying the framework components. (See appendix I for the panel
members.) Collectively, the advisory panel had expertise in plant
breeding, genetics, and pathology; entomology; germplasm management
and conservation; horticulture; and the use of biotechnology tools. We
revised and refined the framework throughout our evaluation with the
assistance of the advisory panel and other experts. (Appendix I in
volume 2 presents the framework.“)

6Volume 2 is entitled Plant Germplaam: A Data Collection Framework and Questionnaire,
GAO/PEMD-91-6B (Washington, DC.: October 199OJ

Page 20        GAO/PmBl-CIA        Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisions
chapter 1

To answer questions 3,4, and 6, we designed a questionnaire to obtain
the status of information available for the components of the frame-
work. (Appendix II in volume 2 is our questionnaire.) Our intent was to
demonstrate the feasibility of using a single survey instrument that,
with minor modification, could obtain uniform and comparable informa-
tion for any crop, species, or genus. We administered the questionnaire
to a judgmental sample of scientists who use germplasm and analyzed
selected questions to demonstrate the types and amounts of information
that can be obtained, including (1) scientists’ satisfaction with the
quality of information and germplasm they obtain; (2) descriptions of
scientists’ germplasm accessions, maintenance, and use; and (3) scien-
tists’ opinions on where emphasis is needed to address genetic resource
management issues.

Question 4 is answered by a set of questions that ask scientists about the
effects of biotechnology on their work and on their use of germplasm.

Question 5 is also answered by a set of questions asking scientists’ opin-
ions about which specific germplasm management activities they believe
should be emphasized over others. In addition, we designed a pairwise
comparison question that asks scientists their opinions of the relative
importance of six broad activities: acquisition, preservation (including
distribution), description (including evaluation), breeding, enhancement,
and biotechnology. To analyze these responses, we used a method
termed the analytic hierarchy process, which quantifies sometimes
small differences in opinion about the relative importance of things that
are inherently difficult to measure. The process attaches weights to a set
of decision criteria in a multicriteria decisionmaking situation.

We selected three crops as the focus of our effort. We presented initial
crop selection criteria to our advisory panel, and with their assistance
we consolidated the list into five broad categories. We used the five cri-
teria to select three crops having characteristics typical of the wide
range of crops. We chose two genera and one species: Brassica (broccoli,
cauliflower, and the like), sorghum (a grain crop), and Prunus persica
(peach). We originally selected the genus Pmcnus (plums, cherries,
almonds, and so on), but because of the large differences among the spe-
cies within this genus, we decided to focus on the peach as the species
with the highest production in the United States. Table 1.2 compares our
five selection criteria with the selected genera and species.

Page 21       GAO/PEMJS91-BA Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisions
                                                 Chapter 1

Table 1.2: Comparison of Crop Selectlon Criteria
Criterion          .___...
                      - ._.---.- Brasslca                                Pfunus pert&a                        Sorghum
Number of international centers,     No international center; many       No international center; many        An international center; many
working groups, gene banks,          gene banks; many global users       gene banks                           gene banks
other informational networks, and
amount of existrng information
type of reproductive and storage     Open- ollinated* seed storage;      Clonally reproduced and stored;      Self-pollinated; seed storage; few
methods                              some l5NA libraiies                 some DNA libraries                   DNA libraries               -___
Degree.of amenability to             Biotechnology tools are currently   Few biotechnology tools are          Good potential for biotechnology
brotechnology                        being applied                       being applied                        use, but limited applications
Degree of ‘divkrs~ty and             Many wild relatives                 Latitudinally limited but moderate   Very diverse and widely adapted
adaptability                                                             degree of adaptability
Degree of ‘contribution to society   Globally an important crop,         hninimal total worldwide hectares;   Second in the world in total
                                     esbeciallv cabbaae and turnips      limited number of uses               hectares: manv uses

                                                 To ensure that we gathered information from a wide range of plant
                                                 scientists, we identified 15 categories of scientists who use germplasm
                                                 (such as US. private sector plant breeders and foreign national public
                                                 sector geneticists or biotechnologists). (Appendix II presents the 16 cate-
                                                 gories.) Then, to identify potential questionnaire respondents, we
                                                 worked with the chairs of the crop advisory committees and subcommit-
                                                 tees for the three selected crops, We began with their lists of scientists
                                                 who use the crops’ germplasm, and we supplemented the lists with
                                                 information we developed from other sources to identify plant scientists
                                                 in all 15 categories.

                                                 We judgmentally selected scientists from these lists as questionnaire
                                                 respondents for our demonstration. We sent questionnaires to scientists
                                                 in the United States, India, Israel, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Vene-
                                                 zuela, and Zimbabwe. This international focus provides a broader base
                                                 of respondents and a more realistic perspective on international plant
                                                 germplasm conditions and activities than would have been possible with
                                                 domestic respondents alone.

                                                 We sent out a total of 71 questionnaires: 62 to scientists in the United
                                                 States and 19 to scientists in the seven foreign countries, as shown in
                                                 table 1.3. We received completed questionnaires from 86 percent of the
                                                 domestic scientists and 79 percent of the scientists in other countries.

                                                 Page 22         GAO/PEMD-91-BA Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisions
                                             chapter 1

Table 1.3: Quertionnairra   Mailed Out and
R6hmwd                                                                                      Mailed                              Returned8
                                             ’ Qenur or Species                     U.S.             Foreign            U.S.            Foreign
                                             Bras&a                                   13                   6               10                   4
                                             Prunus per&a                             12                   3               12                   2
                                             Sorghum                                  27                  10               22                   9
                                             Total                                   52                   19              44                   15
                                             BAlthough we received 44 questionnaires from domestic scientists, we excluded 2 surveys (1 Brassica
                                             and 1 sorghum) from our analysis because the surveys were incomplete. For these 2 questionnaires, we
                                             were unable to follow up on all incomplete responses. We excluded 4 foreign sorghum surveys that
                                             arrived too late to incorporate into our analysis.

                                             Because our sample was small and judgmentally selected, we cannot
                                             generalize from the results to the populations of all scientists who use
                                             germplasm from these crops. However, our data collection and analyses
                                             meet our objective-demonstrating     that it is feasible to obtain uniform
                                             information needed to manage germplasm activities from a wide range
                                             of plant scientists worldwide.

                                             We conducted our fieldwork between January 1989 and January 1990.
                                             Our work was conducted in accordance with generally accepted govern-
                                             ment auditing standards.

                                             Chapters 2 through 6 address the individual evaluation questions. In
                                             chapter 7, we present our conclusions and recommendations, agency
                                             comments on our report, and our responses to those comments.

                                             Page 28         GAO/PEMD-91-5A Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisiona

USDA’sData Collectionand PrioritySetting for

                    In this chapter, we address our first evaluation question: What informa-
                    tion does ARScollect, and how does it set priorities for plant germplasm
                    management activities? To identify ARS'S information-gathering and pri-
                    ority-setting efforts, we interviewed ARSofficials, including national pro-
                    gram staff, an area director, curators, and research leaders. We ,also
                    obtained and analyzed ARSdocuments on strategic planning, budgeting,
                    and germplasm management.

                    To set priorities for its germplasm management activities, ARS gathers
                    information about the condition of different crops and their related
                    germplasm, drawing on the results of ongoing work on the germplasm
                    program. ARSsupplements its own information with that obtained from
                    sources such as the crop advisory committees, scientists conducting
                    work for ARS, national program staff, advisory committees, and private
                    industry representatives.

                    The results of MS’S various germplasm management activities provide
Where ARS Gathers   the agency with valuable information on the status of germplasm acqui-
Information         sition, preservation, description, and enhancement. ARS conducts the
                    work needed to fulfill its germplasm management objectives through 3-
                    to 5year Current Research Information System (CRIS) projects. For
                    example, research projects are under way to evaluate horticultural and
                    vegetable germplasm for important characteristics and resistance to
                    pests. Each approved project receives funds to accomplish its objective,
                    and scientists report to ARS on each project’s progress. Project objec-
                    tives, status, completion date, and results are also contained in CRIS and
                    are available to scientists.

                    To identify gaps in germplasm collections, ARShas gathered information
                    on the type and amount of germplasm for different crops that is already
                    contained in the NPGS inventory. A method was used to rank 84 crops by
                    dollar value of production and to assess how equitably germplasm
                    accessions were distributed within or among the crops. To determine
                    whether additional exploration or exchange of germplasm is necessary,
                    the method identified the significance of gaps found in collections.

                    For example, the alfalfa germplasm collection contains nearly 2,600
                    accessions from the primary gene pool, 200 from the secondary gene
                    pool, and 1,600 from the tertiary gene poo1.l Only 50 percent of the

                    ‘Gene pools are collections of genes in an interbreeding population. See also the glossary.

                    Page 24         GAO/PEMD-91-5A Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisions
chapter 2
USDA’s Data C&&ion   and Priority-Setting
for Germplaem Management

known species in the secondary gene pool are represented, while 90 per-
cent of the known species in the tertiary gene pool are represented. Yet,
germplasm from the secondary pool is more useful than that from the
tertiary. That is, while species in the secondary gene pool can be crossed
with a particular crop with difficulty, crosses of species in the tertiary
gene pool are usually lethal. In terms of setting priorities, greater effort
should be made to obtain germplasm from the secondary pool. In
October 1989, ARSidentified strawberries, walnuts, and wheat as the
three highest germplasm acquisition priorities, based on this type of

ARStries to determine the extent that U.S. or other gene banks ade-
quately represent the germplasm potentially available for crops and, to
the extent possible, whether a crop’s germplasm is threatened. For
example, ARSconducted a survey of U.S. public and private institutions
that conduct breeding and genetics programs to identify collections that
may be in danger of loss because of the discontinuation of the programs.

Ongoing preservation efforts also provide ARSwith information to help
set germplasm preservation priorities, including ongoing efforts to
establish core collections of germplasm that would contain diversity rep-
resentative of the genus or species preserved. ARSobtains information
from research leaders at the plant introduction stations and clonal
repositories on the status of their preservation efforts. For example,
they provide information on which crops have accessions that need
replenishing, whether new or additional equipment is needed to conduct
preservation and maintenance activities, and whether the greenhouse or
other facility space is adequate.

ARSalso gathers information from its descriptions of germplasm acces-
sions. Description efforts help discern priority needs for additional
acquisitions and to better meet the needs of the germplasm user commu-
nity. The gene banks and clonal repositories enter descriptive informa-
tion about the germplasm accessions maintained in their inventories into
the Germplasm Resources Information Network.lGRIN is used to facilitate
the management of NPGSgermplasm and to provide readily accessible
information to scientists on the location and characteristics of germ-
plasm contained in the collections. ARS’Splant exploration office uses
information from GRINto identify gaps in NPGSgermplasm collections.

The Plant Germplasm Operations Committee (FWC) provides informa-
tion on such topics as site regeneration plans, germination testing, ARS

Page 26        GAO/PEMD9ldA      Improving Plant Germplasm Data foe Management Decisiona
                      chapter 2
                      USDA’s Data Collection and Priorky-Setting
                      for Germplasm Management

                      acquisition policy, and findings from subcommittees, such as one stud-
                      ying the need for plant exploration trips to obtain new samples of germ-
                      plasm. This subcommittee coordinates the day-to-day operational
                      activities, reviews and prioritizes plant exploration proposals submitted
                      by scientists, and conducts other activities relating to the operation of
                      the plant introduction stations and clonal repositories. The PGOC recom-
                      mends acceptable plant exploration proposals to the Germplasm Matrix
                      Team.2 The latter ultimately decides which proposals to fund.

                      ARSalso gathers information from the results of its research projects
                      designed to enhance existing germplasm collections and to develop
                      improved breeding material. The funding provided to projects for
                      enhancing germplasm is based on information received from ARS'S Germ-
                      plasm Matrix Team and from crop advisory committees. For example,
                      AW currently funds a project to genetically enhance cotton germplasm
                      for resistance to insects. From this project, ARS made available to plant
                      breeders eight new cotton germplasm lines that are tolerant to tobacco
                      budworm. As a result of the success of this enhancement project, it
                      could be given priority for continued funding over other, less productive
                      enhancement activities.

                      ARSobtains technical advice from sources outside the agency to carry
Advice From Outside   out its responsibilities. ARSis responsible for the operation of facilities
Sources               supporting NPGS, and with assistance from advisory and technical com-
                      mittees and other groups and individuals, ARS identifies needs and sets
                      priorities among germplasm management activities and crops. ARS
                      obtains general information from groups such as the National Plant
                      Germplasm Committee, and the National Plant Genetic Resources Board,
                      while specific information on crops is obtained from the crop advisory
                      committees. As of January 1990,39 crop advisory committees represent
                      the germplasm user community, serve their crop commodity groups, and
                      provide expert advice to ARS and others on technical matters relating to
                      plant germplasm collection, preservation, enhancement, and effective

                      The crop advisory committees provide reports to AIWon the status of
                      their particular crops. According to an ARSofficial, the committees’ rec-
                      ommendations are considered in establishing germplasm management

                      ‘The Germplasm Matrix Team is chaired by the program leader for plant germplasm. The team
                      makes specific recommendations to the service relative to funding explorations, quarantine problems
                      and procedures, special funding needs, and policy and operational procedures.

                      Page 26         GAO/PEMD=9145A Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisions
Chapter 2
USM’s Data Collection and Priority-Setting
for Germplasm Management

priorities by crop. For example, the crop advisory committee for wal-
nuts (Jwlans) recommended that priority be given to acquisition
because, in its opinion, the current U.S. and world collections of Jwlans
regia (the English or Persian walnut of commercial importance) are
inadequate. The report identified acquisition as a priority to minimize
vulnerability of the species, to provide genetic variation for selection
and breeding, and to provide basic scientific information about this crop
species. The advisory committee for the sweet potato (Iponzoeu bat&~),
in contrast, recommended that priority be given to the description and
evaluation of its crop’s germplasm through biological and molecular
techniques to characterize accessions. The report also noted that the
characterization of the clones in the collection with regard to the reac-
tion of stored roots to storage rot disease also needed immediate

Although ARSrelies on the crop advisory committee reports in setting
priorities, the program leader for germplasm said that the reliance is
situation-dependent and that he would probably rely on the committees
more for evaluation than for enhancement. The information the commit-
tees submit is inconsistent and often incomplete. For example, although
all committees are asked to submit reports addressing the status of their
crops, of the 39 advisory committees, 7 had not submitted a report as of
November 1989, despite the fact that all the committees had been oper-
ating for more than a year.

