oversight

U.S. Department of Agriculture: Information on the Condition of the National Plant Germplasm System

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-10-16.

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

                 United States General Accounting Office

GAO              Report to Congressional Committees




October 1997
                 U.S. DEPARTMENT
                 OF AGRICULTURE
                 Information on the
                 Condition of the
                 National Plant
                 Germplasm System




GAO/RCED-98-20
      United States
GAO   General Accounting Office
      Washington, D.C. 20548

      Resources, Community, and
      Economic Development Division

      B-277794

      October 16, 1997

      Congressional Committees

      This report provides information on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Plant
      Germplasm System. This system provides germplasm that is used by plant breeders and
      researchers to develop new and improved plant varieties for crop production. To conduct our
      work, we surveyed the members of the 40 Crop Germplasm Committees that advise the
      Department on the acquisition, preservation, and information needs of the germplasm
      collections.

      We are sending copies of this report to interested congressional committees; the Secretary of
      Agriculture; and the chairmen of the 40 germplasm committees surveyed. We will also make
      copies available upon request.

      If you or your staff have any questions, please call me at (202) 512-5138. Major contributors to
      this report are listed in appendix V.




      Robert A. Robinson
      Director, Food and
        Agriculture Issues
B-277794

Congressional Committees

The Honorable Richard G. Lugar
Chairman
The Honorable Tom Harkin
Ranking Minority Member
Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition,
  and Forestry
United States Senate

The Honorable Mitch McConnell
Chairman
The Honorable Patrick J. Leahy
Ranking Minority Member
Subcommittee on Research, Nutrition,
  and General Legislation
Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition,
  and Forestry
United States Senate

The Honorable Robert F. (Bob) Smith
Chairman
The Honorable Charles W. Stenholm
Ranking Minority Member
Committee on Agriculture
House of Representatives

The Honorable Larry Combest
Chairman
The Honorable Calvin M. Dooley
Ranking Minority Member
Subcommittee on Forestry, Resource
  Conservation, and Research
Committee on Agriculture
House of Representatives




                    Page 2             GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
B-277794




           Page 3   GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
Executive Summary


             The U.S. agricultural sector—renowned for its productivity—owes much
Purpose      of its success to a continuing flow of improved crop varieties that produce
             higher yields and better withstand pests, diseases, and extreme climates.
             The genes necessary for these crops are contained in plant
             germplasm—the material in seeds or other plant parts that controls
             heredity. To maintain high levels of agricultural productivity, plant
             breeders need access to an ample supply of germplasm with diverse
             genetic characteristics.

             The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Plant Germplasm
             System (NPGS) maintains germplasm collections for over 85 crops at sites
             nationwide. Forty Crop Germplasm Committees (CGC) provide technical
             advice and guidance to NPGS on germplasm activities. The CGCs are
             composed of crop experts, including the NPGS curators who are
             responsible for maintaining and preserving the collections.

             Because of the importance of germplasm to U.S. agricultural productivity
             and food security, GAO surveyed the 680 members of the 40 CGCs for their
             views on the sufficiency of NPGS’ principal activities—(1) acquiring
             germplasm to ensure the diversity of the collections in order to reduce
             crop vulnerability, (2) developing and documenting information on
             germplasm, and (3) preserving germplasm.


             NPGS is primarily a federally and state-supported effort aimed at
Background   maintaining supplies of plant germplasm with diverse genetic traits for use
             in breeding and scientific research. The diversity in germplasm collections
             enables breeders to develop improved crops that are more productive and
             often less vulnerable to pests and diseases. These collections are
             particularly important because the diversity of germplasm worldwide has
             been reduced by several factors, such as the widespread use of genetically
             uniform crops in commercial agriculture and the destruction of natural
             habitats that have been important sources of germplasm.

             The Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 established the main components
             of NPGS as well as a legal basis for federal and state cooperation in
             managing plant genetic resources. NPGS’ current organizational
             structure—a geographically dispersed network of germplasm collections
             administered primarily by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service
             (ARS)—emerged in the early 1970s. NPGS maintains about 440,000
             germplasm samples for over 85 crops at 22 sites throughout the country
             and in Puerto Rico; almost half of these samples are maintained at four



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                   Executive Summary




                   regional plant introduction stations. Germplasm samples are held in crop
                   collections, each of which generally includes four types of germplasm (for
                   example, germplasm from cultivated plants and germplasm from wild
                   relatives of cultivated plants). Each type of germplasm contains genetic
                   material that plays an important role in the collections’ overall diversity.

                   Most of NPGS’ germplasm is imported from other countries and must
                   comply with U.S. quarantine regulations, which are intended to prevent
                   the introduction of pests and pathogens into the United States. Germplasm
                   collections are also maintained by other countries and international
                   organizations, as well as by U.S. and foreign universities and private
                   companies. These collections vary considerably in terms of the quality of
                   preservation, and only some are freely available to breeders.

                   Although ARS provides the lion’s share of support for NPGS, the system is
                   also supported by the states. Private industry also funds selected NPGS
                   projects and transfers germplasm to the public in the form of new plant
                   varieties and hybrids. In fiscal year 1996, NPGS’ total funding was
                   $23.3 million, $19.5 million of which was provided by ARS. From fiscal
                   years 1992 through 1996, ARS’ funding of NPGS has declined by 14 percent,
                   in constant dollars, while the total size of the collections has increased by
                   10 percent.


                   Just over half of the Crop Germplasm Committees reported that the
Results in Brief   genetic diversity contained in the National Plant Germplasm System’s
                   collections is sufficient to reduce the vulnerability of their crops.
                   Considering both this collection and all other freely available collections,
                   almost three-quarters of the committees said that the diversity in these
                   collections is sufficient for reducing their crops’ vulnerability. At the same
                   time, the committees identified several concerns affecting the diversity of
                   their collections, and they ranked the acquisition of germplasm as the
                   highest priority for the germplasm system if more funding becomes
                   available. Current acquisition efforts are hindered by problems in
                   obtaining germplasm from some countries and by USDA’s management of
                   the quarantine system, which has contributed to the loss of germplasm and
                   delays in its release for certain plants.

                   According to the crop committees, many of the system’s collections lack
                   sufficient information on germplasm traits to facilitate the germplasm’s
                   use in crop breeding. Officials of the germplasm system acknowledged
                   that some information on plant traits, such as resistance to disease or



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                             Executive Summary




                             plant structure, either has not been developed or has not always been
                             entered into the system’s database. In some cases, the information has not
                             been developed because it is considered to be a lower priority than
                             preserving germplasm; in other instances, the information has been
                             developed by scientists outside of the system and has not been provided
                             for entry into the database.

                             Preservation activities—viability testing, regeneration, and the long-term
                             backup storage of germplasm—have not kept pace with the preservation
                             needs of the collections. Only minimal viability testing—testing the seeds
                             in a sample to determine how many are alive in order to prevent the loss of
                             the sample—has occurred at two of four major locations. In addition, the
                             system has significant backlogs for regenerating (that is, replenishing)
                             germplasm at the four major locations. Finally, over one-third of the
                             system’s germplasm is not stored in the system’s secure, long-term storage
                             facility, thereby increasing the risk that samples located around the nation
                             could be lost through environmental damage or other catastrophes.



Principal Findings

Importance of Increasing     Over half of the CGCs reported that the genetic diversity of NPGS’ collections
Diversity Underscored, but   for their crops is sufficient to reduce crop vulnerability. Moreover, when
Some Obstacles Hinder        all freely available collections (including NPGS’) were considered, almost
                             three-fourths of the CGCs reported that the collections—including those for
Acquisition                  many major crops—are sufficiently diverse. Nonetheless, the acquisition
                             of germplasm was viewed as NPGS’ top priority—out of 14
                             germplasm-related activities—in the event of additional funding. Many
                             CGCs identified concerns affecting the diversity of their collections that
                             may contribute to the importance they place on increased acquisition.
                             These include inadequate diversity in one or more of the four types of
                             germplasm making up the collections and the potential loss of germplasm
                             that is at risk in nature.

                             Although CGCs want to acquire more germplasm, difficulties with some
                             countries prevent such acquisition. Furthermore, the Convention on
                             Biological Diversity has the potential to restrict NPGS’ acquisition of
                             germplasm if its signatories make the germplasm subject to certain
                             restrictions that are inconsistent with NPGS’ policy.




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                              Executive Summary




                              The acquisition of germplasm has also been hampered by USDA’s
                              management of the quarantine process, which has contributed to the loss
                              or delayed release of certain germplasm. Thirteen CGCs, most of whose
                              germplasm often undergoes more intensive scrutiny in quarantine,
                              reported that quarantine regulations and processes have resulted in delays
                              in the timely release of germplasm; 5 CGCs reported problems with the
                              release of viable germplasm. CGCs for crops such as prunus (e.g., cherry
                              and peach trees), apples, pears, potatoes, and corn were among those
                              reporting quarantine-related problems.