Further, although ARSprovided general guidelines outlining the duties
and responsibilities of the committees, the committees gather informa-
tion in different ways and report it in varying degrees of completeness
and specificity and in different formats. For example, the committees
are asked to consider the need for fundamental and applied studies and
to make suggestions on promising research approaches and enhance-
ment opportunities. While the Leafy Vegetables Crop Advisory Com-
mittee report did not even address this topic, the’Barley Crop Advisory
Committee reported in some detail that ongoing barley research on mor-
phological, biochemical, and DNA-based markers indicates that satura-
tion of the barley genome with genetic markers is possible in the near

ARSofficials believe they cannot dictate committee work and require-
ments because the committees are voluntary organizations. According to
an ARSofficial, some committees are constrained by factors such as lack

Page 27        GAO/PEMD-91-BA Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisions
Chapter 2
USDA’e Data Collection and Priorlty-Setthg
for Germplasm Management

of administrative support, the chairs’ limited time available for com-
mittee activities, inconsistent membership and attendance, misunder-
standing of the committee mission, infrequent or short meetings, and
lack of remuneration for committee work or travel. For example, the
membership of a committee may not be representative of all the various
crop disciplines (for example, plant pathology, entomology, breeding,
genetics, or taxonomy) or of the federal, state, and private sectors in
which the crop is grown. They often do not meet at set times but, rather,
meet during other crop society meetings. Whereas the citrus committee
meets twice a year for 1 to l-1/2 days, for example, the leafy vegetables
committee meets once a year for 2 hours.

For two of the three crops we reviewed (Prunus persica and sorghum),
the applicable crop advisory committees have obtained and presented
information and priorities in reports to ARS. (As of January 1990, the
committee for the third crop, Brassica, had not submitted its report to
AR%)According to the chairman of the Sorghum Crop Advisory Com-
mittee, he wrote the committee’s report after obtaining comments from
other committee members. Public and private sector sorghum germ-
plasm users provided information through informal interactions. The
sorghum report submitted to ARS recommended that priority be given to
sorghum acquisition and preservation. For example, it recommended
that priority be given to establishing a quarantined field introduction
site, assembling unique germplasm from individual collections, and
making descriptive information available to all scientists.

Although the Prunus Crop Advisory Committee also made recommenda-
tions, it did not address specific priorities among the four management
activities. It did, however, cite several areas that need attention,
including eliminating obstacles to the introduction of plant material into
the United States, identifying gaps in the U.S. germplasm collections,
and acquiring wild germplasm before it is lost from native forests being
destroyed in Europe, China, and elsewhere in Asia.

The crop advisory committees also provide ARS with evaluation
descriptors for the traits they believe are the most important for their
crops. Once the committees develop and provide these descriptor lists,
ARS can decide whether to begin funding CRIS projects to carry out the
evaluations, For example, ARSis evaluating various small fruit germ-
plasm for drought resistance and has identified traits that may con-
tribute to better fruit “skin” appearance. Once such traits have been
identified and described, ARS could identify additional germplasm acqui-
sition needs or determine that more description work was needed.

Page 28         GAO/PEMD=91-BA Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decieiona

               Chapter 2
               USDA’s Data Ckhction and Priority-Setting
               for Germplasm Mnnngement

               ARSand researchers elsewhere have conducted surveys to gather infor-
               mation from scientists using or managing germplasm. Though these
               surveys had narrow focuses, useful information has been obtained from
               them. For example, ARSmailed questionnaires to about 200 plant
               breeders in the United States to identify germplasm collections in danger
               of being lost as a result of the retirement of the scientist responsible for
               the collection.

               Outside ARS, researchers at Cambridge University conducted a survey of
               279 European (and 10 U.S.) plant breeders and gene bank curators for
               two crops: barley and All&m (onions).3 The aim of this survey was to
               obtain additional information on the use and availability of material in
               germplasm collections in relation to specific breeding objectives and to
               relate needs to the availability of data on samples. The survey con-
               cluded that the evolution of breeding information needs cannot be pre-
               dicted. The survey also found that to increase the use of germplasm
               from collections, emphasis should first be placed on satisfying the most
               simple and basic needs of breeders. While these and similar efforts
               demonstrate that germplasm users can provide information useful for
               managing genetic resources, the survey questions were focused on a few
               crops and questions within only one area of germplasm management.

               Agricultural Research Service officials determine germplasm priorities
How ARS Sets   on the basis of the information obtained from their own activities, the
Priorities     activities of scientists conducting work for AH, the crop advisory com-
               mittees, other advisory committees, and private industry contacts. ARS
               officials judgmentally determine the relative priority of activities within
               acquisition, preservation, description, and enhancement and make
               funding decisions accordingly. Once potential priorities are developed,
               the Germplasm Matrix Team recommends activities to fund, or refund,
               through CRIS projects.

               According to an ARS official, they try to fund at least the most important
               need of each crop advisory committee. However, they cannot fund all
               the activities that the advisory committees recommend. They must make
               difficult decisions about which activities to fund for the different crops.
               It is here that the need for uniform information from a generalizable

               3John P. Peeters and Nick W. Galwey, “Germplasm Collections and Breeding Needs in Europe,” -Jb-
               nomic Botany, 42:4 (1988), 603-21.

               Page 29         GAO/PEMD~91~5A Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decbione
USM’r Data Collection and priority&etting
for QermpInem Management

sample of respondents becomes most clear. ARS currently bases its pri-
orities on an uncertain sample and on noncomparable, inconsistent
inputs across its various sources. This complicates resource allocation.

Further, since ARSdoes not gather comparable data across crops, deci-
sions may be affected less by the data than by the judgments of those
who provide input to ARS. ARS needs to solicit uniform data from a large
or representative number of scientists, curators, and breeders world-
wide who work with a particular crop and use germplasm collections.

As already noted, ARS determines its priorities from the opinions of a
core group of scientists, germplasm curators, and breeders inside and
outside the agency’s purview. Other factors influencing those priorities
are budgetary constraints and economic or political pressures.

According to the ARS national program leader for germplasm, ARS’S
budgeting process related to CRIS projects is inflexible and thus con-
strains priority-setting. ARS officials stated that most CRIS projects are
rewritten to update project information and are then refunded. In fact,
ARSofficials were unable to identify a germplasm CRIS project that was
terminated within the last year (that is, a project not rewritten and
refunded) or a project scheduled for termination in the near future.
However, the national program leader for germplasm was able to iden-
tify one CRIS project in the plant breeding category that was terminated,
with the funding transferred to a project in the germplasm category.
Roth projects were related to research in St. Croix, one of the Virgin

The ongoing nature of the CRIS projects limits ARs’S flexibility to shift
funds to other crops or germplasm management activities. The official
noted above also stated, for example, that some aspects of the Russian
wheat aphid (Diuruphis noxia) problem could have been addressed
sooner than it was if ARS’S headquarters had discretionary funds for
emergencies. The Russian wheat aphid has done more than $200 million
in damage since it infested U.S. wheat fields in 1986. While biological
control of the aphid through natural enemies may take 6 years to be
effective, breeding resistant strains of wheat will probably take even

Other difficulties facing ARSin setting effective program priorities,
according to agency officials, are economic and political pressures. For

4Billy Goodman, “From Russia With Love,” -8
                                         Discover May 1990, pp. 63-66.

Page 30        GAO/PEMD-91-SA Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decbione
USM’e Data CMlection and PriorWEietting
for Germplasm Maxmgement

example, major high-value commodity crops tend to receive higher pri-
ority for funding breeding and research projects to preserve and use the
germplasm that supports those crops. Although it is appropriate for ARS
to address concerns about high-value crops, we believe it must also
ensure that crops of lesser value whose future importance has not been
determined are adequately preserved and evaluated.

According to ARSofficials, lobbyists and politicians also pressure ARS to
maintain funding levels for projects related to certain commodities (for
example, corn, tobacco, and wheat) even when the approved projects
have been completed. Many politicians, according to ARSofficials,
strongly resist efforts to shift funding from their congressional districts
to others-and therefore from one commodity to another.

With more uniform and comparable information about existing genetic
resources, and the risk of loss of genetic diversity, ARSwould be better
able to document and defend its decisions to allocate funding to the
activities or crops it determines are priorities and to terminate some CRIS
projects and fend off political pressures. Better data collection and docu-
mentation would assist ARS in setting priorities and support allocation of
resources to crops with the greatest needs.

Page 31       GAO/PEMD-91-6A Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisions
Chapter 3

A F’rameworkto Guide Data Collection

               This chapter addresses our second evaluation question: What are the
               conditions and activities that affect a crop’s or a species’ long-term sur-
               vival? As discussed in the previous chapters, there exists a need for uni-
               form and comparable data on which to base decisions about germplasm
               management priorities. In order to design a survey instrument that
               would obtain such information, we first developed a framework to pro-
               vide criteria for the data collection. The framework components are the
               conditions and activities that affect the survival of crops and germ-
               plasm, a sound basis for setting priorities among the many types of
               genetic resources and management tasks. We developed the framework
               through a synthesis of information obtained from about 60 sources,
               listed in the bibliography in volume 2.

               The literature describing the various aspects of the conservation and
               use of plant genetic resources clearly shows that the complex interac-
               tion of conditions and activities occurring worldwide affects the amount
               and quality of genetic resources available now and in the future for crop
               development and improvement.

               The literature generally describes crop vulnerability in terms of poten-
               tial widespread crop losses from a narrow genetic base and uniform
               varieties. Further, the ability to widen a crop’s base or to develop new
               varieties to replace crops susceptible to stresses is dependent on the
               availability of appropriate and diverse germplasm, its ability to be used
               by plant breeders, and the level of research and breeding emphasis
               given to a crop. The amount, availability, and condition of the stored
               germplasm, in turn, depend on the knowledge of sites where important
               germplasm is endangered and the quality of ex situ germplasm acquisi-
               tion and preservation and in situ conservation efforts that preserve
               native habitats.’

               We included in our framework information not only on survival of crops
               but also on the survival of the genetic resources supporting agricultural
               production. We sought the advice of plant scientists, including members
               of an expert advisory panel, to develop the framework into 31 condi-
               tions and activities that can affect a crop’s or a species’ long-term sur-
               vival. These framework components are grouped under the seven major
               categories shown here and in appendix I in volume 2.

              ‘Ex situ preservation pertains to the study or maintenance of collections of plants or animals away
              from the place where they naturally occur. In situ pertains to organisms within their native

               Page 82        GAO/PEMD-91-M Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisions
    Chapter 8
    A Framework to Gnide Data Cokction

l Amounts and types of germplasm that are acquired by germplasm man-
  agers and other crop scientists.
l Locations in which plant species are endangered by natural or societal
l Condition (for example, viability or accessibility) of germplasm stored in
  gene banks or other important collections.
l Amount, type, and availability of evaluation data and other information
  that describes germplasm held in collections.
. Emphases on plant breeding and research programs with respect to
  objectives, rationale, and use of germplasm.
. Susceptibility and known resistance to disease, insects, pests, and other
  environmental stresses.
l The size of the genetic base of commercial crops and the range of genetic
  and species diversity.

    The complete framework organizes the 31 components within these cat-
    egories and includes under each component suggested analyses of data
    to be obtained through survey responses.

    Not surprisingly, the conditions and activities represented by these cate-
    gories are associated with activities that ARSperforms in carrying out its
    germplasm management responsibilities, as shown in figure 3.1 on the
    next page.

    If natural and societal conditions for individual crops and germplasm
    are viewed as indicators of the risk of loss of genetic resources, then
    management activities under ARS’S control can be viewed as potentially
    affecting or compensating for the conditions that exist for a crop at a
    particular time. That is, ARSneeds to maintain sufficient amounts of
    germplasm by acquiring new and endangered germplasm but also needs
    to improve the condition of existing collections and evaluate and other-
    wise describe germplasm to increase its usefulness to plant breeders.
    Although such needs-arising from existing conditions or from past or
    current activities-may    vary relative to one another, we believe it is
    clear that ARSneeds to sustain a minimum level of effort in each area of
    germplasm management to maintain the diversity of the stored
    resources and to ensure that levels of stored germplasm are adequate
    for future needs.

    Decisions to support varying levels of effort among activities, and
    among the many types of genetic resources maintained, require many
    trade-offs. Our framework provides a way to organize data to analyze

    Page 38       GAO/PEMD-Bl-5A Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management De&on8
                                            chapter 3
                                            A Framework to Guide Data Collection

Figure 3.1: USDA’s Germplarm Management Activltlerr Related to GAO’s Framework

                                                 Department of Agriculture Management Activities


      I                       II           Ill                        IV                       V            VI              VII
   Amount                 Endangered   Condition                 Description                  in          Crop             Size
     Of                      Sites        Of                         of                    Breeding   Susceptibility        Of
                              of         Stored                    Stored                    and            to            Genetic
                            Origin     Germplasm                 Germplasm                Research      Stresses           Base

                                                           GAO Framework Categories

                                            the availability and reliability of information among crops as input
                                            for these decisions. Data describing the framework components for a
                                            crop can indicate trends in germplasm acquisition, preservation, and
                                            use and can identify gaps in information or types of information that
                                            are difficult or impossible to obtain. Collecting and analyzing such
                                            information is important to ARS in assessing the vulnerability of a
                                            particular crop, especially in comparing the potential risk of vulner-
                                            ability among and between crops. In addition, the framework compo-
                                            nents contain items that the crop advisory committees are asked to
                                            include in their vulnerability reports. Data collection based on the
                                            framework components could supplement this information uniformly
                                            across crops.