Germplasm Information Is      Most CGCs reported that NPGS’ germplasm collections for their crops lack
Reported to Be Insufficient   important information on germplasm traits needed for crop breeding.
                              Breeders need such information to select germplasm with the traits they
                              are seeking from the myriad of germplasm samples. Specifically,
                              three-quarters of the CGCs reported insufficiencies with evaluation
                              information, which describes traits, such as resistance to disease and
                              yield, that are of particular interest to plant breeders. Furthermore, almost
                              half found insufficiencies in characterization information, which describes
                              traits, such as color and plant structure, that are little influenced by the
                              environment. On the other hand, most CGCs reported that passport
                              information is sufficient for crop-breeding purposes. Passport information
                              describes, among other things, the site of origin of the germplasm.

                              Some evaluation and characterization information has not been developed
                              and entered into NPGS’ database for a number of reasons. These reasons
                              include the large amount of germplasm that needs to be evaluated and
                              characterized, the resource-intensive nature of these activities, and limited
                              resources. In addition, most evaluations of NPGS’ germplasm are conducted
                              by scientists outside of NPGS—often university and other ARS
                              scientists—who do not always provide NPGS with the resulting information
                              for entry into the database. CGCs estimated that, on average, 50 percent of
                              the useful evaluation information relating to their NPGS collections is not in
                              the database. Characterization information, on the other hand, is primarily
                              developed by NPGS’ curators. However, NPGS officials said that
                              characterizing germplasm is generally a lower priority than preserving it.
                              Unlike evaluation and characterization information, passport information
                              should be provided when a sample is donated to NPGS. However, many
                              samples lack some passport information, largely because donors do not
                              always have or provide the information.




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                          Executive Summary




Preservation Activities   Preservation activities—including viability testing, regeneration, and
Have Not Kept Pace With   secure, long-term backup storage of germplasm—have not kept pace with
the Collections’ Needs    the preservation needs of NPGS’ collections. Two major NPGS sites,
                          accounting for over one-quarter of the active collections, do not conduct
                          sufficient viability testing to determine the quantity of viable seeds,
                          according to NPGS data and officials. Viability testing should generally be
                          conducted every 5 to 10 years at these sites, depending on the type of plant
                          and storage conditions, according to the site managers. However, in 10
                          years, the two sites have tested less than one-fourth of their germplasm.

                          Furthermore, NPGS has significant backlogs of germplasm requiring
                          regeneration—growing the seeds in order to produce a sufficient supply of
                          viable germplasm. For example, at one site that distributes a wide variety
                          of germplasm, about half of its over 60,000 samples required regeneration,
                          and one collection could take as much as 75 years to regenerate, given the
                          current level of resources. NPGS officials said that limited staff resources
                          were the biggest problem contributing to these backlogs.

                          Finally, only 61 percent of NPGS’ approximately 440,000 seed samples are
                          backed up in the system’s secure, long-term storage facility, designed to
                          minimize the loss of germplasm viability. A primary reason for the lack of
                          backup is that sites do not provide germplasm to this facility when a
                          germplasm sample has too few seeds. In such instances, the sample must
                          be regenerated before it can be backed up. Furthermore, as of
                          August 1997, NPGS’ secure, long-term facility had a 16-month backlog of
                          about 27,000 samples that have to be tested for viability before being
                          placed in permanent, long-term storage.


                          GAO   is making no recommendations in this report.
Recommendations
                          GAO  provided a draft of this report to USDA for review and comment. USDA
Agency Comments           did not take issue with any of the information in the report. USDA noted
                          that while NPGS has made large strides since earlier reviews conducted by
                          GAO and the National Research Council, its successes have been dwarfed
                          by its increasing responsibilities in the face of declining resources. USDA
                          stated that unless NPGS’ funding is augmented, the system will need to
                          juggle its multiple, sometimes divergent, priorities by making incremental
                          progress in addressing an exceptionally broad range of user demands. In
                          addition, USDA said that the Department would continue to work with
                          other agencies and the private sector to ensure that NPGS is managed




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Executive Summary




effectively. USDA included an attachment to its comments highlighting the
progress made since 1990 in addressing NPGS’ managerial goals.

GAO appreciates the challenges that NPGS faces in juggling its multiple
priorities and managing its increasing collections in the face of declining
resources. In that regard, GAO supports USDA’s efforts to improve the
management of NPGS to make the most effective use of its limited
resources. GAO believes that the information provided in this report will
assist congressional and other decisionmakers in future deliberations on
the role of NPGS and the resources available to NPGS for carrying out its
role. Appendix IV contains the complete text of USDA’s comments and
GAO’s response.




Page 9                           GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
Contents



Executive Summary                                                                                  4


Chapter 1                                                                                         12
                       Germplasm Collections Are Critical to Agricultural Productivity,           12
Introduction             Food Security, and Biodiversity
                       Most Germplasm for U.S. Crops Comes From Other Countries                   14
                       Profile of USDA’s National Plant Germplasm System                          17
                       Past GAO and National Research Council Reports Have Cited                  23
                         Many NPGS Shortcomings
                       Objectives, Scope, and Methodology                                         24

Chapter 2                                                                                         26
                       Most CGCs Reported That Germplasm Collections Are                          26
CGCs Underscored         Sufficiently Diverse, but They Still Want to Increase Germplasm
Importance of            Acquisition
                       CGCs Report Problems in Acquiring Foreign Germplasm                        31
Acquiring Germplasm    USDA’s Management of Quarantine Program Has Hampered                       32
to Increase Genetic      Acquisition of Some Germplasm
Diversity, but Some
Obstacles Hinder
Acquisition
Chapter 3                                                                                         36
                       Many CGCs Reported That Evaluation and Characterization                    36
Many NPGS                Information Are Insufficient
Germplasm              Needed Information Is Not Available for Several Reasons                    42
Collections Lack
Information Needed
for Crop Breeding
Chapter 4                                                                                         45
                       Much Germplasm at Two Major Locations Has Not Been Tested                  45
Preservation             for Viability
Activities Have Not    NPGS Has Significant Backlogs of Germplasm Requiring                       46
                         Regeneration
Kept Pace With Needs   Much Germplasm Is Not in Long-Term Backup Storage                          48
of the Collection



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             Contents




Appendixes   Appendix I: Survey Methodology                                             52
             Appendix II: Results of GAO’s Survey of Crop Germplasm                     54
               Committees
             Appendix III: Crop Germplasm Committees and the Crops for                  70
               Which They Are Responsible
             Appendix IV: Comments From the U.S. Department of                          78
               Agriculture
             Appendix V: Major Contributors to This Report                              89

Tables       Table 1.1: NPGS’ Major Activities                                          17
             Table 4.1: Estimated Years Required to Regenerate the Samples              47
               of Major Seed Crops at the Plant Introduction Stations at Current
               Resource Levels

Figures      Figure 1.1: Centers of Origin of Selected Crops                            15
             Figure 1.2: NPGS Sites of Major Importance                                 19
             Figure 2.1: CGCs’ Perceptions of the Diversity of All Freely               27
               Available Collections and of the Diversity of the NPGS
               Collections for Their Crops
             Figure 2.2: CGCs’ Ranking of the Priority to Be Given to 14                28
               Germplasm-Related Activities
               in the Event of Additional Funding
             Figure 3.1: CGCs’ Perceptions of the Sufficiency of Evaluation             37
               Information for Crop Breeding
             Figure 3.2: CGCs’ Assessment of the Extent to Which Major Traits           38
               Have Been Evaluated
             Figure 3.3: CGCs’ Perceptions of the Sufficiency of                        39
               Characterization Information for Crop Breeding
             Figure 3.4: CGCs’ Perceptions of the Sufficiency of Passport               41
               Information for Crop Breeding



             Abbreviations

             APHIS      Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
             ARS        Agricultural Research Service
             CGC        Crop Germplasm Committee
             GRIN       Germplasm Resources Information Network
             NGRL       National Germplasm Resources Laboratory
             NPGS       National Plant Germplasm System
             NSSL       National Seed Storage Laboratory
             USDA       U.S. Department of Agriculture


             Page 11                         GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
Chapter 1

Introduction


                           The U.S. agricultural sector—renowned for its productivity—owes much
                           of its success to a continuing flow of improved crop varieties that produce
                           higher yields and better withstand pests, diseases, and climate extremes.
                           The genes necessary for these improved crops are contained in plant
                           germplasm—the material in seeds or other plant parts that controls
                           heredity. To maintain a high level of agricultural productivity, plant
                           breeders need access to an ample supply of germplasm with diverse
                           genetic characteristics so that they can continue to develop plant varieties
                           that will provide increased yields and better resist pests, diseases, and
                           environmental stresses. However, the diversity of germplasm available to
                           present and future generations of breeders has been reduced by several
                           factors, including the widespread use of genetically uniform crops in
                           commercial agriculture and the destruction of natural habitats, such as
                           forests, that have been important sources of germplasm.

                           In the United States, the National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS),
                           primarily administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA),
                           maintains germplasm collections for over 85 crops at 22 sites nationwide
                           and in Puerto Rico. These collections contain numerous germplasm
                           samples1 and provide breeders with access to germplasm with a broad
                           range of genetic traits. In addition to maintaining the collections, NPGS is
                           responsible for acquiring germplasm, developing and documenting
                           information that describes the germplasm in the collections, and
                           distributing germplasm to plant breeders and other users in the United
                           States and worldwide.


                           Germplasm collections are an important source of genetic material for
Germplasm                  plant breeders targeting specific traits, such as higher yield, increased
Collections Are            resistance to disease and pests, good taste, improved nutritional quality,
Critical to Agricultural   and environmental and climatic hardiness. To be of greatest use, these
                           collections need to be genetically diverse, thereby giving breeders more
Productivity, Food         possibilities to find the traits they need to develop improved crop
Security, and              varieties. In addition, information on germplasm traits and other related
                           information (e.g., site of origin of the germplasm) should be obtained and
Biodiversity               documented, and the germplasm must be adequately preserved to be of
                           optimal use to potential users.




                           1
                            A germplasm sample (sometimes referred to as an accession) is a distinct, uniquely identified sample
                           of seeds or plants that is part of a germplasm collection.



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    Chapter 1
    Introduction




    Diverse germplasm has played a key role in increasing food security
    through enhanced crop productivity and reduced crop vulnerability to
    pests and diseases. For example:

•   According to a survey on the use of germplasm in 18 crops grown in the
    United States from 1976 to 1980,2 from 1 percent (sweet clover) to
    90 percent (sunflower and tomato) of the crop varieties had been
    improved in part by the use of germplasm from wild relatives of the
    cultivated crops.
•   The high productivity of modern wheat—resistant to many pests, diseases,
    and other stresses—results from combining germplasm from various
    varieties of wheat grown around the world to create improved wheat
    varieties. For example, one well-known germplasm sample from Turkey
    has been a source of resistance for three different types of
    disease—common bunt, stripe rust, and snow mold. This germplasm also
    has the ability to establish vigorous seedlings in hot, dry soils that deter
    the emergence of many other varieties.3
•   Most of the genes for insect and disease resistance in tomatoes come from
    a related wild species4 that originated outside of the United States.
    Germplasm from wild species is also a source of tolerance to
    environmental stress, such as drought. In particular, the discovery of
    resistance to a soil-borne organism known as the root-knot nematode has
    made the difference between growing or not growing tomatoes in many
    subtropical areas of the United States (such as southern California and
    Florida).

    In addition to providing a source of genetic diversity for plant breeders,
    germplasm collections serve as an archive for rare and endangered crop
    species. The loss of biodiversity worldwide has made the need for these
    collections all the more compelling. Expanding human populations,
    urbanization, deforestation, destruction of the environment, and other
    factors threaten many of the world’s plant genetic resources. These
    resources are vital to the future of agricultural productivity and the
    world’s food security. Many national and international collections have
    been established to rescue and conserve these resources for future use.



    2
     Managing Global Genetic Resources: Agricultural Crop Issues and Policies, National Research Council
    (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1993).
    3
    Cox, T.S., “The Contribution of Introduced Germplasm to the Development of U.S. Wheat Cultivars,”
    Use of Plant Introductions in Cultivar Development, Part 1, CSSA Special Publication No. 17, 1991.
    4
     A wild species is one that has not been subject to breeding to alter it from its state.



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                       Chapter 1
                       Introduction




                       In breeding plant germplasm into a narrowing genetic base of highly
                       productive crop varieties, breeders have also reduced the genetic diversity
                       of these crops, making them more uniform. Genetic uniformity in breeding
                       also results when breeders inadvertently eliminate certain traits (such as
                       resistance to disease and pests) that do not contribute directly to the
                       desired characteristic (such as high yield) for which they were searching.
                       While the resulting genetic uniformity can offer substantial advantages in
                       both the quantity and quality of a commercial crop, it can also make crops
                       more vulnerable to pests, diseases, and environmental hazards.5 A narrow
                       genetic base presents the potential danger of substantial crop loss if a
                       crop’s genetically uniform characteristics are suddenly and adversely
                       affected by disease, insects, or poor weather. The risk of loss through the
                       genetic vulnerability of uniform, common-origin planted crops is a serious
                       concern.

                       Such losses have occurred in the past. The Irish potato famine of the 1840s
                       was a major factor in the death, impoverishment, and emigration of
                       millions of Irish people. A single variety of the potato became Ireland’s
                       staple food after its arrival from South America in the eighteenth century.
                       The widespread use of this single variety increased the potato crop’s
                       vulnerability to a previously unknown blight, which devastated a number
                       of successive potato harvests. While the United States has not experienced
                       such a widespread loss, several sizable crop failures have occurred as a
                       result of a crop’s vulnerability to a particular disease. For example, in the
                       late 1950s and early 1960s, about 70 percent of the wheat crop in the
                       Pacific Northwest was wiped out by a disease known as stripe rust. In
                       1970, a disease known as the southern corn leaf blight swept from the
                       southeastern United States to the Great Plains, costing farmers 15 percent
                       of their corn crop that year.


                       U.S. agriculture is based on crops that originated from areas outside of the
Most Germplasm for     United States. For example, as shown in figure 1.1, corn originated in
U.S. Crops Comes       Mexico and Guatemala, wheat in the Near East (in such countries as Iran),
From Other Countries   and soybeans in China. Crops of economic importance that are native to
                       the United States are limited and include sunflowers, cranberries,
                       blueberries, strawberries, and pecans. Thus, almost all the germplasm
                       needed to increase the genetic diversity of U.S. agriculture comes from
                       foreign locations.

                       5
                        Increased vulnerability can occur because genetically similar varieties or hybrids of a crop create a
                       dependence on a single genetic source of resistance. Insects and pathogens are continually evolving,
                       and in genetically uniform crops, the pest may need to overcome only one set of resistance genes—as
                       opposed to numerous sets of resistance genes in a genetically diverse farm landscape.



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                                            Chapter 1
                                            Introduction




Figure 1.1: Centers of Origin of Selected Crops


                                                                                                     Apple
                                                                                  Almond                                      Soybean


                                                              Grape




                                                  Sugarbeet
      Sunflower
                                                  Lettuce
                                       Strawberry
                                                                                                                       Rice
                                         Cotton
        Corn, dry bean,
        tomato                                                                                                         Orange
                                              Dry bean                                                                        Sugarcane
             Tobacco                                                                  Barley,     Onion
                                                      Sorghum
                                                                                      wheat
                                                                                                Alfalfa
                  Potato
                                                                                Rye
                  Peanut




                          Strawberry



                                            Note: The pointer locations indicate general regions where crops are believed to have first been
                                            domesticated. In some cases, the center of origin is uncertain. Other geographic regions also
                                            harbor important genetic diversity for these crops.

                                            Source: This map was developed by GAO using data provided by NPGS’ Plant Exchange Office.




                                            While immigrants to the United States, including the first colonists from
                                            Europe, brought seeds with them, native North Americans had already
                                            introduced corn, beans, and other crops from Central and South America.
                                            Today, to obtain new germplasm for U.S. collections, plant breeders and
                                            researchers often rely on collections located in foreign countries or on
                                            plant exploration trips to the centers of origin for their crops. Between
                                            1986 and 1996, an estimated 75 percent of the germplasm samples added
                                            to NPGS’ collections were obtained from foreign countries.




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Chapter 1
Introduction




Although plant exploration trips are an important source of germplasm,
most of the germplasm in NPGS has been obtained from existing collections
both in the United States and in foreign national and international
collections. Some of the U.S. and foreign collections belong to universities
and private companies. Other foreign collections include (1) an
international collection based in 16 international agricultural research
centers that is administered by the Consultative Group on International
Agricultural Research6 and (2) foreign national collections.

The international agricultural research centers, located primarily in
developing countries, specialize in research intended to enhance the
nutrition and well-being of poor people through sustainable improvements
in the productivity of agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. These centers,
according to the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute,7 have
together assembled the world’s largest international collection of plant
genetic resources for food and agriculture. They account for a significant
proportion, possibly over 30 percent, of the world’s unique germplasm
samples maintained in collections away from their native environment.
The international research centers are funded by voluntary contributions,
and their plant germplasm has historically been freely available to any
user. Moreover, users have not applied intellectual property protection to
the material. The United States works cooperatively with these centers to
support international activities to preserve germplasm. For example, U.S.
germplasm facilities maintain duplicate collections for some of the
international centers to provide for secure backup. In addition, U.S.
scientists help various centers screen germplasm for resistance to pests
and pathogens and serve in scientific liaison roles between the centers and
the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Finally, many countries, including most European nations, maintain
germplasm collections. These national collections vary considerably in
terms of the quality of preservation, organizational structure, the number
of crops preserved, and the access provided to requesters. One of the
largest collections of plant germplasm in the world is maintained at
Russia’s Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry, named for the Russian
scientist who was a pioneer in the study of plants.

6
 The purpose of the consultative group is to promote sustainable agriculture for food security in
developing countries. The consultative group is jointly sponsored by the World Bank, the Food and
Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the United Nations Development Program, and the
United Nations Environment Program. Fifty-three members, including the United States, provide funds
that support the consultative group.
7
 The International Plant Genetic Resources Institute is an autonomous, international scientific
organization sponsored by the consultative group.