                                           Page 34              GAO/PEMD-91.BA Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisions
Chapter 4

Feasibility of Obtaining Uniform Data About
Scientists’GermplasmUse and Needs

                    During our examination of the data ARSnow collects and how it collects
                    them, we discovered that the information being obtained on the status of
                    the various crops and their associated genetic resources is inadequate
                    for setting germplasm management priorities. To answer our third,
                    fourth, and fifth evaluation questions-How      can ARSobtain the best
                    possible data on scientists’ plant germplasm use and needs? How can ARS
                    assess the effects of biotechnology applications on the use of plant
                    germplasm? How can ARSobtain scientists’ opinions on the relative
                    importance of activities pertaining to preservation and use of plant
                    germplasm?- we used our framework to do two things. First, we devel-
                    oped a survey instrument capable of collecting the needed data from
                    users of the germplasm. Second, by applying the instrument to a judg-
                    mental sample of scientists involved in germplasm work, we determined
                    whether germplasm scientists could and would provide the types of
                    information ARSneeds.

                    By applying our survey instrument and framework, we gathered infor-
Collecting and      mation on acquisition, preservation, description, enhancement, breeding,
Analyzing Uniform   and research (including biotechnology) activities from a judgmental
Data                sample of 16 different types of scientists who work with the three
                    selected crops (see appendix II). Following are just some examples of
                    questionnaire responses and analyses within the germplasm activities of
                    acquisition, preservation, description, and breeding and research for
                    Btrxs&xz, sorghum, and Prunus perstia.

Acquisition         Our first two sets of examples demonstrate information on the acquisi-
                    tion needs of scientists working with the three selected crops. (See
                    volume 2, appendix I, category I, Amount of Stored Germplasm.) Survey
                    respondents identified the locations (such as countries, states, or prov-
                    inces) from which they or others had collected germplasm through plant
                    exploration trips in the past 3 years; the locations from which they or
                    others plan to collect germplasm in the next 3 years; and the locations
                    from which they believe germplasm should be collected (whether by
                    them or someone else). Table 4.1 shows respondents’ past and planned
                    acquisition destinations and the world locations from which they believe
                    germplasm should be collected.

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                                                                   1 “d”,
                                                    _, : ;,i .d.         ‘,
                                            Chapter 4
                                            Fedbfflty  of ObtaInIn@ UnKorm Data About
                                            Bdentimts’ Germphum Urre and Needs

Table 4.1: Locatlons of Completed, Planned, and Racommended Accluisltion Locations
                                                                                                        In which acquisition is
Qenus or rpecler               Vlslted                               To which trips are planned         recommended
Brassica                                                                                                Africa (e.p east and north
                                                                                                        regions, thropia)
                               Asia (India, Turkey, U.S.S.R.)        Asia (Bhutan, East India, Nepal)   Asia (e. ., Afghanistan,
                                                                                                        Bangla 8 esh, China, India, Iran,
                                                                                                        Japan, Korea, Middle East,
                                                                                                        Pakistan, Taiwan, Turkey)
                               Europe (Holland, Portugal,                                               Europe (e.g., Coast of England,
                               Sweden)                                                                  Crete, Greece, Greek and Turkish
                                                                                                        isles, Italy, Mediterranean area,
                                                                                                        Portugal, Spain)
                               North America (Canada; United         North America (United States:      North and Central America
                               States: Montana, New York,            Montana)
Prunus persica                 Africa (Morocco)
                               Asia (China, Japan, Pakistan,         Asia (U.S.S.R.)                    Asia (Bhutan, Burma, China-
                               Taiwan, Thailand)                                                        Qinghai, Sichuan, and Yunnan-
                                                                                                        India, Iran, Japan, Nepal,
                                                                                                        Pakistan, Syria, Tibet, Turkey,
                               Europe (France, Italy)                Europe (France)                    Europe (e.g., eastern Europe,
                                                                                                        Italy, Spain)
                               North and Central America             North America (e.g., United        North and Central America
                               (Mexico; United States: California,   States: North Carolina             (United States, Mexico)
                               Georgia, Texas, Washington)
                               Oceania (New Zealand)                 Oceania (New Zealand)
                               South America (Brazil, Venezuela)     South America (Argentina)          South America
Sorghum                        Africa e.g., Botswana, Burkina        Africa (e.g., Chad, Ivory Coast,   Africa (e.g., African Highlands,
                               Faso, L ameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia,     Kenya, Mauritania, Mali, Ni er,    Botswana, Burkina Faso,
                               Kenya, Lesotho, Mali, Morocco,        Suy;;, Tanzania, Uganda, R est     Ethiopia, Kenya! Mali,
                               Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, South                                           Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria,
                               Africa, Sudan, Swaziland,                                                Senegal, Sudan, Tanzania,
                               Tanzania, West Africa, Zambia,                                           Uganda, West Africa, Zaire,
                               Zimbabwe)                                                                Zambia)
                               Asia (Northeastern China, China,      Asia (People’s Democratic          Asia (e.g., Burma, China, Far East
                               India, Yemen Arab Republic)           Republic of Yemen)                 Highlands, India, Iran, Iraq, Middle
                                                                                                        East, Northern Syria, Pakistan,
                                                                                                        Philippines, Saudi Arabia,
                               Australia                                                                Australia
                               Central America (Guatemala,           Central America (Honduras)         Central America (El Salvador,
                               Honduras)                                                                Guatemala, Honduras)
                               South America (e.g., Argentina,                                          South America (Venezuela)

                                            The table thus allows the development of information in several areas,
                                            among them the knowledge of gaps in current acquisitions. These data
                                            are given in the columns showing recommended acquisition locations in

                                            Page 86         GAO/PEMD-SldA      Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management      Dedsione
Fe4bSllt.y of Obtaining Utiorm Data About
Scientbts’ Germpl~m Uee and Needn

which collection has not yet been accomplished or is planned-for
example, sorghum acquisition in Mozambique, Senegal, and Zaire.

The respondents also indicated the sources of funding for their planned
plant exploration trips. For example, of the four Prunus persicu respon-
dents who plan to acquire germplasm through their own trips or
through trips by people they know, one reported he would receive funds
from private industry to finance four different plant exploration trips.
Another reported that he would receive funding for two trips from ARS
exploration grants, and another reported that he would receive funding
for six trips from a university. The fourth respondent had not yet
obtained funding for an exploration trip.

Finally, the domestic respondents reported the importance of various
factors influencing their decisions to collect germplasm. For example,
the factor most influencing Bmssica and sorghum respondents’ deci-
sions was commercial interest in the crop. The Prune persica respon-
dents’ decisions whether to acquire particular genetic resources were
most influenced by U.S. regulations, practices, or changes in the policy
that inhibit the importation of genetic resources, while insufficient
diversity stored in collections worldwide was the least influencing

Taken as a whole, information such as that presented for the three ques-
tions above could supplement ARS'S existing acquisition plan informa-
tion, as discussed earlier, with more uniform acquisition data from
scientists working with many different crops. ARS would, for instance,
have more complete information on scientists’ completed and planned
acquisition trips and on locations from which germplasm still needs to
be collected. ARS could then better assess what germplasm it needs to
collect and coordinate its own trip destinations with those of other indi-
viduals or organizations to avoid duplicative efforts whenever possible
and to optimize its use of its own funds for acquisition.

A second set of examples deals with knowledge of scientists’ own germ-
plasm accessions. Table 4.2 shows 32 respondents reporting that they
probably possessed unique germplasm in their collections that they
believed would be useful to AN. This is important because with this
information, ARScould identify germplasm it might obtain from the
scientists rather than through more-expensive exploration trips.
Without this information, ARSmight fail to fill gaps in a collection,
thereby limiting the usefulness of the collection to breeders and

Page 37       GAO/PEMD-914A Improvhq        Plant Germplasm Data for Management Dehlonr

                                      Chapter 4
                                      FeaaibllIty of Obtaining Uniform Data About
                                      Scientists’ Germplasm Use knd Needs

Table 4.2: Reapondenta With Unique
Acceerionr and Whom Acceesionr                                               Have unique         Offered     Had accessions
Were Offered and Accepted by ARS in   Qenus or species                        accessions      accessions           accepted
the Last 6 Year8                      Brassica                                         7                1                  0
                                      Prunus persica                                   9                0                  0
                                      Sorghum                                         16                4                  4
                                      Total                                           32                5                 -7

                                      ARSis currently gathering some information on existing collections from
                                      selected organizations (for example, land grant colleges and companies
                                      with breeding programs) within the National Plant Germplasm System.
                                      Through a survey of these organizations, ARS is attempting to identify
                                      unique germplasm accessions that may be endangered (for example,
                                      those that may be discarded upon discontinuance of the breeding or
                                      research program for which they were used).

                                      By applying our questionnaire to a large number of scientists using
                                      germplasm, ARS could supplement or replace current efforts to obtain
                                      information on unique accessions. For example, it could gather accession
                                      data from a much wider range of germplasm users-from private,
                                      public, other domestic, and foreign companies and individuals-and
                                      could identify those who have unique accessions that may be valuable
                                      additions to NPGS collections. Once it identifies such accessions, ARS can
                                      decide whether to acquire the germplasm and add it to an existing

                                      Besides the types of information in the previous examples, opinions
                                      could be obtained about the number of species in each gene pool of
                                      genetic resources. For example, questions 30 and 31 on the survey can
                                      provide data on respondents’ degree of satisfaction with the quality of
                                      information they have obtained from various sources about the amount
                                      of germplasm (1) existing in nature, (2) existing in gene banks, and (3)
                                      declining for different types. Question 32 can provide information on
                                      scientists’ opinions on the quality of the sources of information and can
                                      identify the types of germplasm scientists know the most about. With
                                      uniform data on these subjects, ARScould better identify gaps in infor-
                                      mation about existing genetic resources. In addition, ARS could better
                                      assess the information sources with which respondents have been most
                                      satisfied and, hence, the best sources of information. Such data would
                                      then assist ARS in setting priorities for developing or distributing infor-
                                      mation about the amounts of different types of germplasm existing in
                                      nature or in gene banks.

                                      Page 39          GAO/PEMD-914A Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisiona
               Chapter 4
               Feasibility of Obrnining Uniform Data About
               fkientiats’ Germplamm Use and Needs

               ARScould also obtain uniform information about the existing diversity
               represented in gene banks. For example, question 36 on the survey can
               provide scientists’ estimates of the percentage of the total existing
               diversity for their crops that is represented in gene banks, for the six
               different types of germplasm. With this information, Am could better
               assess the consistency of existing information and the need to collect
               different types of germplasm.

Preservation   Our next two examples address the preservation activities of scientists
               working with the three crops. (See volume 2, appendix I, category III,
               Condition of Stored Germplasm.) The first example deals with the (1)
               composition of germplasm collections, (2) types of preservation condi-
               tions that scientists regulate, and (3) maintenance activities that scien-
               tists typically perform.

               The respondents reported the various forms of germplasm (such as seed
               or clonal materials) stored in their collections. For example, the 26 sor-
               ghum respondents who maintained germplasm collections stored virtu-
               ally 100 percent of their collections as seed; the 11 Bras&u respondents
               stored 91.3 percent as seed, 7.7 percent as clones, and less than 1 per-
               cent as in vitro cultures; the 11 Prune persicu respondents stored
               about 1 percent as seed, 89 percent as clones, 9.6 percent as in vitro
               culture, 1.4 percent as pollen, and less than 1 percent as DNA.

               Respondents also provided information on the preservation conditions
               they typically control. Among these are temperature, humidity, disease
               and pest control, packaging materials, and storage duration. Figure 4.1,
               for example, shows the types of preservation conditions that the 26 sor-
               ghum respondents usually regulate.

               Respondents also engage in various maintenance activities. Among these
               are germinating seed prior to placing it in storage, testing germplasm for
               viruses, and growing out seed to replenish collections. Figure 4.2 shows
               the maintenance activities that the 19 sorghum respondents usually per-
               form to preserve the germplasm in their collections.

               Page 39        GAO/PEMD-91-BA Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management   Decisions
                                    Chapter 4
                                    Fedblllty of Obtaining Uniform Data About
                                    Sdentita’ Germplasm Uoe and Needs

Flgun 4.1: Preowvatlon Conditions
Regulated or Recorded by Sorghum
Rerpondenta                         80   Numkr

                                    Data on the preservation status of individual scientists’ collections could
                                    supplement ARS’S knowledge about the general condition of germplasm
                                    held by breeders and other plant scientists for various crops. AF@offi-
                                    cials could compare differences in the preservation and maintenance
                                    procedures and thereby gain indications of the overall viability of collec-
                                    tions. Information about the conditions of individual collections could
                                    also help ARSofficials assess whether they would want to obtain germ-
                                    plasm from these individual collections.

                                    Our second preservation example deals with the preservation standards
                                    that scientists use. For example, 7 of 11 Brassica respondents reported
                                    that they usually conducted one or more maintenance activities (for
                                    example, germinating seed prior to placing it in storage or growing out
                                    seed to replenish collections) on the germplasm in their collections. Of
                                    these 7 respondents, 6 applied personal standards, 2 applied institution
                                    or industry standards, and 1 applied International Board for Plant
                                    Genetic Resources standards as well. None of the respondents reported
                                    using standards established by the National Seed Storage Laboratory.

                                    Page 40         GAO/PEMD-Bl-ISA Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisiona
                                     FwibiUty of Ohlning Uniform Data About
                                     Scientlata’ Gennplanm Use and Needa

Flgure 4.2: Mrlntenance Actlvltle#
Performed by Sorghum Respondent8
                                     SO     Number


                                                     -l-,-h                          ,

                                     22 h
                                                     L         L       A       L

                                     Knowledge of the extent to which preservation standards are
                                     applied to germplasm collections, depending on length of time stored
                                     and which standards are most used, could help ARS assess both the
                                     likely condition of useful germplasm held in the collections and the
                                     need for the dissemination of information about the importance of
                                     adequate germplasm preservation.