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                                    Chapter 1
                                    Introduction




                                    The National Plant Germplasm System is primarily a federally and
Profile of USDA’s                   state-supported effort aimed at maintaining supplies of germplasm with
National Plant                      diverse genetic traits for use in breeding and scientific research. While
Germplasm System                    NPGS has been evolving since USDA established its plant-collecting program
                                    in 1898, the main components of NPGS were not established until the
                                    passage of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946. The act also provided a
                                    legal basis for state and federal cooperation in managing crop genetic
                                    resources. The current organizational structure of NPGS—a geographically
                                    dispersed network of germplasm collections administered primarily by
                                    USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS)—emerged in the early 1970s.
                                    Although ARS provides the lion’s share of support for NPGS, the system is
                                    also supported by the agricultural experiment stations at the state level.8
                                    In addition, private industry provides some support for selected projects
                                    and develops and transfers germplasm in the form of plant hybrids and
                                    varieties to farmers and other consumers.

                                    NPGS’ major activities are (1) acquiring germplasm, (2) developing and
                                    documenting information on the germplasm in its collections, and
                                    (3) preserving the germplasm. (See table 1.1.) NPGS also distributes
                                    samples, free of charge, on request to plant breeders and other scientists.
                                    NPGS maintains about 440,000 germplasm samples for over 85 crops. In
                                    1996, NPGS distributed about 106,000 germplasm samples to requesters in
                                    the United States and in 94 countries; it received about 7,800 germplasm
                                    samples, about 5,000 of which originated in foreign countries.

Table 1.1: NPGS’ Major Activities
                                    Activity                           Description
                                    Acquisition                        Collecting plant germplasm from natural habitats and
                                                                       through exchange with other scientists or collections.
                                    Development and              Development—characterizing some of the germplasm’s
                                    documentation of information genetic traits, such as height and color.
                                                                 Documentation—entering these and other data in NPGS’
                                                                 database, called the Germplasm Resources Information
                                                                 Network.
                                    Preservation                       Storing and maintaining germplasm to ensure a diverse
                                                                       supply of germplasm. In addition, NPGS distributes
                                                                       germplasm to breeders and other researchers.

                                    NPGS  is responsible for developing characterization information—data on
                                    traits such as plant structure and color that are little influenced by the
                                    environment. However, other information critical to the use of NPGS
                                    germplasm and documented in the Germplasm Resources Information

                                    8
                                    Agricultural experiment stations are supported primarily by the states but also receive support from
                                    USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service.



                                    Page 17                                     GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
                           Chapter 1
                           Introduction




                           Network (GRIN) is generally developed outside of NPGS. (GRIN, a database of
                           NPGS’ holdings, is available to scientists and researchers worldwide.) For
                           example, most evaluation data, which document traits typically affected
                           by environmental conditions (e.g., plant yield and disease resistance), are
                           developed outside of NPGS.9 These data are particularly important in
                           providing plant breeders with the information they need to select the
                           specific germplasm samples they seek from the sometimes thousands of
                           possible choices offered by NPGS. Passport data, often provided by the
                           person or organization that collected or supplied the germplasm,
                           document the geographic origin and ecological conditions of its site of
                           origin.

                           Other germplasm collections in the United States—beyond NPGS’—are
                           maintained by private companies, institutions such as universities and
                           state agricultural experiment stations, and nonprofit organizations such as
                           the Seed Savers Exchange. Some of these collections, as well as some
                           foreign collections, are not freely available to users of germplasm.
                           Although NPGS could not provide information on the number, size, and
                           condition of all of these collections, they represent a substantial
                           germplasm pool.


NPGS Maintains             NPGS maintains collections at 22 sites throughout the United States and in
Germplasm Collections at   Puerto Rico. In addition, staff at 10 other sites work cooperatively with
                           NPGS but do not receive NPGS funding. NPGS also maintains the National
Sites Throughout the
                           Seed Storage Laboratory (NSSL) and the National Germplasm Resources
United States              Laboratory (NGRL). Figure 1.2 shows the locations of these sites and
                           laboratories.




                           9
                            Up until 1992, NPGS received funding for germplasm evaluations. Since then, funding for these
                           evaluations has been transferred from NPGS to other ARS research programs.



                           Page 18                                     GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
                                                Chapter 1
                                                Introduction




Figure 1.2: NPGS Sites of Major Importance

                          Pullman
                                    Aberdeen
                                                                                                             Geneva
                                                                    Fargo


                                                                                                  Sturgeon Bay
      Corvallis




                                                                             Ames
      Davis                                                                                                                   NGRL
                                                     NSSL                                                                   Beltsville
                                                Ft. Collins                         Urbana


                                                                                                                                Washington, D.C.



              Riverside


                                                                                                                 Griffin


                                                                College Station




                                                                                                                    Miami




                                         Hilo
                                                                                                                                   Mayaguez


                                    Regional plant introduction station
                                    National clonal germplasm repository
                                    Genetic stock collection
                                    Crop-specific seed collection




                                                Source: NPGS.




                                                While most NPGS collections are maintained at sites that house germplasm
                                                for numerous crops, NPGS also has five sites that specialize in crop-specific
                                                collections, such as potatoes or soybeans. In addition, NPGS has nine sites
                                                that are national clonal germplasm repositories and four that maintain



                                                Page 19                                  GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
Chapter 1
Introduction




genetic stock collections.10 The four regional plant introduction stations11
are responsible for maintaining many of the major seed-reproducing
species held by NPGS. In total, as of June 1997, they accounted for almost
half of the germplasm samples maintained in NPGS collections.

NPGS  sites generally contain either “backup” or “active” collections,
depending on the storage objectives.12 Backup collections maintain
germplasm for long-term conservation, and active collections maintain
germplasm for short- to medium-term conservation and distribution.
Germplasm is maintained either as seeds or as living plants. The latter
category is generally referred to as “clonal” germplasm and includes fruit
trees, sugarcane, and strawberries. Clonal germplasm is likely to lose
some of its distinct genetic characteristics when reproduced from seed;
therefore, it is reproduced asexually from its own plant parts. Clonal
germplasm can be costly to preserve. Some fruit trees, for example, may
require isolation to prevent loss from pests as well as screened protection
and other measures to ensure the normal development of plants or to keep
the fruit free of pests.

At each site, crop curators and other staff are responsible for maintaining
the germplasm collections. Curators regenerate (or replenish) germplasm
samples by growing additional plants from seed or other plant parts to
ensure that an adequate number of samples are available for
(1) distribution to plant breeders, research scientists, and institutions and
(2) storage in long-term collections. In the process of regeneration,
curators must ensure that each plant generation is as genetically similar to
its predecessor as possible. During regeneration, curators also document
certain plant characteristics (such as plant height and color) if this
information is not already available. Curators and other staff are
responsible for entering information about each germplasm sample into
GRIN.


The National Seed Storage Laboratory (NSSL) at Fort Collins, Colorado,
maintains the long-term backup collection of seeds for NPGS and some
non-NPGS collections located in the United States and foreign countries and
conducts research on preserving plant germplasm. NSSL’s storage facilities

10
  Clonal repositories hold germplasm (e.g., fruit trees) that are maintained as living plants or plant
parts. Genetic stock collections contain germplasm with one or more special genetic traits that make
them of interest to researchers.
11
  The four regional plant introduction stations—located at Ames, Iowa; Pullman, Washington; Geneva,
New York; and Griffin, Georgia—are jointly operated by ARS and the state agricultural experiment
stations of the region.
12
  According to ARS, genetic stock collections are classified separately because specialized care and
trained personnel are needed to maintain them.


Page 20                                      GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
Chapter 1
Introduction




were modernized and expanded fourfold in 1992, with high-security vaults
to protect the germplasm against natural disasters. The collection
duplicates (or backs up) many of the germplasm samples in NPGS’ active
collections in the event that the germplasm kept in active collections is
lost. Germplasm can be lost for a variety of reasons, including natural
disasters or degeneration through inadequate storage. Seeds preserved at
NSSL are kept in colder, more secure conditions (i.e., sealed,
moisture-proof containers in vaults at –18 degrees Celsius or containers
over liquid nitrogen at –160 degrees Celsius) that preserve them longer
than seeds preserved at many active sites.13 With few exceptions, such as
apple buds that can be preserved in liquid nitrogen, NSSL does not back up
clonal germplasm. Clonal collections may be backed up—in greenhouses,
as tissue culture, or through cryopreservation—14 at the same sites as their
active collections.

The National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, located in Beltsville,
Maryland, contains several units that support NPGS. The Plant Exchange
Office—with extensive input from the CGCs and NPGS’ crop curators—is
responsible for setting priorities for the germplasm needs of NPGS’
collections. Furthermore, the Office coordinates plant exploration trips,
facilitates germplasm exchanges with other collections, and documents
the entry of germplasm into NPGS, including its passport data. In addition,
the Germplasm Resources Information Network/Database Management
Unit manages GRIN, NPGS’ database, which provides information for users
and managers, such as passport information on NPGS samples.

ARS’ Plant Germplasm Quarantine Office works with USDA’s Animal and
Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in administering the National Plant
Germplasm Quarantine Center in Beltsville, Maryland.15 These sites test
specific types of imported germplasm for pests and pathogens before the
germplasm is introduced into the United States. All plant germplasm
coming into the United States must comply with federal quarantine
regulations intended to prevent the introduction of pests and pathogens
that are not widespread in the United States. APHIS writes, interprets, and
enforces quarantine regulations, while ARS is generally responsible for
providing research support, including the development of tests for pests


13
 In contrast, seeds in many active collections are generally stored at 5 degrees Celsius, although active
collection sites are increasing the use of storage at –18 degree Celsius to reduce losses.
14
  Tissue culture is a technique for cultivating cells, tissues, or plant parts in a sterile, synthetic medium.
Cryopreservation involves maintaining tissues or seeds in long-term storage at ultralow temperatures,
typically between –150 degrees and –196 degrees Celsius.
15
 In addition, ARS administers a quarantine facility in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, that tests corn,
sorghum, and millet.