Description                          Our next two examples address the description needs of scientists
                                     working with the three selected crops, With regard to different types of
                                     descriptive information about germplasm accessions, the survey respon-
                                     dents reported the importance and accessibility of various types of
                                     descriptive information to their work. (See volume 2, appendix I, cate-
                                     gory IV, Status of Description of Stored Germplasm.) Figure 4.3 illus-
                                     trates the importance of some of these types of information. For
                                     example, known genetic traits and scientific name were important to
                                     more of our sorghum respondents working at universities, and common
                                     name was important to fewer scientists at private companies compared
                                     to other types of descriptive information.

                                     Page 41              GAO/PEMD-91.IA Improving Plant Gexmplasm Data for Management   Decbio~
                                            Chapter 4
                                            Feasibility of Obtaining Uniform Data About
                                            Bclentitn Germplnam Usa and Needs

                                                               ~-..        __~ --   -~   _~~
  Figure 4.3: Descrlptlve Information of &eat or Very Great Importance to Sorghum Respondents
  10   Numkr

Typa of Organiullon

       I        PublicAgenq
                P&ate Company

                                            Note: A total of two scientists from public agencies and nine scientists each from universities and
                                            private companies responded to this question. All were from U.S. organizations.

                                            Respondents also provided information about the accessibility of these
                                            types of information. Overall, 24 of 25 sorghum respondents, for
                                            example, said that information about known genetic traits (resistance to
                                            disease or environmental stresses; mineral tolerance; yield and adapta-
                                            tion) was of great or very great importance to their work. However, 9 of
                                            these respondents also said such information was hard or impossible to
                                            obtain. ARS could use such information to assess priorities for evaluating
                                            or otherwise describing accessions in order to respond to the needs of
                                            germplasm users.

                                            Page 42          GAO/PEMD-91.5A Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management D&sions
                        Chapter 4
                        Feasibility of Obtaining Uniform Data About
                        Scientist& Germplasm Use and Needs

                        In addition, ARS could identify crops for which scientists do not request
                        germplasm from NPGS collections because of past difficulties in obtaining
                        reliable information. For example, one Brus~a scientist who has
                        reportedly found the collections to be unreliably catalogued and lacking
                        in descriptive information has avoided using them. Instead, the scientist
                        tries to obtain germplasm from private companies and scientists who
                        work with Brassica. Thus, AP&could use the survey data to assess the
                        effectiveness of GRIN.

                        In our second example, scientists reported the types of descriptive infor-
                        mation (in addition to those shown in figure 4.3) that, if available,
                        would assist their work. For instance, of the five Prunus persica respon-
                        dents who answered this question, one said that information about the
                        adaptability of cultivars to various geographic locations would be useful
                        if it were available. Another reported that information about the best
                        conditions for long-term storage, as well as bloom and fruiting informa-
                        tion, would be useful, and another reported that information about
                        forming fertile hybrids between Prune persica and other species would
                        be of assistance. Two Prunus per&a respondents stated that more
                        information about known genetic traits and about diversity levels would
                        be helpful.

                        These and other types of descriptive information provided by periodi-
                        cally implementing a broad survey could supplement ARSSknowledge
                        about the information that is most important to scientists’ work, It could
                        also help ARS identify the types of information that are lacking or diffi-
                        cult to obtain for different crops. Such knowledge could then help ARS
                        set evaluation priorities within and among different crops, as well as
                        help discern the need to improve the accessibility of certain types of
                        information to scientists,

Breeding and Research   Our next three examples address the breeding (including enhancement)
                        and research needs of scientists working with the three selected crops.
                        The first example deals with breeding and research objectives the scien-
                        tists have most emphasized during the last 3 years or expect to empha-
                        size during the next 3 years. (See volume 2, appendix I, component V.)
                        Table 4.3, for example, shows six breeding and research objectives that
                        are among the top four objectives for at least one of the three selected
                        crops, The objective ranked first by the majority of the 13 Bm.s~ca and
                        the 13 Prunus pew&a respondents was enhancing traits for commercial
                        use. For most of the 26 sorghum respondents, the most important objec-
                        tive was increasing crop yields.

                        Page 43       GAO/PEMD-9lQA      Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisions
                                         Chapter 4
                                         Feuibility of ObtdnIng Udform Data About
                                         Sdentitd Germplasm Use and Needa

Table 4.9: Aoepondentr’ Top Four
WedIng   end Roeerrch ObjootiveaB                                                                               Prunus
                                         Objective                                              Brassica       persica      Sorghum
                                         Enhancing traits for commercial use                             1st       1st            2nd
                                         Increasing crop yields                                                                    1st
                                         Identifying traits for greater adaptation to
                                         environmental stresses                                                    2nd            3rd
                                         Improving erratic manipulation
                                         (biotechno Bogy) techniques for breeding and
                                         research                                                       2nd        4th
                                         Enhancing traits to facilitate the production of
                                         crabs (e.n., besticide tolerance)                               3rd                      4th
                                         Identifying traits for resistance to known
                                         patho ens, pests, and so on that have not yet
                                         been 8ound in genetic resources for this
                                         genus                                                           4th       3rd
                                         Quring the last 3 and next 3 years

                                         By gathering uniform information about the types of breeding and
                                         research objectives scientists are emphasizing or expect to emphasize in
                                         the future, ARS could supplement its knowledge of the breeding and
                                         research areas that are already being addressed by different respondent
                                         groups, such as public versus private sector breeders, Such information
                                         could help ARS identify areas in which emphasis is lacking or assess its
                                         need to conduct different types of enhancement, breeding, and research
                                         work for different crops.

                                         In our second example, the respondents estimated the level of breeding
                                         and research effort associated with their crops as measured by (1) the
                                         estimated total level of breeding and research funding in the last 3
                                         years, (2) the estimated number of full-time-equivalent scientists, and
                                         (3) the sources of breeding and research funding. For example, table 4.4
                                         illustrates that information can be obtained to measure levels of staff
                                         and funding effort invested in breeding and research programs for the
                                         various crops,

Teble 4.4: Pull-Tlmo-Cquivalont SW and
Funding Levdo for Breeding and                                        Number of             Staff                   Funding
Rwoarch                                  Genus or species           respondents     Total     Average               Total Average
                                         Brassica                              12     59           4.9         $8,833.000   $149.712
                                         Prunus persica                        12     41           3.4          1,508,OOO      36,780
                                         Sorghum                               25    251          10.0         12,463,OOO      49,653

                                         In addition, the respondents reported the sources from which they
                                         received most of their funding. Figure 4.4, for example, shows that

                                         Page 44          GAO/PEMD-91.6A Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Managemat       Decidona

                                        chapter   4
                                        Fsuibillty of Obtaintng Utionn Data About
                                        Sdentlrtn’ Germplaam Ule and Needa

                                        almost two thirds of the funding for breeding and research for the 12
                                        Prune persica respondents was from the U.S. federal government.

    Figure 4.4: Percentage of Funding
    R&ived From Vari& Source8 by
    Prunur pm&a Rebpondentr                                                             State Sources
                                                                                        Private Industry

                                                                                    -   U.S. Federal Government

                                        The amount and sources of funding and full-time-equivalent scientists
                                        could help ARS identify gaps (or over-investment) in effort among crops,
                                        thus helping to more appropriately target limited funds to areas needing
                                        attention. Using this information, ARS should be better able to set priori-
                                        ties in a manner that responds to scientists’ needs for crop improvement
                                        and research.

                                        Page 46       GAO/PEMD91-IA    Improving Plant Gennplasm Data for Management De&done

                                         Chapter 4
                                         FeamibiUty of Obtdning     Uniform   Data About
                                         SeIent&t# GermpleemUse and Neede

Table 4,s: Rrslrtance Traits for Which
Rsapondentr Are Searchlng and Trait8     Qenuo or epecies              Currently being searched for            Needing greater emphasis
That Need Greater Empharlb               Bras&a                        Alternaria, aphids, Blackleg,      Alternaria, Bacterial soft8
                                                                          Club root, Diamondback             Blackleg, disease (any),
                                                                          moth, Downy mildew, early          Downy mildew, fungal and
                                                                          maturity, frost tolerance,         foliage diseasesa
                                                                          Fusarium oxysporum, heat           hypersensitivity,a insects and
                                                                          tolerance, insects,                pests, Mycosphaerella
                                                                          Leptosphaeria,                     Sclerotinia, stress tolerance,
                                                                          Mycosphaerella, saline and         Xanthomonas
                                                                          alkaline soil, Sclerotinia,
                                                                          Thrips, white rust and mold,
                                                                          Xanthomonas campestris
                                                                          (black rot)
                                         Prunus per&a                  Bacterial leaf spot, brown rot,    Bacterial leaf spot, brown rot,
                                                                          calcareous soil, cankers, cold     cold hardiness, droughta
                                                                          resistance, Collar rot, Crown      fungus, insects and pests,
                                                                          gall, cytospora cancer, early      Nematodes, peach scab,
                                                                          and late maturity, late bloom-     Phytophthora,a scale,a
                                                                          freeze avoidance, leaf curl,       viruses, winter injury
                                                                          Nematodes, oriental fruit
                                                                          moth, peach dwarf, peach
                                                                          scab, peach tree borers,
                                                                          Prunus ring spot, slow
                                                                          softening, tomato ring spot,
                                                                           Valsa cancer, winter
                                         Sorghum                       Acid soil, aluminum and            Acid soil; aphids; biotic stressa
                                                                          manganese toxicity,                chinch bugs; cold tolerance;a
                                                                          Anthracnose, aphids, Banded        Downy mildew; drought and
                                                                          leaf blight, Banks spider mite,    moisture; Dwarf maize
                                                                          chinch bug, Downy mildew,          mosaic; heat, nutrients, and
                                                                          drought or moisture,               water: insects: Ergot;a grain
                                                                          Greenbug, head or grain            mold; Greenbug; Headbug;a
                                                                          molds and smu,t,,heat              Long smut; mites; Shootfly;
                                                                          tolerance, herbrcrdes, host-       sorghum midge; small seed
                                                                          pathogen interaction,              malady;a stalk roha viruses;
                                                                          isozymes, leaf diseases, Long      water logginga
                                                                          smut,. mineral stress, mites,
                                                                          mosarc virus, salt tolerance,
                                                                          seedlin diseases, Sheath
                                                                          blight, 8 hootfly, sorghum
                                                                          midge, Stem borer, Striga,
                                                                          sugarcane mosaic virus,
                                                                          tropical adaptation, viruses,
                                         ‘Respondents are not currently searching for this trait but believe it warrants greater emphasis.

                                         Our third example deals with (1) the resistance traits for which scien-
                                         tists are searching, (2) traits they believe should receive greater
                                         research emphasis, and (3) whether they believe the descriptors listed
                                         by major organizations include traits that are of high priority. For
                                         example, table 4.5 shows the specific resistance traits for which respon-
                                         dents working with the selected crops are currently searching, as well as
                                         the traits that they believe need greater emphasis as research priorities.

                                         Page 46          GAO/PEMD-Bl-QA       Improving    Plant Germplasm     Data for Management      Decisions
          Chapter 4
          Feariwity of Obtaining Uniform Data About
          Sdentiete’ Germplasm Use and Needa

          The survey respondents for the selected crops also reported the extent
          to which they believed descriptors listed by major organizations include
          those that should be research priorities. For example, all 6 of the Brus-
          &a scientists, 16 of the 21 sorghum scientists, and 9 of the 11 Prunus
          persica scientists who responded to the question believed that the resis-
          tance descriptors recommended by major advisory organizations include
          the traits that should be research priorities.’

          This information can clearly identify the extent to which important
          traits are receiving little or no research emphasis. In addition, the infor-
          mation could help ARSofficials or major advisory organizations compare
          the resistance descriptors they recommend with those that scientists
          working with the germplasm believe are most important. Such informa-
          tion would help identify resistance traits for which more emphasis is
          needed and thereby help set priorities and allocate resources.

          Surveying a sample of germplasm users for three very different crops,
Summary   we have demonstrated that it is feasible to collect uniform, comparable
          information on germplasm acquisition, preservation, description,
          breeding, enhancement, and research from a wide variety of scientists
          who work with germplasm. This method, implemented periodically,
          would allow AI@ to compare germplasm users’ needs and opinions, as
          well as to identify trends in the use of germplasm and information gaps
          among the various crops. Such information, currently lacking, is critical
          to ARS officials’ function of setting priorities across germplasm manage-
          ment activities within and across crops.

          ‘Respondents answered in the moderate to very-great-extent categories.

          Page 47         GAO/PEMD-91.IA Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Deciaiotw
Chapter 5

        g the Effects of Biotechnolo~ on
Determinin                                                                                             ’

                         The term biotechnology includes many ideas and advanced methods,
                         derived from molecular and cell biology, that use biological systems to
                       * produce products. Germplasm and, in particular, the adequate conserva-
                         tion of genes are the essential resource for applying biotechnology tech-
                         niques to plants. Evaluation question $-How can ARSassess the effects
                         of biotechnology applications on the use of plant germplasm?-is impor-
                         tant because the use of these advanced techniques is changing the way
                         germplasm is preserved and used and may ultimately affect genetic or
                         species diversity. Biotechnology use is included in the research and
                         breeding emphasis category of our framework. (See volume 2, appendix
                         I, component V.I.)

                        Many complex issues of worldwide economic importance have been
Potential Effects of    linked to the eventual effects of biotechnology applications in plant
Biotechnology           breeding and research. Some of these issues are related to concerns
                        regarding the possible reduction of diversity and negative effects on
                        world agricultural production and trade. Other issues are related to the
                        promise of increased crop production and the potential for great
                        advances in the preservation and use of germplasm resources.