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                         Chapter 1
                         Introduction




                         and pathogens. In addition, ARS, through a 1986 Memorandum of
                         Understanding with APHIS, maintains and tests germplasm that falls into
                         the “prohibited” quarantine category.16


Support for NPGS Comes   NPGS’ activities are supported at the federal level primarily by ARS, with
From Several Sources     additional support provided by states’ land grant universities through their
                         agricultural experiment stations. Many of NPGS’ collections have been
                         jointly developed and maintained by federal and state scientists at states’
                         agricultural experiment stations, and most NPGS sites are located on
                         experiment station properties. State universities provide in-kind support in
                         the form of services, personnel, and facilities. In addition, private industry
                         provides limited support, such as regenerating germplasm at company
                         sites or funding special projects.

                         In fiscal year 1996, NPGS funding was $23.3 million. Of this amount,
                         $19.5 million was provided by ARS; $1.4 million by USDA’s Cooperative State
                         Research, Education, and Extension Service; $1.3 million by APHIS;
                         $0.8 million (in-kind support) from the states’ agricultural experiment
                         stations; and $0.3 million from other nonfederal sources. Included in the
                         ARS funding was $3.9 million for plant collection activities—germplasm
                         acquisition, quarantine, and classification—and $15.6 million for such
                         activities as preservation, documentation, and distribution. From fiscal
                         years 1992 through 1996, ARS’ funding for NPGS has been essentially level;
                         however, if calculated in constant dollars, funding declined by 14 percent
                         during this period. During this period, NPGS’ germplasm collections
                         increased by 10 percent.


Management of NPGS Is    While ARS has the primary responsibility for managing NPGS, no single
Highly Decentralized     individual or entity has overall authority for managing the entire system.
                         Within ARS, numerous officials and committees have different levels of
                         authority and responsibility for components of the system.

                         ARS’National Program Leader for Plant Genetic Resources has a broad
                         range of leadership responsibilities for the system, including developing
                         budget proposals, planning resource allocations among the NPGS sites, and
                         addressing international issues affecting germplasm.17 The program leader


                         16
                           The prohibited category is the most stringent quarantine category, requiring that germplasm be sent
                         to a quarantine facility for testing or observation before it is introduced into the United States.
                         17
                          The position of national program leader for plant genetic resources has been vacant for the past 5
                         years. There have been five acting program leaders during this period.



                         Page 22                                     GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
                       Chapter 1
                       Introduction




                       also participates in and is advised by various groups that make
                       recommendations concerning NPGS’ operations and policies. The program
                       leader, however, has limited authority for the budgets, projects, or
                       management of each NPGS site. Responsibility for these activities rests with
                       (1) ARS’ area directors, who have direct oversight responsibility and
                       authority for the NPGS sites located within their areas of jurisdiction,
                       (2) NPGS’ site leaders, and (3) ARS’ national program staff. In particular, the
                       area directors coordinate some site program reviews, conduct
                       performance ratings for key administrative staff, hire personnel, and
                       manage discretionary funding for NPGS sites located in their jurisdiction.

                       Because of the broad array of crops represented in NPGS’ collections—each
                       requiring specific scientific and technical expertise—NPGS relies on 40
                       Crop Germplasm Committees (CGC) to provide expert advice on technical
                       matters relating to germplasm activities. Among other things, the CGCs are
                       expected to provide recommendations on the management of the
                       germplasm collections for their crops, including setting priorities for
                       acquisition and evaluation research. CGC members—representing ARS,
                       universities, and the private sector—include plant breeders, NPGS curators,
                       pathologists, and other scientists who are experts on specific crops. A
                       crop committee can represent one crop group or several. For example, the
                       soybean CGC provides advice on soybeans, while the leafy vegetable CGC is
                       responsible for lettuce, spinach, chicory, and celery. (See app. III for a
                       listing of the CGCs and the crops for which they are responsible.) These
                       committees generally meet about once a year and issue reports on the
                       status of their respective collections. However, they receive no funding for
                       their work or related expenses.


                       GAO and National Research Council reports, dating as far back as 1981,
Past GAO and           have cited management and organizational shortcomings and needs that
National Research      have hindered NPGS’ overall effectiveness. In 1981, for example, GAO
Council Reports Have   concluded that insufficient management attention by USDA to germplasm
                       collection, storage, and maintenance had endangered the preservation of
Cited Many NPGS        germplasm in the United States.18 Another GAO report, issued earlier that
Shortcomings           year, recommended that USDA centralize control over the Department’s
                       genetic resources and develop a comprehensive plan for their use.19 In



                       18
                        Better Collection and Maintenance Procedures Needed to Help Protect Agriculture’s Germplasm
                       Resources (CED-82-7, Dec. 4, 1981).
                       19
                        The Department of Agriculture Can Minimize the Risk of Potential Failures (CED-81-75, Apr. 10,
                       1981).



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                     Chapter 1
                     Introduction




                     1990, GAO reported that ARS had difficulty in setting priorities and allocating
                     funding among the various plant germplasm management activities.20

                     In a comprehensive evaluation of NPGS issued in 1991,21 the National
                     Research Council concluded that NPGS had no discernible structure and
                     organization for managing and setting priorities for its activities,
                     formulating national policies, or developing budgets to act on emerging
                     priorities. The Council made many recommendations, including that USDA
                     strengthen NPGS by centralizing its management and budgeting functions
                     and by establishing clear goals and policies for NPGS’ leadership to use in
                     developing long-range plans. Other recommendations included expanding
                     the capacity of NSSL and providing financial support to the CGCs.22

                     During the 1990s, USDA has made several changes to address some of the
                     operational shortcomings discussed above. In particular, it has expanded
                     NSSL’s long-term, secure storage facility fourfold. Furthermore, NPGS’ sites
                     with active collections are making greater use of –18 degree Celsius
                     storage to improve germplasm preservation. In addition, NPGS’ GRIN
                     database has been substantially improved by the addition of such features
                     as a new search function and access to users through the Internet.


                     We surveyed the members of the 40 CGCs for their views on the sufficiency
Objectives, Scope,   of NPGS’ principal activities—acquiring germplasm to ensure the diversity
and Methodology      of the collections in order to reduce crop vulnerability, developing and
                     documenting information on germplasm, and preserving germplasm.
                     Specifically, we surveyed the 680 members of the CGCs—including 38
                     additional experts identified by USDA. The median CGC response rate was
                     86 percent, and all NPGS curators participated in the survey. We conducted
                     this survey from November 1996 through March 1997.

                     In addition, we obtained information about NPGS’ major
                     activities—acquisition, development and documentation of information,
                     and preservation—from interviews with the following: two acting National
                     Program Leaders for Plant Genetic Resources; several NGRL officials
                     responsible for plant exploration, quarantine, and GRIN; the Director,
                     National Plant Germplasm Quarantine Center, APHIS; the Director and
                     research leaders, NSSL; the site leaders of the four regional plant

                     20
                       Plant Germplasm: Improving Data for Management Decisions (PEMD-91-5A, Oct. 10, 1990).
                     21
                      Managing Global Genetic Resources: The U.S. National Plant Germplasm System, National Research
                     Council (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1991).
                     22
                       NSSL was expanded in 1992. The CGCs were formerly called the Crop Advisory Committees.



                     Page 24                                    GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
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Introduction




introduction stations and the Davis, California clonal repository; a number
of curators and breeders at various NPGS sites; and ARS budget staff. We
visited NGRL and APHIS officials in Beltsville, Maryland; two of the four
regional plant introduction stations (Ames, Iowa, and Griffin, Georgia); the
National Soybean Collection, Urbana, Illinois; and NSSL in Fort Collins,
Colorado. We also interviewed officials from USDA’s Economic Research
Service; Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., a large seed producer; the
Department of State; and the Agency for International Development.

In addition, we reviewed (1) NPGS program documents, including planning
and budget documents; (2) acquisition and preservation data (based on
GRIN data) provided to us by NGRL officials, as well as preservation data
provided by officials from the four plant introduction stations; (3) CGC
reports; (4) site and program reviews; and (5) documents from the Food
and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and from international
sources related to germplasm access. We did not verify the accuracy and
reliability of the data provided by NPGS.

We conducted our review from July 1996 through September 1997 in
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. We
provided USDA with a draft of our report for review and comment. These
comments and our response to them are in appendix IV.




Page 25                          GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
Chapter 2

CGCs Underscored Importance of Acquiring
Germplasm to Increase Genetic Diversity,
but Some Obstacles Hinder Acquisition
                         Most CGCs reported that the overall diversity in freely available germplasm
                         collections1—including NPGS’—is sufficient for reducing their crops’
                         vulnerability. Nonetheless, they ranked the acquisition of additional
                         germplasm as a top priority for NPGS, thereby underscoring the importance
                         they place on having maximum genetic diversity in NPGS’ collections. A
                         number of issues may be contributing to the CGCs’ emphasis on acquiring
                         germplasm for the NPGS collection. For example, most CGCs said that at
                         least one of the four types of germplasm that generally constitute their
                         collections is inadequate; each type contains genetic material that plays an
                         important role in a collection’s overall diversity.