                        Experts have expressed concern that emphasis on using biotechnology
                        applications for plant breeding and research may influence the types
                        and amounts of genetic resources used and, thus, preserved. They are
                        concerned, as well, that emphasis and funding may be shifted away
                        from traditional plant breeding methods and toward biotechnology
                        development or improvement of particular crops that have become
                        lucrative because of the products of biotechnology.

                        Finally, concern exists over the ultimate effect that the use of biotech-
                        nology will have on genetic or species diversity. Genetic uniformity
                        could actually increase if a limited number of engineered genes of major
                        commercial interest were selected and bred into the commercial varieties
                        of a large number of crops. Uniformity could also result from emphasis
                        in financing biotechnology work on producing hybrid seeds of major
                        crops or uniform clonal populations. However, while biotechnology
                        applications do not create genetic diversity, they can create diversity by
                        rearranging and transferring existing genes across natural breeding bar-
                        riers, creating new combinations not possible with traditional methods.

                        The widespread use of biotechnology also has implications for political
                        aspects of germplasm management, such as the policy of free exchange.

                        Page 48     GAO/PEMD-Ql-6A Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Dedsion~
chapter 5
DetermMng the Effect8 of Biotechnology on
Germpla8m Use

The possibility of patenting plant parts and even individual characteris-
tics or gene sequences made possible by biotechnology is controversial,
and the outcome is still unknown. If the patenting of this genetic mate-
rial becomes commonplace, private companies may be unwilling to share
their valuable genetic material with public sector breeders, and the
public sector may be fearful that its unreleased material, if shared, may
become private property through patents.

Despite these concerns, significant improvements in germplasm preser-
vation and in crop improvement are anticipated with the widespread
implementation of biotechnology techniques. For example, preservation
using cell or tissue culture, or even gene libraries, may ultimately make
genes easier to retrieve and manipulate than is possible with traditional
seed storage facilities and clonal repositories. This is especially impor-
tant for crop species that do not produce seed, such as yams, coffee,
potatoes, or bananas, or species for which seed storage at low tempera-
tures is difficult or impossible. Tissue culture also’makes possible the
virus-free storage of germplasm, as well as techniques used to induce
mutations in seed, thereby effecting useful changes in crop plants.

The costly and difficult task of evaluating germplasm accessions to iden-
tify the genetic traits they contain would be greatly speeded by the
widespread use of various techniques. Several techniques allow the
rapid screening of a container of cultured cells containing about the
same diversity as would be present in 1,000 acres of whole plants,
Among these techniques are using restriction fragment length
polymorphisms (which are DNA fragments that can be used as markers
to map the position of genes on chromosomes), analyzing nucleic acids,
and using electrophoresis of isozymes and other proteins.

The use of many biotechnology techniques is dependent on adequate
evaluations of germplasm accessions. Powerful biotechnology tech-
niques, such as protoplast fusion and DNA or gene synthesis and gene
transfer, offer the promise of cloning and inserting selected genes into
plants without conventional parental crosses-that is, moving indi-
vidual genes between plants and potentially across species and genus
barriers. To effectively transfer genes, however, scientists need detailed
mapping of chromosomes for each crop and its wild relatives, to identify
the location of genes for important traits. The task of mapping chromo-
somes is enormous, as each plant contains between 1 million and 10 mil-
lion genes. Yet without more thorough evaluation of germplasm
accessions, scientists may not know where to find the sought-after traits
in gene bank collections. However, even if advanced techniques could be

Page 49       GAO/PEMDQl-SA Improving Plant Germphem Data for Mawgement   Lhcbio~
                       chapter s
                       Determining the Effects of Biotechnology on
                       Germplasm Use

                       used now to evaluate collections, according to the International Board
                       for Plant Genetic Resources, at least a decade and $120 million would be
                       required to evaluate the world’s germplasm for major food crops.

                       Use of these and other advanced techniques may increase the demand
                       for wild and weedy germplasm, because the techniques facilitate
                       widecrossing (that is, crossing distantly related and unrelated species).
                       Biotechnology may eventually speed the screening and transfer of traits,
                       shortening the lo- to 14-year period traditionally needed to move impor-
                       tant genes into crop plants. However, new varieties must still be field
                       tested, a process that accounts for about 40 to 50 percent of the time
                       needed to develop a new variety. Traditional breeding techniques and
                       knowledge are still needed to incorporate these biotechnology products
                       successfully into commercial crops.

                       Germplasm management decisions related to such activities as preserva-
How Knowledge of       tion, description, enhancement, breeding, and research should include
Biotechnology Use      some knowledge of trends in the application of biotechnology for indi-
Can Assist Germplasm   vidual crops, species, or genera, including differences in breeding or
                       research emphasis and in the use of germplasm among crops. Therefore,
Managers               our framework components and questionnaire include information on
                       the extent to which plant scientists are using biotechnology techniques
                       and their opinions on how, if at all, this use is influencing their breeding
                       and research emphases, or the amount and types of germplasm they use.

                       The following section presents examples of questionnaire responses
                       obtained for the three selected crops. The data illustrate how informa-
                       tion might be obtained to compare these factors among crops or types of
                       genetic resources, so as to evaluate trends that may have significant
                       implications for germplasm management resource decisions.

                       Our framework describes analyses of questionnaire responses related to
Extent of Use of       the use of biotechnology techniques. (See volume 2, appendix I, compo-
Biotechnology          nent V.I.) For the three selected crops combined, 23 of the 50 scientists
Techniques             said that improving biotechnology techniques is a research objective of
                       theirs to at least a moderate extent when compared with other objec-
                       tives. In addition, 21 of the 23, plus 9 additional respondents, said that
                       biotechnology improvement will be a research objective in the next 3
            Y          years.

                       Page SO       GAO/PEMD-91~SA Improvlng Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisions

                               chapter 6
                               Detemdnhg the Effects of Biotechnology on
                               Germplasm Ulle

                               We asked all the scientists surveyed if they use any advanced, or bio-
                               technology, techniques in their breeding or research programs. Of the 53
                               scientists who responded, 39 said they use the techniques to at least
                               some extent. For Bru.ssica, 10 respondents (76.9 percent) used biotech-
                               nology techniques; for Prunus persica, 12 respondents (86.7 percent)
                               used them; and for sorghum, 17 respondents (65.4 percent) used them.

                               We also asked about the use of seven specific biotechnology techniques.
                               Table 5.1 shows that of the seven techniques, cell tissue culture,
                               widecrosses, and gene mapping were used to the greatest extent by
                               these respondents. (The respondents answered in the some to very-
                               great-extent categories.)

Table 5.1: Respondents Using
Biotechnology Techniques*                                                                    Prunus
                               Technique                                  Bmssica            persica       Sorghum   Total
                               Cell tissue culture                                 0                6           11     25
                               Widecrosses                                         7                9            8     24
                               Gene mapping (through RFLP
                                  or molecular markers)                            6                7            7     20
                               Site-directed mutagenesis                           3              -2             4       9
                               Methods to achieve DNA gene
                                  transfer                                         5                2            3     10
                               Protoplast fusion                                   5                0            2       7
                               Chemical synthesis of nucleic
                                 acids or genes                                    2                   1         0       3
                               BTotal respondents    were 10 Brassica, 12 Prunus per&a,   and 16 sorghum

                               The responses we obtained could, given a larger sample, indicate impor-
                               tant differences among crops with respect to the use of various biotech-
                               nology techniques, as well as overall trends in the use of the techniques
                               in crop breeding and research. Information of this type from a sizable
                               number of scientists could help ARSidentify common techniques or
                               emerging biotechnology areas.

Changes in Program             The scientists also responded about the extent to which the use of bio-
Emphasis From                  technology techniques has changed their research or breeding emphases
                               and the extent to which they believe the use will change their future
Biotechnology                  emphases. Table 5.2 indicates trends in changing emphasis from the use
                               of four of the techniques and indicates that the respondents generally
                               expected more change in the future. For example, the table shows that
            *                  while 5 of the 16 sorghum respondents reported that their emphasis has

                               Page 51          GAO/PEMD-Ql-BA Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisione
                                      Chapter 5
                                      Determining the Effecta of Biotedmology   on
                                      Germplasm Use

                                      changed from the use of gene mapping, 11 expected such a change in the
Table 5.2: Reepondentr Reporting
Changes in Empharir From the Use of                                                     Emphasis has             Emphasis is
Biotechnology Techniques              Breeding and research technique                       changed      expected to change
                                        Cell or tissue culture                                       5                      6
                                        Widecrosses                                                  3                      4
                                        Gene mapping                                                 5                      7
                                        Methods to achieve gene transfer                             0                      7
                                      Prunus Dersica
                                        Cell or tissue culture                                       3                      4
                                        Widecrosses                                                  3                      7
                                        Gene maDDina                                                 4                      6
                                        Methods to achieve Dene transfer                             2                      8
                                        Cell or tissue culture                                       4                      5
                                        Widecrosses                                                  2                      4
                                        Gene mapping                                                 5                     11
                                        Methods to achieve gene transfer                             3                      6

                                      Again, with an adequate sample, it is possible that differences could be
                                      noted among crops in biotechnology’s effect on breeding or research
                                      emphases. ARS could use such information, over time, along with
                                      responses about current and future program objectives, to evaluate
                                      trends in these areas.

Change in Germplasm Use               Finally, the scientists responded about the extent to which they
From Biotechnology                    expected biotechnology techniques to change their use of germplasm.
                                      Table 6.3 presents, for the four most used techniques, the numbers of
                                      responses in the moderate to very-great-extent categories. As shown for
                                      the three crops, respondents said that their use of germplasm has
                                      changed because of the four techniques, but fewer respondents said that
                                      change occurred because of cell or tissue culture.

                                      Page 52       GAO/PmQMA          Improving Plant Germplum Data for Management Decisions
                                      chapter 6
                                      Determining the Effecta of Biotechnology on
                                      Qermplasm Use

fable 5.3: Respondents Whose Use of
Qermplaam Has Changed BeCaUbe of                                                                                   Prunus
Biotechnology Techniques’             Technique                                               Bras&a              persica   Sorghum
                                      Cell or tissue culture                                           2                2               3
                                      Widecrosses                                                      4                4               a
                                      Gene mapping                                                     4                7               a
                                      Methods to achieve gene transfer                                 3                4               6

                                      ‘Total responses were 8 Brassica, 11-12 Prunus persica, and 14-15 sorghum

                                      ARScurrently uses biotechnology techniques for germplasm preservation
                                      and is identifying techniques for future use. As well, ARS decisions on
                                      which genetic resources to acquire and evaluate could potentially affect
                                      the use of biotechnology techniques by breeders and researchers who
                                      use the techniques to evaluate germplasm and those who want to use
                                      germplasm that has already been evaluated in their biotechnology-
                                      related work. Biotechnology relies heavily on gene bank curators’
                                      knowledge of what germplasm is available, its characteristics and
                                      problems, where collections are held, and how to gain access. Indeed, a
                                      mission of ARS'S National Germplasm Resources Laboratory is to provide
                                      accurate data to scientists who use the germplasm accessions.

                                      Information on trends in the use of the techniques combined with other
                                      information gathered by the survey could assist with difficult decisions
                                      to invest evaluation funds among the many types of germplasm.
                                      Through question 79, ARS could determine differences among crops in
                                      the amounts of germplasm from the three gene pools that plant scien-
                                      tists are using in their work. This information, along with information
                                      on, for example, breeding and research objectives or specific traits
                                      needing research emphasis, could facilitate decisions about which types
                                      of germplasm accessions are most important to users and should thus be
                                      given higher priority for receiving available evaluation funds.

                                      In addition, scientists’ opinions on the importance of emphasizing bio-
                                      technology applications versus other germplasm activities for individual
                                      crops could assist ARSin setting priorities among crops. This will be dis-
                                      cussed in chapter 6.

                                      Page 53         GAO/PEMD-Bl-SA Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management          Decisions
Chapter 6

OpinionsAbout the Relative Importance of
GermplasmPreservation and Use

                       As described in the framework we developed in chapter 3, the preserva-
                       tion and use of germplasm involves the broad activities of acquisition,
                       preservation (including distribution), description (including evaluation),
                       enhancement, breeding, and research (including the implementation of
                       biotechnology). In this chapter, we address our fifth evaluation ques-
                       tion: How can ARSobtain scientists’ opinions on the relative importance
                       of activities pertaining to the preservation and use of plant germplasm?
                       Answering this question is complex and involves combining responses
                       from five questions on our survey for the three crops-questions     28,48,
                       63,76, and 80.

                       Based on six activities that we believe compete for funding-acquisi-
Opinions About the     tion, preservation, description, enhancement, breeding, and biotech-
Importance of          nology-we identified 16 pairwise combinations of the activities (the
Germplasm Activities   total number of unique combinations) and asked the scientists to indi-
                       cate their opinion of the relative importance of emphasizing each
                       activity compared to the five other activities for the overall improve-
                       ment of genetic resource management for one crop.

                       To analyze the data from the 15 comparisons, we used the pairwise com-
                       parison methodology termed the analytic hierarchy process1 The pro-
                       cess was developed to deal with unstructured decision problems,
                       particularly ones involving socioeconomic and political issues with qual-
                       itative and intangible factors. It allows for taking diverse judgments
                       from people whether singly, working in a group, or by questionnaire.
                       The objective of this approach is to use weights or priorities to assign
                       relative importance to a set of activities in a decisionmaking situation.
                       The process has been used for priority-setting, resource allocation, and
                       other decisionmaking activities in a variety of different settings.

                       The result of the pair-wise analysis yields weights or ratios assigned to
                       the activities (the sum of the weights isequal to 1) that can be used to
                       support decisionmaking. We asked respondents to consider a goal for
                       each crop, which we stated as “the overall improvement of preservation
                       and use of the crop’s genetic resources.” The weights assigned to the
                       activities represented the’relative importance respondents gave to each
                       activity in reaching this goal. However, our question used a scale of
                       importance that is more condensed than the nine-point scale suggested

                       ‘The underlying algorithms for solving the analytic hierarchy process procedure are presented in
                       Thomas L. Saaty and Luis G. Vargas, The Logic of Priorities: Applications in Business, Energy, Health
                       and Transportation (Boston: Kluwer-Nijhoff, 1982).