                         Most CGCs considered acquiring more germplasm to be a top priority;
                         however, problems with some countries have hindered access to potential
                         sources of new germplasm in those areas. In addition, certain provisions in
                         the Convention on Biological Diversity, which entered into force in 1993,
                         may place constraints on the use of and access to some foreign germplasm
                         in the future.

                         Even when NPGS acquires new germplasm, its release to breeders and
                         research scientists has sometimes been delayed as a result of problems in
                         USDA’s management of the quarantine process. According to many CGCs
                         whose germplasm generally undergoes the most intensive quarantine
                         testing, the process has resulted in the delayed release and, to a lesser
                         extent, the loss of some germplasm.


                         When all freely available collections were taken into account, almost
Most CGCs Reported       three-quarters of the CGCs reported that these collections are sufficiently
That Germplasm           diverse for reducing the vulnerability of their crops. For the NPGS
Collections Are          collections alone, just over half the CGCs reported that the genetic diversity
                         of their NPGS collections is sufficient to reduce crop vulnerability.
Sufficiently Diverse,    Nonetheless, the CGCs overall viewed the acquisition of additional
but They Still Want to   germplasm as a top NPGS priority—out of 14 germplasm-related
                         activities—in the event of additional funding. Several concerns highlighted
Increase Germplasm       by the CGCs in our survey may contribute to the importance they place on
Acquisition              increased acquisition. These concerns include the lack of diversity within
                         specific parts of their collections and the potential loss of germplasm that
                         is endangered in nature or in at-risk collections (e.g., collections of
                         scientists who are retiring).

                         1
                          Freely available (i.e., without restrictions) collections include NPGS’ and international collections as
                         well as some university and private collections and many foreign national collections. It is always
                         possible that a collection that is currently freely available may, in the future, become restricted or
                         unavailable.



                         Page 26                                       GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
                                          Chapter 2
                                          CGCs Underscored Importance of Acquiring
                                          Germplasm to Increase Genetic Diversity,
                                          but Some Obstacles Hinder Acquisition




Most CGCs Believed That                   When all freely available collections (including NPGS’) were considered, 29
Germplasm Collections                     of the 40 CGCs reported that the genetic diversity in the collections for their
Have Sufficient Diversity                 crops is sufficient for reducing crop vulnerability. Major crops—such as
                                          corn, wheat, and soybeans—are in this category. The sufficiency of the
                                          collections declined somewhat when only NPGS collections were
                                          considered: Twenty-two, or just over half of the CGCs reported that the
                                          NPGS collections for their crops have sufficient genetic diversity overall to
                                          reduce crop vulnerability. (See fig. 2.1.)


Figure 2.1: CGCs’ Perceptions of the
Diversity of All Freely Available         40   Number of CGCs
Collections and of the Diversity of the
NPGS Collections for Their Crops          35


                                          30
                                                                       28


                                          25
                                                                                  22

                                          20


                                          15


                                          10                                                           9
                                                                                                                   7        7

                                           5                                                  4
                                                                                                                                               2
                                               1
                                                         0                                                                            0
                                           0

                                                   Very sufficient       Somewhat                 Neither              Somewhat           Very insufficient
                                                                         sufficient               sufficient nor       insufficient
                                                                                                  insufficient



                                                             Freely available collections, including NPGS

                                                             NPGS collection




                                          Nine CGCs said that the genetic diversity of the NPGS collection for their
                                          crops is insufficient for reducing crop vulnerability: grapes, cool season
                                          food legumes, sweet potatoes, cucurbits (e.g., squash and melons),
                                          tropical fruit and nut, walnuts, herbaceous ornamentals, prunus (e.g.,
                                          peach and cherry trees), and woody landscape. In addition, nine CGCs said
                                          that their collections have neither sufficient nor insufficient diversity.




                                          Page 27                                           GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
                                             Chapter 2
                                             CGCs Underscored Importance of Acquiring
                                             Germplasm to Increase Genetic Diversity,
                                             but Some Obstacles Hinder Acquisition




CGCs Believed That                           While over half the CGCs believed that the genetic diversity of their NPGS
Germplasm Acquisition                        germplasm collections for their crops is sufficient, they all reported that it
Should Be a Top Priority                     is moderately to extremely important to increase the diversity of their NPGS
                                             collections.2 The importance the CGCs placed on increasing diversity is
for NPGS                                     underscored by the high priority given to germplasm acquisition in the
                                             event of additional funding—of 14 germplasm-related activities, the CGCs,
                                             on average, gave acquisition the highest ranking. (Fig. 2.2 shows the
                                             average ranking that CGCs gave to each activity, with 1 being the highest
                                             possible ranking.)



Figure 2.2: CGCs’ Ranking of the Priority to Be Given to 14 Germplasm-Related Activities
in the Event of Additional Funding

14    Average ranking
13
12
11                                                                                                                                10.80

10
                                                                                                                9.13     9.25
 9                                                                            8.75        8.78       8.80

 8                                                                7.78
                                                 7.48   7.55

 7                             6.40
                                      6.63

 6
                        5.25
 5              4.70
      3.93
 4
 3
 2
 1
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                                             Note: If all 40 CGCs ranked one activity as their first priority, then its average ranking would be 1.
                                             Enhancement and breeding are ancillary NPGS activities and are primarily funded by other ARS
                                             programs and by universities and the private sector.




                                             2
                                              Of the 40 CGCs, 14 reported that it is moderately important, 25 reported that it is very important, and
                                             1 reported that it is extremely important to increase the genetic diversity of their collections.



                                             Page 28                                             GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
                             Chapter 2
                             CGCs Underscored Importance of Acquiring
                             Germplasm to Increase Genetic Diversity,
                             but Some Obstacles Hinder Acquisition




                             All 40 CGCs stated that they knew of germplasm samples that would
                             increase the genetic diversity of the NPGS collections and that should be
                             added to them. For example, the Wheat CGC’s 1996 report to NPGS cited
                             three critical collection needs for the NPGS wheat collection and specified
                             where much of this germplasm could be obtained, including landraces
                             (seeds passed down by farmers from one generation to another to produce
                             desired plant characteristics) from Guatemala, where they have not been
                             collected before, and wild wheat relatives from Albania, Greece, and the
                             former Yugoslavia. Similarly, the Sweet Potato CGC wanted to enhance the
                             limited genetic diversity of the NPGS sweet potato collection by obtaining a
                             representative sample of germplasm from the International Potato Center
                             in Peru. This collection contains about 6,500 germplasm samples of sweet
                             potato, compared with about 1,170 in the NPGS collection.


Several Problems             Although most CGCs reported that their NPGS collections overall are
Associated With the          sufficiently diverse at this time, they cited several concerns with the
Collections May              collections that may account for the importance they place on increased
                             acquisition. First, most CGCs reported that at least one of the following
Contribute to Priority       types of germplasm in their collections is insufficiently diverse for
Given to Germplasm           reducing crop vulnerability: wild and weedy relatives of cultivated crops,
Acquisition                  landraces, and genetic stocks. Only obsolete and current cultivars, the
                             fourth type of germplasm samples in a collection, are considered to be
                             sufficient by most CGCs. Specifically:

                         •   Wild and weedy relatives of crops were reported to be insufficient by
                             almost half the CGCs, including those for major crops such as corn and
                             soybeans. Wild relatives have often been used to improve crops, such as
                             tomatoes, and sometimes to develop new ones.
                         •   Landraces—many of which are grown from selected quality seed passed
                             down by farmers from one generation to another—were reported to be
                             insufficient by 12 of the 40 CGCs. Landraces are rich sources of genes for
                             traits such as resistance to pests and pathogens.
                         •   Genetic stocks are insufficiently diverse, according to over half the CGCs,
                             including those for major crops such as alfalfa, peanuts, and grapes. While
                             genetic stock material is essential to genetic research, according to NPGS
                             officials, it has generally played a minor role in commercial breeding
                             programs. However, it is expected to become increasingly important in
                             breeding programs that use molecular genetic tools to manipulate and




                             Page 29                             GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
    Chapter 2
    CGCs Underscored Importance of Acquiring
    Germplasm to Increase Genetic Diversity,
    but Some Obstacles Hinder Acquisition




    transfer genes to create new products, according to the National Research
    Council.3
•   Obsolete and current cultivars are sufficient for reducing the vulnerability
    of their crops, according to most CGCs. Only five CGCs cited insufficiencies
    in this area.