                       Page 54         GAO/PEMD-Bl-6A Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisions
                                        cllapter 6
                                        Opiniona About the Relative   Importance   of
                                        Germplasm Preservation and Use

                                        by the analytic hierarchy process literature. Question 80 in our ques-
                                        tionnaire contains an expanded scale of the type suggested.

                                        Table 6.1 illustrates the results of the pairwise comparison analysis for
                                        the three crops; it ranks the germplasm activities by the order of rela-
                                        tive importance for domestic and foreign respondents and provides the
                                        weight of the differences in importance between each activity. These
                                        results show that the opinions of the scientists working with each of the
                                        three selected crops differed with respect to the relative importance of
                                        the six germplasm management activities. For the domestic and foreign
                                        responses combined, the sample data indicate,. for example, that scien-
                                        tists working with Prunus persica believed that acquisition should
                                        receive 6.2 percent more of the total emphasis than should breeding
                                        (0.246 - 0.193). In other cases-for example, for Pmnus perticu-the
                                        difference between breeding (0.193) and preservation (0.192) is very
                                        small. However, according to an expert in analytic hierarchy process
                                        applications, these differences would probably be greater with the
                                        implementation of the expanded scale discussed above.

Table 6.1: Relative Importance of the
Major Garmplaam Management              Qenuo or species                       Activity                                Weight
Actlvitles for Domestic and Foreign     Bras&a                                 Preservation                              0.218
                                                                               Acquisition                               0.200
                                                                               Description                               0.181
                                                                               Breeding                                  0.161
                                                                               Enhancement                               0.137
                                                                               Biotechnology                             0.103
                                        Prunus per&a                           Acquisition                               0.245
                                                                               Breedina                                  0.193
                                                                               Preservation                              0.192
                                                                               Biotechnology                             0.126
                                                                               Enhancement                        I(     0.123
                                                                               Description                               0.121
                                        Sorghum                                Breeding                                  0.214
                                                                               Acquisition                               0.199
                                                                               Preservation                              0.194
                                                                               Enhancement                               0.159
                                                                               Description                               0.120
                                                                               Biotechnology                             0.113
                                        ‘Total respondents were 13 Brz~assica,13 Prunus penica, and 26 sorghum.

                                        Page 56         GAO/PEMD-91-BA Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisiona
                    Chapter 6
                    Opinion# About the Relative Importance of
                    GermpLasm Preservation and Use

                    By obtaining this type of information, ARScould compare what the
                    scientists believe is the most important activity for their crops to the
                    actual level of effort and resources allocated by ARS to these crops. For
                    example, if scientists who use or manage a crop’s germplasm identify
                    acquisition activities as the most important for their crop, ARS could
                    review its allocations of funds to this activity, examine the accomplish-
                    ments, and determine whether additional funding is needed. In order to
                    demonstrate how the analysis of scientists’ opinions can be stratified to
                    show differences in opinion among respondent groups, we present an
                    analysis of domestic and foreign respondents in appendix III.

                    While the ranking and rating of the importance of the major germplasm
                    activities is important and useful to decisionmakers, additional informa-
                    tion is needed to identify the specific lower-level activities within the
                    major activities that scientists believe should be emphasized. For
                    example, while the Prunus pwsica scientists we surveyed reported that
                    acquisition is the most important germplasm activity, ARS also needs to
                    know which specific acquisition activities are most important. For this
                    reason, our survey also obtained scientists’ opinions about which spe-
                    cific germplasm activities should be emphasized within the areas of
                    germplasm management. The following section provides the method
                    used to obtain and analyze this lower-level information and how it was
                    combined with the pairwise analysis results.

                    Our survey included four questions that asked respondents’ opinions
Opinions About      about the relative importance of specific activities within the six catego-
Activities Within   ries analyzed using the analytic hierarchy process. Opinions about activ-
Germplasm           ities within acquisition, preservation, and description were obtained
                    through three corresponding questions, and opinions about germplasm
Management          enhancement, crop improvement, and the use of biotechnology were
                    obtained through a fourth question. To obtain this level of detail, the
                    survey asked scientists for their opinions on the extent to which specific
                    activities should be emphasized to facilitate the overall management of
                    their crop’s germplasm.

                    Results from the initial pairwise analysis and this more-specific infor-
                    mation go hand-in-hand. That is, they provide additional specific infor-
                    mation that could assist ARS in allocating resources. For example, table
                    6.2 identifies the number of respondents who believed that the acquisi-
                    tion activities listed should be emphasized to a great or very great
                    extent. For purposes of our demonstration, table 6.2 provides the results
                    from our survey broken out by domestic and foreign respondents.

                    Page 66       GAO/PEMD-91.SA Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decbion~
                                                    Chaptkw 6
                                                    Ophion~ About the Relative Importance         of
                                                    Germplasm Preservation and Use

Table 6.2: Domestic and Foreign Respondent8 Identifying Acquisition Activities That Should Be Emphasized to a Great or Very
Great Extent
                                                     Brassica a                Pfunus per&a b               SorsrhumC
~_          activity                          Domestic          Foreign       Domestic      Foreign    Domestic        Foreign
Acquiring endangered genetic resources
whether or not their potential is known                            7                2                  8     0            17             5
Acquiring enetic resources that are
considere kf to be potentially useful in breeding                  7                3                  9     2            21             5
Acquiring plant genetic resources of unknown
ootential whether or not thev are endanaered                       5                2                  3     1            14             0
Improving quarantine procedures and
regulations to facilitate acquisition                              2                1                  10    1            14             -2
Eliminating political barriers that hinder
collection                                                         5                2                  9     1            16             4
Developing arrangements for minimizing patent
restrictions in consideration of access to
qenetic resources                                                  6                0                  3     0            11             2
Improving techniques for collecting and
recording accessions                                               5                1                  2     0            11             2
                                                    *For 9 domestic and 4 foreign respondents.
                                                    bFor 12 domestic and 2 foreign respondents.
                                                    cFor 21 domestic and 5 foreign respondents.

                                                    The pairwise comparison analysis in table 6.1 shows that scientists
                                                    working with Prunus per&a believed that acquisition is the most
                                                    important germplasm activity. Upon review of table 6.2, it appears that
                                                    within acquisition, most of the responding domestic scientists (10 of 12)
                                                    working with Prunus persica believed that improvements to quarantine
                                                    procedures and regulations need to be emphasized. Both of the foreign
                                                    Prunus persica respondents (2 of 2) believed that acquiring genetic
                                                    resources useful in breeding is an activity that needs greater emphasis.
                                                    ARS,upon examining this information, could seek to identify exactly
                                                    what quarantine regulations need to be improved.

                                                    Table 6.3 provides scientists’ opinions on the specific preservation activ-
                                                    ities they believed should be emphasized to facilitate the overall man-
                                                    agement for their crops, based on the small judgmental sample of
                                                    scientists for the three crops. The data in table 6.3 identify the number
                                                    of scientists (domestic and foreign) who believed that preservation
                                                    activities should be emphasized to a great or very great extent.

                                                    Page 67         GAO/PEMD-91.SA Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisions
                                         chapter 0
                                         OpIniona About the Relative Importance of
                                         Germ&am Preaervetion and Use

Table 8.3: Respondents ldentlfylng
Prerervstlon Actlvitler That Should Be                                                                              Prunus
EmpharizedO                              Preeervation activity                                   Brassice          persica             Sorghum
                                         Developing new preservation techniques
                                         (e.g., tissue culture, cryopreservation)                         3                9                     6
                                         Increasing the size or improving the quality of
                                         existing storage facilities or clonal repositories               4                9                    15
                                         Improving grow-out conditions or strategies                      7                1                    12
                                         Detecting and treating diseases and insects
                                         in storage                                                       5                6                     6
                                         Testing for and treating viruses (e.g., in clonal
                                         collectrons)                                                     3               10                     4
                                         Developing core collections                                      5                5                    11
                                         lmorovina access to collections                                  7                3                    16
                                         aTotal respondents, domestic and foreign, were 12 Bras&a, 14 Prunus persica, and 25 sorghum.

                                         The results from the pair-wise comparison analysis in table 6.1 indicate
                                         that preservation is the most important germplasm activity to the
                                         responding scientists who use or manage Brassica germplasm. Table 6.3
                                         shows that most (7 of 12) of our scientists working with Brastica
                                         believed improving grow-out conditions and strategies and improving
                                         their access to Brustica germplasm collections are the most important
                                         activities within preservation. These results reinforce anecdotal infor-
                                         mation derived from other sources. Interestingly, an NPGS official stated
                                         at an April 1989 meeting that the Brassica collection was in “bad
                                         shape” and that it will take NPGS about 10 years to improve it enough to
                                         be able to readily distribute germplasm. ARScould use such information
                                         to determine whether there is a problem with scientists’ access to such

                                         Table 6.4 provides scientists’ opinions on which specific description
                                         activities they believed should be emphasized to a great or very great
                                         extent to facilitate the overall management of their crop.

Table 6.4: Respondents Identifying
Dercrlption Activltier that Should Be                                                                                Prunus
Emphasized@                              Description activity                                    Brassica           persica            Sorghum
                                         Evaluating accessions for individual traits                      8               10                    20
                                         Mapping genes in stored accessions                               5                2                     5
                                         Eliminating unnecessary duplicate accessions                     5                6                   _ 7
                                         Maintaining and updating a centralized data
                                         base for users                                                   9                7                    19
                                         Providing descriptive information, including
                                         backaround. taxonomv. and oediaree data                         10                9                    21
                                         aTotal respondents, domestic and foreign, were 12 Brassica, 14 Prunus persica, and 25 sorghum

                                         Page 58         GAO/PEMD-91-IA Improving Plant Germplaam Data for Management Decisions

                                                                                                                                 ‘,’      -,
                                          Chapter 6
                                          Opiniona About the Relative Importance of
                                          Germplwm Preservation and Use

                                          For the three crops, the pairwise comparison analysis results in table 6.1
                                          indicate that description ranks highest (third) for Brassica among the
                                          three crops, based on scientists’ opinions. Table 6.4 shows that most (10
                                          of 12) scientists who work with Brussica germplasm believed providing
                                          descriptive (background, taxonomy, and pedigree) information on Bra.s-
                                          sica germplasm is the most important activity within description activi-
                                          ties. ARScould use this information to examine its efforts and funding
                                          allocations in this area among its germplasm holdings.

                                          Table 6.6 provides scientists’ opinions on which specific crop improve-
                                          ment and research activities they believed should be emphasized to a
                                          great or very great extent to facilitate the overall management of their
                                          crop. For purposes of this analysis, this category includes the activities
                                          of enhancement and biotechnology development.

Table 6.5: Respondents ldentlfying Crop
Improvement and Rerearch Activities                                                                                  Prunus
That Should Be Emphaeized’                Crop improvement or research activity                   Bras&a             per&a         Sorghum
                                          Identifying and mapping genes                                    7                6               7
                                          Developing resistance to stresses (e.g,.,
                                          environmental, diseases, insects, pestrcrdes)                   11               11              25
                                          Identifying traits or improving commercial
                                          qualities                                                        7               10              22
                                          Improving or developing molecular genetics or
                                          other related advanced techniques                                4                5               7
                                          Transferring characteristics from nonadapted
                                            enetic resources to adapted types
                                          ?prebreeding, genetic enhancement)                               6                7              17
                                          Developing new users for undomesticated
                                          aenetic resources                                                4                 1              6
                                          ‘Total respondents, domestic and foreign, were 13 Brassice, 14 Prunus persica, and 26 sorghum.

                                          As indicated earlier, table 6.5 contains specific enhancement, breeding,
                                          and research activities. As a result, the pair-wise comparison analysis
                                          results for enhancement and breeding were added together (from table
                                          6.1) to determine their combined importance, based on scientists’ opin-
                                          ions for the three crops. The combined total for the two activities are
                                          sorghum (O-373), Prunu..s pertica (0.316), and Bra..sstia (0.298), sorghum
                                          having the greatest combined weight. As table 6.6 illustrates, almost all
                                          the scientists working with sorghum (25 of 26) believed that developing
                                          resistance to stresses should be emphasized more than the other
                                          enhancement or breeding activities. ARS could compare its sorghum
                                          enhancement and breeding efforts to scientists’ opinions on the activi-
                                          ties they believe should be emphasized most.

                                          Page 69         GAO/PEMD-Bl-BA Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisiona
Chapter 0
Opinion About the Relative Importance of
Germplasm Preeervatlon and Use

Our data collection and analyses discussed in this chapter illustrate that
our method can be used to examine the opinions of plant scientists as to
the relative importance of emphasizing germplasm management activi-
ties. As with most of our survey results discussed in chapters 4 and 6,
these opinion questions are intended to be used in comparing results
among various crops, The opinions of the scientists can supplement ARS
information and support decisions on how to allocate resources among
the crops and the activities.

Page 60       GAO/PEMD-Bl-SA Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisions

Conclusionsand Recommendation,Agency
Comments,and Our Response

                   ARSwould be better able to set germplasm management priorities and
                   allocate resources if it developed more-uniform and comparable infor-
                   mation about the status of different crops. We have demonstrated one
                   possible approach for data collection, using a framework of conditions
                   and activities that affect crop and germplasm vulnerability and showing
                   that a survey instrument can be used to obtain information from plant
                   scientists worldwide. We refined the methodology for gathering the
                   survey information from our experience with the demonstration. To
                   assist ARS in implementing the data collection method, appendix IV pro-
                   vides additional detail on our implementation.

                   The method could assist AFEwith various decisionmaking tasks, and the
                   resulting information could be used to form a data base, eventually
                   encompassing a wide variety of crops and germplasm. We believe that
                   once a number of crops have been surveyed, the data base for a given
                   crop can be updated periodically by resurveying germplasm users to
                   assess changes in the crop’s status or in scientists’ perceptions. A survey
                   might reoccur every 6 years, for example.

                   More specifically, survey information could facilitate decisionmaking
                   tasks such as identifying gaps in knowledge about germplasm, deter-
                   mining future needs or trends in the use of resources, assessing risk, and
                   setting priorities for management activities among crop types. The cost
                   of implementation would depend on the number of crops surveyed annu-
                   ally and the size of the samples. Since the survey has been pilot-tested
                   successfully and a framework for analysis is available to ARS,costs
                   would primarily stem from mailing, telephone follow-up, if necessary,
                   and computer programming time and interpretation of the results. More-
                   over, the data collected could supplement or replace some of the indi-
                   vidual data-gathering efforts of ARS personnel or crop advisory
                   committees. In fact, the crop advisory committee chairman for Brassica
                   intends to use our survey instrument in the near future as a foundation
                   for developing the Brassica crop advisory committee report.

                   We recommend that the administrator of the Agricultural Research Ser-
Recommendationto   vice determine which crops would most benefit from the full implemen-
the Secretary of   tation of our methodology, or a similar one that incorporates the same
Agriculture        basic concepts, and implement it for those crops (perhaps four or five
         Y         related crops in the first year). Although the costs associated with the
                   survey implementation will probably compete for germplasm program
                   funds, we believe that the methodology can supplement or replace cur-
                   rent data collection efforts. Therefore, the survey costs will be at least

                   Page 61     GAO/PEMD-91-IA Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management DecbIons
                      chapter 7
                      Conclmdona and Recommendation, Agency
                      Comments, and Our Responw

                      partially offset by the valuable information obtained and the resulting
                      effect on decisionmaking.

                       The Agricultural Research Service commented on a draft of this report.
Agency Comments and    (See appendix V.) In the comments, ARS commended us for our effort in
Our Response           developing a methodology to aid in the assessment of priorities on a crop
                       basis for genetic resources held in NPGS. Further, ARS agreed that the
                       refinement of questions asked of scientists working in the field provides
                       an excellent base from which to examine ARSpriorities as well as to
                      judge the recommendations and justifications for funding coming from
                       crop advisory committees and other groups and organizations.

                      Included in its comments were concerns ARSexpressed related to imple-
                      mentation of the data collection method. It said that we were correct in
                      stating that funding to implement the survey method would compete
                      with germplasm program funds but that the payback resulting from the
                      effort may not be as great as suggested in the report. Further, the task
                      of surveying and resurveying crops might result in lost research time on
                      the part of scientists implementing the survey.

                      We have offered ARS the software program we created for tabulating
                      response frequencies for the current version of the questionnaire, as
                      well as the questionnaire itself on a computer disk. We have also offered
                      a training package to ARS on the use of our questionnaire design pro-
                      gram. We believe that these materials will substantially reduce the ini-
                      tial cost of implementation. However, as stated in the report, in order to
                      proceed with phased implementation of the method for many crops,
                      ongoing funding will be required for questionnaire modification and
                      mailing, computer programming and data entry, and interpretation of
                      results. We continue to believe that investment in this uniform data col-
                      lection method will result in information that is much improved over
                      what is now obtained by ARSdata collection efforts and those of the crop
                      advisory committees.

                      ARSalso said that it would not want to supplant scientists’ research with
                      conclusions drawn from the survey and expressed concern that some of
                      the survey data may be difficult to acquire.

                      We had several conversations with ARS officials after we received the
                      agency’s comments. During these discussions, in which we clarified a
                      number of points, most of the concerns were mitigated as the officials
                      recognized that we always intended for the survey results to be just one

                      Page 02      GAO/PEMDBl-QA Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisiona
Chapter 7
Qmcluaioxw and Recommendation, Agency
Commente, and Our Response

 input into their decision process. We anticipate that crop advisory com-
mittees and NPGS managers will interpret survey results and combine
them with their own expertise and research results to reach conclusions.
As we explained to ARSofficials, we believe that they should exercise
judgment and flexibility in phasing implementation, modifying survey
questions, and deciding which analyses to apply for a given crop.

Subsequent discussions with ARS officials and a GAO presentation of the
method at a meeting of crop advisory committee chairs clarified some
misunderstandings by ARSand greatly increased their support for imple-
menting our method. Following the presentation, many of these individ-
uals expressed interest in implementing the method for their crops,
beginning with the Brassica Crop Advisory Committee in October. As a
result, ARS now intends to work with interested curators of NPGScollec-
tions to determine the feasibility and need to implement the survey for
individual crops. To the extent limited funds allow, ARSplans to imple-
ment the method with selected crops in order to further assess the value
of the survey for establishing priorities for other species. We are very
pleased that ARShas recognized the value in the method we designed,
and we hope the agency will pursue options for supporting a phased

In addition to commenting on the implementation of the method, ARS
pointed out that data from private industry sales and seed demand are
highly proprietary for most commodities and may not be available for
making adequate judgments. The questionnaire is designed to identify
instances in which scientists do not want to provide proprietary infor-
mation about their breeding and research objectives. However, some pri-
vate sector scientists we surveyed did provide information on questions
where “proprietary information” was presented as an option. We
believe that implementation of the method across crops will provide
more data than are currently available and will also show for which
crops such information is most difficult to obtain,

ARSalso commented that the survey does not consider issues on owner-
ship and availability of plant genetic resources as is currently being
debated in the Food and Agriculture Organization, This comment appar-
ently stems from concern that scientists in some countries may be reluc-
tant to respond to the survey while the debate about ownership of
genetic resources is going on and that some countries may be unwilling
to provide germplasm to the United States.

Page 65      GAO/PEMD-914A Lmproving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisions
Chapter 7
Conclusioxw and Recommendation, Agency
Comments, and Our Reeeponae.

We are aware of this international debate, but we did not include an
evaluation of its effect on NPGScollections in the scope of our effort.
However, it is also true that we were able to collect data from seven
foreign countries, as the report clearly demonstrates. We believe that
part of ARS officials’ judgment in implementing the survey would involve
determining any countries for which the survey is currently inappro-
priate for political reasons. Further, we believe that many hindrances,
such as political issues of this nature, can present specific data collec-
tion problems at certain points in time. However, such hindrances do not
change the fundamental need to obtain the best information possible on
which to base decisions about germplasm management.

Page 64      GAO/PEMD-91-SA Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisions


    Page 65   GAO/PEMDM-5A   Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisions
Abpendix I

Membersand Ekpertise of GAO’s
Advisory Panel

                 Dr. Nicholas Frey                    Biotechnology
                 Des Moines, Iowa
                 Dr. Geor e Kennedy                   Entomology and plant pathology
                 Raleigh, fl orth Carolina
                 Dr. T. B. Kinney Jr.                 Germplasm management previous administrator of
                 York. South Carolina                 the Aaricultural Research 8 ervice)
                 Dr. Bill Lacy                        Germplasm use related to social, political, and ethical
                 Lexington, Kentucky                  issues
                 Dr. Calvin Qualset                   Germplasm conservation
                 Davis, California
                 Dr. Norman Weeden                    Biotechnology techniques-use     of isozymes and
                 Geneva. New York                     restriction fraament lenath oolvmorphisms
                 Dr. Paul Williams                    Horticulture and genetics
                 Madison, Wisconsin


                 Page 06         GAO/PEMD-91-BA Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisions
Appendix II

l?Ift~n Types of ScientistsWho Use Germplasm

U.S. Public Sector          1. Plant breeder
                            2. Geneticist or biotechnologist (basic research)
                            3. Genetics resource manager (curator)

U.S. Private Sector         4. Plant breeder
                            6. Geneticist or biotechnologist
                            6. Genetics resource manager

Foreign Public Sector       7. Plant breeder
                            8. Geneticist or biotechnologist
                            9. Genetics resource manager

Foreign Private Sector      10, Plant breeder
                            11. Geneticist or biotechnologist

International Public Sector 12.plantbreeder
                            13. Geneticist or biotechnologist
                            14. Genetics resource manager

Other                       16. New crop and new product development (any germplasm user, either
                            public or private sector)


                            Page 67     GAO/PEMDBl-SA   Improving Plant Germpbm   Data Por Management Decbionw
Appendix III                                                                                           .

F&dativeImportance of Major Germplasm /
Activities for Three Crops

               &UlU8 Or bD@Cie8                     Activity                                       Factor
               Domestic respondents
               Brassic@                             Preservation                                     0.236
                                                    Acquisition                                      0.224
                                                    Description                                      0.174
                                                    Enhancement                                      0.133
                                                    Breeding                                         0.132
                                                    Biotechnology                                    0.101
               Prunus persicd)                      Acquisition                                      0.246
                                                    Preservation                                     0.201
                                                    Breeding                                         0.170
                                                    Enhancement                                      0.134
                                                    Description                                      0.131
                                                    Biotechnology                                    0.119
               SorghumC                             Breeding                                         0.222
                                                    Acauisition                                      0.192
                                                    Preservation                                     0.185
                                                    Enhancement                                      0.171
                                                    Description                                      0.117
                                                    Biotechnoloav                                    0.113
               Foreign respondents
               Brassicd                             Breeding                                          0.248
                                                    Description                                       0.180
                                                    Preservation                                      0.168
                                                    Acquisition                                       0.159
                                                    Enhancement                                       0.134
                                                    Biotechnology                                     0.111
               Prunus persica                       Breeding                                          0.330
                                                    Acquisition                                       0.238
                                                    Biotechnology                                     0.149
                                                    Preservation                                      0.129
                                                    Enhancement                                       0.080
                                                    Description                                       0.074

               Page 68           GAO/PJiMD-9ldA   Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decision
    Appendix ID
    Relative Importance of Major Germplasm
    Activities Por Three Crops

    Genus or species                      Activity                                   Factor
    Sorghum’                              Acquisition                                 0.215
                                          Preservation                                0.210
                                          Breedina                                    0.189
                                          Description                                 0.14i
                                          Enhancement                                 0.131
                                          Biotechnology                               0.113

    aFor 9 Brassica respondents

    bFor 11 Prunus persica respondents.
    ‘For 21 sorghum respondents

    dFor 4 Brassica respondents.

    ‘For 2 Prunus persica respondents
    ‘For 5 sorghum respondents.


    Page 69          GAO/PEMD-91-SA Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisions
Appendix IV

Implementation of GAO’sMethodobgy

              We surveyed a judgmental sample of 71 plant scientists working with
              one of the three crops Brassica, Prunus persica, and sorghum. To
              ensure a wide range of contacts, we selected scientists from 15 different
              categories. In chapter 1, we presented a detailed explanation of the
              rationale for the selected sample, crops, and methodology. Successful
              implementation of the survey involves three important activities: (1)
              identifying a wide range of scientists who work with the crops of
              interest, (2) obtaining survey responses from domestic and foreign
              scientists who use germplasm resources associated with the crops, and
              (3) analyzing the survey results. From our experience in implementing
              the survey, we identified improvements in and refined the survey
              instrument for future implementation.

              To develop our respondent lists, we first worked with the chairs of the
              crop advisory committees or subcommittees for the three crops. From
              them, we obtained lists of scientists who use or manage germplasm. We
              also asked the chairs to supplement the lists to ensure that scientists
              from the 15 categories were represented. The three committees had
              already generated lists of scientists working with their crops, but they
              varied in degree of completeness. For example, the chair of the Bras&a
              Crop Advisory Committee provided lists believed to be relatively com-
              plete, with the names and addresses of about 1,600 Brmsica germplasm
              users and managers. The subcommittee chair for Prwus persica, how-
              ever, identified 330 users. While the subcommittee had not attempted to
              identify all scientists working with Prunus persica, the chair had a list
              of breeders and other peach genetic resource users and was able to pro-
              vide additional names from various sources.

              We used two different methods to develop even more complete lists. We
              searched ARS’SCurrent Research Information System and an agricultural
              data base by crop, and we identified additional scientists working with
              the crops’ germplasm.’ Another method we used to identify germplasm
              users was similar to a “snowball” sample method. We used this method
              because, in working with the Prunus persica subcommittee chair, we
              were not able to identify many germplasm users who were foreign scien-
              tists. We added a question to the Prunus pemka questionnaire that
              asked whether the scientist could identify the name and address of up to
              three other scientists working in the same area. Twelve of the 14 Prunus
              persica scientists who responded provided the requested information.

              ‘We searched the National Agricultural Library’s Agricola data base. It covers agricultural subjects,
              including botany, entomology, hydroponics, soils, and more. This data base contains over 2.6 million

              Page 70         GAO/PEMDBl4A         Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decidona
                               Appendix IV
                               Implementation    of GAO’s Methodology

                               As a result, we identified 22 scientists who were not on our original list.
                               We believe ARS could use these methods, as necessary, to identify scien-
                               tists working with a crop’s germplasm.

                               In addition, we asked the respondents which plant genera they had
                               worked with in the past 6 years. Table IV.1 lists the additional genera
                               we identified. These data could be used over time to identify scientists
                               working with particular crops and to revise respondent lists for future
                               implementation of the survey.

Table IV.l: Other Genera Our
Respondents Work With          Germplasm                                                    Genus
                               Erassica                                                     Arabidopsis
                                                                                            Phaseolus io.