    Furthermore, 39 CGCs said that NPGS should place increased emphasis on
    acquiring germplasm endangered in nature or acquiring germplasm from
    collections at risk, such as the Vavilov collection in Russia or the
    collections of scientists who are retiring. If such collections are not
    obtained and preserved, their germplasm may be lost. Finally, 37 CGCs
    reported that certain plants are becoming extinct or hard to find.4

    NPGS’ acquisition policy is to rely heavily on the 40 CGCs and the NPGS
    curators to assess the adequacy of their respective germplasm collections
    and recommend areas where additional acquisition may be needed.
    However, NPGS has not developed a comprehensive, long-term plan to
    establish critical acquisition needs for its germplasm collections and
    priorities for collection trips to fill those needs. Currently, NPGS’ collection
    trips are based primarily on proposals that are submitted to NPGS’ Plant
    Exchange Office by federal and university scientists and endorsed by the
    appropriate CGCs. In addition, staff from the Plant Exchange Office
    occasionally make or participate in collection trips. However, some
    exploration trips are funded by other USDA or non-USDA federal agencies.5

    According to NPGS officials in the Plant Exchange Office, some germplasm
    collections are more frequently targeted for collection trips than others
    because (1) the gaps in some collections are better known and (2) some
    collections have more assertive champions—e.g., a germplasm curator,
    CGC, or other interested scientist who aggressively seeks out collection
    opportunities. This approach may overlook the needs of some crops. For
    example, according to the head of the Plant Exchange Office, 16 of the
    CGCs’ reports state acquisition needs only in a general fashion and
    therefore are of limited value for planning or setting acquisition priorities.

    3
    Managing Global Genetic Resources: Agricultural Crop Issues and Policies, Board on Agriculture,
    National Research Council (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1993).
    4
     As discussed in ch. 1, there are also concerns about the vulnerability of crops to pests and pathogens.
    All 40 CGCs reported that such risk is a serious problem for their crops: Six said genetic vulnerability
    is a very serious problem, 30 said it is moderately serious, and 4 said it is somewhat serious. The six
    CGCs reporting very serious problems represented oats, cool season food legumes, tropical fruit and
    nut, grapes, walnuts, and prunus.
    5
     The Plant Exchange Office often works with other agencies within USDA and other agencies, such as
    the U.S. Agency for International Development, to obtain funding.



    Page 30                                      GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
                        Chapter 2
                        CGCs Underscored Importance of Acquiring
                        Germplasm to Increase Genetic Diversity,
                        but Some Obstacles Hinder Acquisition




                        The exchange officer acknowledged the need to develop a long-term plan
                        that would reflect collection priorities for each crop. He noted that such a
                        plan would use existing funds more efficiently and help ensure that the
                        needs of all crops are being addressed. NPGS has been working to develop
                        such a plan for several years, but progress has been slow because the
                        office has lacked the resources to adequately staff the project and provide
                        needed scientific expertise. The initial plan, which is intended to be
                        flexible to accommodate changing needs and conditions, is expected to be
                        completed by Spring 1998.

                        Concerns about NPGS’ acquisition planning process are long-standing. For
                        example, over 15 years ago, GAO recommended that a long-range plan be
                        developed to address gaps in germplasm collections and objectives for
                        collecting or otherwise acquiring needed germplasm.6 In 1991, the National
                        Research Council recommended, among other things, that NPGS develop a
                        comprehensive plan for plant exploration. The Council noted that in the
                        past, the lack of an exploration plan resulted in some crops receiving
                        attention, while others went unserved.7


                        Although CGCs want to acquire more germplasm, most reported that
CGCs Report             difficulties between the United States and some foreign countries have
Problems in Acquiring   hindered NPGS’ efforts to obtain the germplasm needed to increase the
Foreign Germplasm       diversity of its collections.8 For example, the Soybean CGC report indicated
                        that relations between the United States and North Korea have hindered
                        the CGC from obtaining germplasm from North Korea. The report stated
                        that the few soybean germplasm samples from North Korea in NPGS’
                        collection were either obtained more than 60 years ago or have been
                        received since then through third parties. Several other CGC
                        reports—including those for sugarbeets, peas, and wheat—cited
                        difficulties in obtaining germplasm from the Middle East. The Wheat CGC,
                        for example, noted that Iran, a country with which the United States does
                        not have diplomatic relations, holds potentially valuable wheat
                        germplasm.


                        6
                         The Department of Agriculture Can Minimize the Risk of Potential Crop Failures (CED-81-75, Apr. 10,
                        1981).
                        7
                        The U.S. National Plant Germplasm System: Managing Global Genetic Resources, National Research
                        Council (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1991).
                        8
                         Of the 40 CGCs, 13 reported that long-standing political difficulties had hindered the acquisition of
                        germplasm from foreign countries to some extent, 22 to a moderate extent, and 4 to a great extent.
                        One CGC said that such difficulties created little or no hindrance in NPGS’ ability to increase diversity
                        for its crop collection.



                        Page 31                                       GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
                       Chapter 2
                       CGCs Underscored Importance of Acquiring
                       Germplasm to Increase Genetic Diversity,
                       but Some Obstacles Hinder Acquisition




                       In addition, issues relating to the ownership and use of foreign germplasm
                       have become more problematic as a result of the entry into force of the
                       Convention on Biological Diversity in 1993.9 Prior to the Convention,
                       germplasm from most countries, other than those where access was
                       restricted, has been generally available to requesters. However, the
                       Convention recognizes the sovereign rights of nations over their natural
                       resources and their rights to exchange these resources under terms
                       mutually agreeable to the nation and the germplasm recipient. Officials
                       from NPGS, the State Department, the Agency for International
                       Development, and the World Bank observed that access to plant
                       germplasm could be reduced as a result of these provisions but that the
                       full impact of the Convention may be unknown for a number of years.

                       However, one likely result of the Convention will be the increased use of
                       material transfer agreements—contracts that require germplasm users to
                       agree to certain conditions in exchange for the use of the germplasm.
                       These agreements may require, for example, that the requester not seek
                       intellectual property rights or claim ownership over the germplasm. USDA
                       officials will sign material transfer agreements only if their terms are
                       consistent with NPGS’ policy to provide users with free and open access to
                       germplasm.


                       A number of problems related primarily to USDA’s overall management of
USDA’s Management      the germplasm quarantine program have hampered the program’s
of Quarantine          effectiveness and resulted in delays in the release of some germplasm.
Program Has            While most CGCs reported that U.S. quarantine regulations and processes
                       have been effective in reducing the introduction of pests and pathogens
Hampered Acquisition   into the United States, 13 CGCs, most of whose germplasm often undergoes
of Some Germplasm      more intensive scrutiny in quarantine, reported problems with the
                       timeliness of the quarantine process, and 5 reported problems with the
                       release of viable germplasm. While the CGC for prunus (e.g., cherry and
                       peach trees) reported that USDA’s regulations and processing have been
                       very ineffective in both of the above areas, CGCs for crops such as apples,
                       pears, potatoes, and corn also reported problems.




                       9
                        The Convention on Biological Diversity is a legally binding framework—for countries that have
                       consented to it—for conserving and utilizing global diversity. The U. S. Congress has not yet consented
                       to it.



                       Page 32                                     GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
                            Chapter 2
                            CGCs Underscored Importance of Acquiring
                            Germplasm to Increase Genetic Diversity,
                            but Some Obstacles Hinder Acquisition




Poor Crop Production        All plant germplasm coming into the United States must comply with
Practices, Inadequate       federal quarantine regulations intended to prevent the introduction of
Facilities, and Outmoded    pests and pathogens not widespread in the United States. These
                            regulations range from a category requiring only visual inspection at the
Testing Procedures Have     port of entry for germplasm such as the seeds of most vegetables and
Created Problems for        flowers, to a category—known as “prohibited”—requiring that the
Quarantined Germplasm       germplasm be sent to a quarantine facility for testing or observation before
                            release.10 Although less than 3 percent of the world’s plant species are in
                            this latter category, it includes a wide range of crops: all or most clonally
                            propagated prunus, apples, pears, potatoes, sugarcane, strawberries,
                            sweet potatoes, grapes, certain woody landscape plants, and grasses as
                            well as the seeds of wheat, corn, and rice from some regions where there
                            are serious diseases not already in the United States.

                            Thirteen CGCs—most of whose germplasm is often in the prohibited
                            category—reported that USDA’s management of the quarantine process
                            hinders the timely acquisition of viable germplasm. In addition, ARS
                            officials told us that some germplasm has died while in quarantine because
                            it was poorly maintained.11 The specific types of problems identified by the
                            CGCs, ARS and APHIS officials, and ARS reviews included (1) poor production
                            practices during quarantine, (2) inadequate facilities or sites, and (3) the
                            types of testing procedures that are currently in use.

Poor Production Practices   Eleven CGCs, representing such germplasm collections as prunus, apples,
Have Resulted in Dead       pears, potatoes, and sweet potatoes, reported that poor crop production
Germplasm and Delays in     practices—such as inadequate watering, soil preparation, and
Release                     weeding—during quarantine hinder the timely acquisition of viable
                            germplasm. Furthermore, an internal review of tree-growing practices at
                            the Maryland quarantine facility, conducted in 1996 by a horticultural
                            scientist at the request of ARS, noted the death of several thousand fruit
                            trees planted between 1993 and 1995.12 The review cited improper
                            horticultural practices as a major cause of many of the deaths and
                            recommended improved practices.




                            10
                              APHIS gives certain qualified importers of germplasm for some crops a permit that enables them to
                            test and observe the germplasm in their own facilities to ensure it meets USDA regulations.
                            11
                              According to ARS officials, some germplasm dies in quarantine because it is in poor condition when
                            it arrives at the quarantine facility.
                            12
                             According to the Research Leader of the National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, the trees that
                            died were primarily trees to be used for testing purposes and generally did not include imported plant
                            material.