                               Page 71          GAO/PEMD-[)ldA   Imprwing   Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decbions

    Appondtx IV
    Implementation   of GAO’s Methodology

    Qermplabm                                                   Genus
    Prunus persica                                             Actinidia

                                                                Pis tacia
                                                                X Triticosecale


    Page 72          GAO/PEMD-91.SA Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisions
Appendix IV
Implementation    of GAO’s Methodology

Germplasm                                                   Genus
Sorghum                                                     Aegilops

Once we demonstrated that we could identify scientists working with
the three crops’ germplasm, we mailed questionnaires to a judgmental
sample of scientists within the United States and in seven foreign coun-
tries. We sent the questionnaires to foreign scientists to demonstrate
that information on germplasm could be obtained from geographically
dispersed scientists and for scientists in the 16 categories. We mailed 19
questionnaires to scientists in foreign countries, and we received almost
80 percent of them. Although mailing questionnaires to scientists in the
United States does not present a problem, mailing them to scientists in
foreign countries with return postage prepaid does present a logistical

To mail the foreign questionnaires, we used U.S. embassies as
intermediaries. That is, we sent questionnaire packages to officials at
the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., and they sent them by
diplomatic pouch to the U.S. embassies in the seven countries we
selected. The administrative officer at each foreign embassy mailed the
packages to the individual scientists. Each questionnaire had attached
to it two international reply coupons, which enabled the scientists to
buy postage to mail the questionnaires back to the embassy in their
country. The embassies then sent the questionnaires (by pouch) back to

Page 78          GAO/PEMD-Bl-5A Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisions
Appendix N
Implementation    of GAO’s Methodology

the Department of State in Washington, D.C. According to a Department
of State official, they handled the questionnaires as a service to GAO and
would do the same for other federal agencies, as long as the number
going to a particular country was not too great. We demonstrated that
germplasm information could be obtained from the foreign community,
and we believe that ARScould use the same method to mail question-
naires to foreign scientists. Providing return postage is optional, but
doing so may have improved our response rate.

After the initial questionnaire mailing, we sent reminders (letters to
domestic scientists and mailgrams to foreign scientists) to those who
had not returned the questionnaire. Scientists who returned question-
naires with incomplete, unclear, or conflicting information were con-
tacted by telephone to obtain more data or clarification. To facilitate our
contacting the scientists, the questionnaire asked for a telephone
number and the best day and time to contact them. Virtually every
respondent provided this information. Through our follow-up efforts,
we increased our response rate and improved the quality of the informa-
tion from the questionnaire. We believe that ARScould implement the
same or similar method of follow-up.

Our framework shows how combinations of responses can provide
useful information for decisionmaking. (See chapters 4,6, and 6 for
examples of analyses applied to the questionnaire data.) Although the
framework does not present all the possible combinations and uses of
this information, it does provide examples of specific types of informa-
tion that can be developed from the survey. The framework also sug-
gests statistics and other information that should be obtained in addition
to the survey data for specialized analyses.

The frequency of responses to all the questions except one were tabu-
lated by using the Statistical Analysis System program. We will make
the program we used available to ARS.We used a separate software
package to analyze the pairwise comparison of various germplasm activ-
ities The software we used to implement the analytic hierarchy process
(discussed in chapter 6) can be purchased from the vendor for about

We modified portions of the questionnaire at the completion of the dem-
onstration, based on comments received from scientists and the per-
ceived difficulty scientists had with some questions. We believe the
refined questionnaire, if implemented, will receive an even higher
response rate than our original one. In implementing the questionnaire,

Page 74          GAO/PEMD-91.SA Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisions
Appendix N
Implementation    of GAO’6 Methodology

lQRscould further modify sections or questions on it to respond to crop-
specific interests or changing conditions.

We used an in-house program to develop the survey instrument, facili-
tate questionnaire development, and reduce printing costs. Using this
program, we would provide technical assistance to ARS in preparing a
revised questionnaire if requested.

Page 75          GAO/PEMD-91-M Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisions

Appendix V

CommentsFrom the Department of Agriculture

                                   DEPARTMENT           OF AQRICULTURE
                                        OPFICE   OF    THE   SECRETARY
                                         WA6HINOTON.         D.C.   20260

                AUG 6 1990

               Ms. Eleanor Chalimsky
               Assistant  Comptroller     General
               Program Evaluation     and
                 Methodology Division,      GAO
               441 G Street, NW.
               Washington, D.C. 20548
               Dear Ms. Chelimsky:
               Thank you for the opportunity      to review the General Accounting
               Office Draft (GAO) Report PPMD-90-23, "PLANT GERMPLASM:Improving
               Data for Management Decisions."       The Office of Agricultural
               Biotechnology    and the Cooperative   State Research Service did not
               have any comments. I am forwarding        the enclosed response prepared
               by the Agricultural    Research .Service.

               I concur with its conclusions    that the cost of the survey will be
               greater than GAO indicated,   that some of the suggestions made in
               the draft report will be difficult    to carry out, and that other
               factors must be considered by the agency before implementing the
               survey methodology and conclusions.

               CHARLES E. HESS
               Assistant Secretary for
               Science and Education

              Page 76       GAO/PEMD-Bl-BA Improving Plant Germplasm Data for Management Decisions


                  Appendix V
                  Canmenta Prom the Department
                  of Agriclllture

                  ARS Response to GAO Draft Report on "PLANT GERMPLASM: Improving
                      Data for Management Decisions" and Recommendation to the
                                      Secretary of Agriculture

        The Agricultural     Research Service commends the effort      of GAO to develop
        methodology to aid in the assessment of priorities        on a crop basis for genetic
        resources held in the U.S. National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS). The
        refinement    of questions asked of the scientist5    working in the field provides
        an excellent     base from which to examine Agency priorities,       as well as to judge
        the recommendations and justifications      for funding coming from Crop Advisory
        Committees, the Joint Council on Food and Agricultural          Sciences, National
        Agricultural     Research and Extension Users Advisory Board, the National Plant
        Genetic Resources Board, the National Plant Germplasm Committee, various
        trade-related     groups, and other advisory bodies.

        GAO is correct    in stating     that funding to complete the survey will compete with
        germplasm program funds.         We do not feel confident    that the payback will be as
        great as suggested in the report.           In the first place, there are 40 Crop
        Advisory Committees for crops and groups of crops making the task endless in
        terms of number of surveys and the suggested re-survey            interval of 5 years.
        The GAO dedicated a team to conduct the survey, but ARS will have to create a
        survey detail   team of a scientist       and support staff to concentrate    on the
        survey for a specific      crop.     The real cost is the loss of research time by that
        Some of the suggestion5 will be difficult              to implement or the data difficult          to
        acquire.      In addition,    some judgment will have to be made on the cost in time
        and effort      to acquire it.     Data from private      industry      sales and seed demand are
        highly proprietary        for most commodities and may not be available               for making
        adequate judgment.         The Economic Research Service has access to other agency
        varietal/acreage       figure5 but, like ARS, does not have staff available                 to do
        survey5 without financial         assistance.      Also, the detail        for descriptors     and
        information       to be maintained in the GRIN database has a Utopian ring to it and
        such completeness and extensiveness             is rarely achievable.          In the real world,
        the most important data are those associated with a new pest or disease for
        which no one has done an evaluation            because it didn't        exist before.      Lastly,
        the survey is somewhat insensitive            to the issue on ownership and availability
        of plant genetic resources that is currently              being debated in the FAO.
        Hopefully,      that issue will be calmed with time and efforts               by all nations to be
        more attentive       to supporting    plant conservation      activities.

        ARS has a number of concerns about the use of the survey and its objectives.
        Reallocation     of program funds or redirection        of specialized     scientist5   is not a
        casual or simple event.        ARS is the USDA's in-house research arm and takes the
        lead in the management of the NPGS. ARS has properly                conserved plant genetic
        resources and has conducted its research program on plant germplasm within
        available    funds.    The Agency prides itself     on its scientific        expertise  to solve
        problems and manage research, and it desires to provide a stable environment
        for its career scientists.         ARS is not funded to provide service support to the
        entire plant community for whatever type of evaluation               or enhancement effort
        that some group believes        is desirable.    Thus, it is essential        that the surveys
        represent    responses from a broad-based group rather than just the scientists
        associated    with a particular     crop species.      In that sense, the Agency resenes
        the right to determine what germplasm management activities                it can afford to
        fund.     In this regard, some apparently      logical    survey recommendations may not
        receive support from the Agency because of competing priorities.

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                                                                                                        ”       ..

Appendix VI

Major Contributors to This Report

                        Michael J. Wargo, Issue Area Director
Program Evaluation      James H. Solomon, Project Director
and Methodology         Brian Keenan, Survey Methodologist
Division, Washington,

                        Arleen L. Alleman, Project Manager
Denver Regional         Arthur Gallegos, Deputy Project Manager
Office                  Janet L. Bower, Staff Evaluator
                        Felicia A. Turner, Systems Analyst
                        Paul Gvoth, Systems Analyst


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Accession              An individual sample of seeds or plant material entered into a germ-
                       plasm collection.

Acquisition            The collection of plant germplasm from natural habitats as well as
                       through exchange with other scientists or gene banks.

Asexual                Any mode of reproduction not involving fertilization, conjugation, or
                       genetic recombination. Progeny have the same genotype as the parent.

Biotechnology          Ideas or advanced techniques derived from molecular and cell biology
                       that use biological systems to produce products.

Breeding               Developing new crop varieties or improving existing varieties (espe-
                       cially commercial crops) by making crosses over multiple generations.

Centers of Diversity   The regions where most of the major crop species were originally domes-
                       ticated and developed. These regions may coincide with centers of

Centers of Origin      The locations where a species originally evolved.

Characterization       The screening of germplasm accessions to determine traits that distin-
                       guish the accessions genetically, such as agronomic, morphological,
                       physiological, or biochemical traits.

Chromosome             A gene-containing structure in the nucleus of a cell.

Clonal Germplasm       The genetic material of an organism that is multiplied by asexual means
                       such that all progeny are genetically identical. In plants, it is commonly
                       achieved through the use of cuttings or in vitro culture.

Cultivar               See Variety.

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Cutting                 A plant piece (stem, leaf, or root) removed from a parent plant that is
                        capable of developing into a new plant.

Electrophoresis         The application of an electric field to a mixture of charged particles in a
                        solution for the purpose of separating, for example, a mixture of pro-
                        teins as they migrate through a porous supporting medium of filter
                        paper, cellulose acetate, or gel.

Enhancement             Incorporating desired traits of wild germplasm into a domesticated crop
                        variety, so that the resulting variety will be suitable for cross-breeding
                        with commercial varieties. Also known as prebreeding.

Evaluation              Examining germplasm accessions for traits of agronomic interest such as
                        yield, stress tolerance, disease resistance, or quality factors.

Ex Situ                 Pertaining to the study or maintenance of collections of organisms away
                        from the place where they naturally occur.

Gene                    A chemical unit of hereditary information that can be passed from one
                        generation to another.

GenePool                The collection of genes in an interbreeding population. The total avail-
                        able gene pool of a crop consists of the (1) primary gene pool, or all
                        cultivated and wild or weedy races of a crop that can be easily crossed
                        with each other; (2) secondary gene pool, or biological species that can
                        be crossed with the crop but only with great difficulty; and (3) tertiary
                        gene pool, or species in which crosses with the crop are possible only
                        with advanced techniques, usually resulting in lethal crosses.

Genetic Diversity       The variety of genes within a particular species, variety, or breed.

Genetic Vulnerability   The extent to which a crop or species is at risk of loss to disease, pests,
                        or environmental stresses.

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Genome       The complete genetic makeup of an organism.

Genus        (Plural: genera.) A category of biological classification ranking between
             the family and the species and consisting structurally of phylogeneti-
             tally related species or an isolated species exhibiting unusual

Germplasm    An imprecise term generally used to refer to the genetic information of
             an organism or group of organisms-for     example, the material in seeds
             or other plant materials that controls heredity.

Grow Out     The process of growing a plant for the purpose of producing fresh,
             viable seed to evaluate its varietal characteristics (sometimes called
             “growing out” or “regeneration”).

Hybrid       An offspring of a cross between two genetically unlike organisms.

In Situ      The maintenance or study of an organism within its native environment.

In Vitro     The growing of cells, tissues, or organs in glass or plastic vessels under
             sterile conditions in an artificially prepared medium.

Isozymes     The protein product of an individual gene and one of a group of such
             products with differing chemical structures but similar enzymatic

Landrace     A primitive or antique variety usually associated with traditional agri-
             culture. Often highly adapted to local conditions.

Morphology   A branch of biology that deals with the form and structure of

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Nucleic Acid           Any of various complex organic acids (such as DNA) found especially in
                       cell nuclei.

Passport Data          Information regarding a germplasm accession that can include general
                       morphology, the environment of its origin, soil conditions, and uses.

Pathogen               A specific causative agent of disease.

Phenotype              The observable appearance of an organism as determined by environ-
                       mental and genetic influences.

Phylogenetic           Of or relating to the evolution of a race or genetically related group of
                       organisms (as species, family, or order) as distinguished from the devel-
                       opment of the individual organism.

Preservation           Storing and maintaining plant genetic resources in gene banks to ensure
                       that (1) a diverse supply of germplasm is available to breeders and
                       researchers and (2) sufficient genetic diversity exists in the gene banks
                       to ensure the long-term survival of cultivated crop varieties.

                       Offspring of organisms.

Protoplast Fusion      The fusing, or combining, of two or more cell protoplasts after stripping
                       away the cell walls. The process is used to produce hybrids between spe-
                       cies that cannot be bred conventionally.

Restriction Fragment   Abbreviated RFLP, genetic traits that represent great genetic variation at
Length Polymorphism    the nucleotide sequence level but not necessarily detectable at the phe-
                       notypic level. RFLP is used to generate gene maps.

Species        ”       A classification ranking immediately below genus and including closely
                       related, morphologically similar individuals that actually or potentially

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Taxonomy         The science of naming, describing, and classifying organisms.

Tissue Culture   A technique in which portions of an organism are grown in an artificial
                 culture medium in an organized (such as plantlets) or unorganized (such
                 as a callus) state. See also In Vitro.

Variety          An international term denoting certain cultivated plants that are clearly
                 distinguishable from others by one or more characteristics and that
                 when reproduced retain their distinguishing characteristics, In the
                 United States, “variety” is considered to be synonymous with “cultivar”
                 (derived from “cultivated variety”).

Widecrossing     Breeding crops with other species such as wild relatives in order to
                 obtain desirable traits.

Wild Relative    Plant species that are taxonomically related to crop species and serve aa
                 potential sources of genes in the breeding of new varieties of those

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