                            Page 33                                     GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
                             Chapter 2
                             CGCs Underscored Importance of Acquiring
                             Germplasm to Increase Genetic Diversity,
                             but Some Obstacles Hinder Acquisition




                             When trees in quarantine are not properly maintained, they may die and
                             their germplasm will need to be imported again. For example, an ARS
                             scientist at the quarantine office estimated that about 20 percent of all
                             prunus germplasm samples brought into the country in the past 10 years
                             had died because they did not receive proper horticultural care.

                             In addition, poor production practices have kept trees from maturing
                             sufficiently to permit testing, thereby delaying the release of germplasm.
                             Such delays have occurred with the germplasm of prunus, apple, pear, and
                             quince trees. For example, since 1991, the release of hundreds of
                             germplasm samples for apple, pear, quince, and prunus trees has been
                             delayed as a result of inadequate horticultural practices, according to the
                             ARS scientists at the quarantine office who test and monitor these trees.
                             Delays for most of the clonal apple, pear, and quince germplasm have been
                             about 8 to 10 years.13 Furthermore, the average time for the unconditional
                             release of prunus germplasm at the Maryland quarantine facility has been
                             about 10 years; however, generally no more than 4 years should be
                             required, according to APHIS officials. ARS officials expect that it will not
                             unconditionally release apple, pear, quince, or prunus clonal material until
                             the year 2000 or later because of horticultural practices that have resulted
                             in the lack of mature trees needed for testing.

Inadequate Facilities Have   Thirteen CGCs—including those for prunus, pears, corn, and rice—reported
Hindered Health of           that conditions at the quarantine facilities used to grow their plants hinder
Quarantined Plants           the timely release of viable germplasm. Problems with quarantine facilities
                             were also reported in ARS reviews in 1994 and 1996.14 The 1996 review
                             stated that conditions at the quarantine facilities in Maryland were not
                             conducive to promoting plant health. For example, it noted that the
                             Maryland site’s soil was unsuitable for growing trees and recommended
                             the installation of space heaters in the screenhouses to keep the
                             temperature slightly above freezing. In addition, a plant breeder on the
                             pear CGC said that the Beltsville facility is not ideal for pears or apples
                             because the climate of the mid-Atlantic region is conducive to the
                             development of fire blight, a serious bacterial disease that is difficult to
                             control once trees are infected.




                             13
                              This refers to any release that is not conditional on any federal restrictions, e.g., requiring further
                             observation or limiting the use of the germplasm.
                             14
                               The 1994 review was an in-depth review of the National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, including
                             the Plant Germplasm Quarantine Office. The 1996 review addressed tree-growing practices at the plant
                             quarantine fields and greenhouses.



                             Page 34                                        GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
                                Chapter 2
                                CGCs Underscored Importance of Acquiring
                                Germplasm to Increase Genetic Diversity,
                                but Some Obstacles Hinder Acquisition




Outmoded Testing Procedures     Sixteen CGCs—including the prunus, apple, pear, corn, wheat, rice, and
Have Contributed to Delays in   potato CGCs—reported that required testing procedures hinder the timely
Release of Germplasm            acquisition (e.g., introduction and distribution) of viable germplasm for
                                their crops.15 While ARS is responsible for developing new tests, APHIS must
                                approve the tests that are used as well as the release of germplasm from
                                quarantine. Nearly all of the quarantine testing procedures currently in use
                                date back to the early 1980s or before. These procedures involve testing
                                for pathogens such as viruses and other infectious agents. For some crops,
                                testing begins by closely observing the quarantined plants for symptoms of
                                disease during plant growth and subjecting the plants to a battery of tests
                                for latent pathogens. Some tests for trees can take considerable time
                                because the tree must first bear fruit before tests can be completed. For
                                example, tests on prunus trees generally require a minimum of about 3,
                                and no more than 4, years to complete, according to APHIS officials.

                                More sophisticated testing methods using molecular techniques to identify
                                pathogens are being developed, and some are already available. These
                                tests could save considerable time in quarantine as well as the costs
                                associated with caring for the plants during that time. Such tests could
                                also curtail the loss of germplasm that is associated with longer quarantine
                                periods, according to APHIS and ARS officials. ARS has developed, and APHIS
                                has approved, molecular tests for potato viruses; these tests have cut
                                quarantine testing from 2 years to 1, according to an ARS scientist. In
                                addition, APHIS is currently reviewing newly developed molecular tests for
                                detecting certain diseases in prunus that would allow the conditional
                                release of prunus in about 18 months, on average. In addition, ARS is
                                working on the development of molecular tests for certain sweet potato
                                pathogens.

                                However, some plant breeders are concerned that the development and
                                approval of new testing methods has been unduly slow. A 1994 review of
                                the germplasm quarantine office, conducted by ARS and university
                                scientists at the request of ARS, noted that virtually all popular new apple
                                and pear trees clones of foreign origin enter the United States illegally,
                                without pathogen testing. It stated that both ARS and APHIS needed to adopt
                                policies that would make pathogen testing more responsive to the needs of
                                the deciduous fruit industry and its associated germplasm collections and
                                CGCs.




                                15
                                 The remainder of the crops were grapes, small fruits (e.g., berries), peanuts, sweet potatoes,
                                cucurbits (e.g., melons), grass, sunflower, herbaceous ornamental plants, and woody landscape.



                                Page 35                                     GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
Chapter 3

Many NPGS Germplasm Collections Lack
Information Needed for Crop Breeding

                          According to most CGCs, NPGS collections for their crops lack sufficient
                          information on germplasm traits to facilitate the germplasm’s use in crop
                          breeding. Specifically, these CGCs raised concerns about two types of
                          information—evaluation and characterization. Evaluation information
                          describes traits (such as yield and resistance to disease) of particular
                          interest to plant breeders, while characterization information describes
                          traits (such as plant structure, seed type, and color) that are little
                          influenced by environmental conditions. Most CGCs reported that passport
                          data—a third type of information that describes, among other things, the
                          site of origin of the germplasm—are sufficient for breeding crops.

                          NPGS officials acknowledged that gaps exist in needed information, in part
                          because the information has not been developed and in part because the
                          information that has been developed has not always been entered into
                          NPGS’ centralized database—the Germplasm Resources Information
                          Network (GRIN). They noted, however, that given their limited resources,
                          the day-to-day tasks of preserving germplasm to maintain its viability take
                          precedence over developing and documenting information.


                          Three-quarters of the CGCs reported insufficiencies with evaluation
Many CGCs Reported        information, and almost half found characterization information
That Evaluation and       insufficient for crop-breeding purposes. On the other hand, most CGCs
Characterization          reported that passport information is sufficient for crop-breeding
                          purposes. Several NPGS managers told us, however, that passport
Information Are           information—particularly for older samples—is not adequate for NPGS’
Insufficient              internal planning and management.

Most CGCs Believed That   Breeders need comprehensive evaluation information to select germplasm
Evaluation Data Are       with the traits they are seeking from the myriad of germplasm samples.
Insufficient              According to the National Research Council, evaluation is a prerequisite
                          for the use of germplasm—germplasm samples that are not evaluated
                          remain mostly curiosities.1 In developing evaluation data, scientists test
                          germplasm samples for various traits under a wide range of conditions.
                          Although the preliminary evaluation of traits is generally considered an
                          NPGS activity, most evaluations are part of the research that accompanies
                          breeding programs and are conducted and funded primarily through other
                          ARS programs and universities. In addition, industry conducts and funds a
                          small amount of germplasm evaluation for NPGS.



                          1
                           Managing Global Genetic Resources: Agricultural Crop Issues and Policies, National Research Council
                          (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1993).



                          Page 36                                    GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
                                        Chapter 3
                                        Many NPGS Germplasm Collections Lack
                                        Information Needed for Crop Breeding




                                        Thirty of the 40 CGCs reported that the evaluation information on their NPGS
                                        collections is somewhat or very insufficient for crop breeding, and only 3
                                        reported that it is somewhat sufficient—the alfalfa, sugarbeets, and
                                        tropical fruit and nut CGCs. Figure 3.1 shows the sufficiency of evaluation
                                        information, as reported by the 40 CGCs.


Figure 3.1: CGCs’ Perceptions of the
Sufficiency of Evaluation Information   40     Number of CGCs
for Crop Breeding
                                        35


                                        30


                                        25

                                                                                           20
                                        20


                                        15

                                                                                                    10
                                        10
                                                                                   7

                                         5
                                                                    3

                                                  0
                                         0
                                                      t



                                                                        t



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                                        The CGCs reported that the trait most likely to have been evaluated—of the
                                        five traits we asked for their views on—is “resistance to pests and
                                        pathogens considered to be a serious risk.” Even so, less than half the CGCs
                                        reported that their germplasm has been evaluated to a moderate extent for
                                        this trait and only one to a great extent. For the remaining four evaluation
                                        traits, 35 to 38 CGCs reported their germplasm had been evaluated only to
                                        some, little, or no extent. These traits include tolerance to abiotic stresses,
                                        such as salt or drought, considered a serious risk; quality characteristics,
                                        such as flavor or appearance; production characteristics, such as yield;




                                        Page 37                                                     GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
                                      Chapter 3
                                      Many NPGS Germplasm Collections Lack
                                      Information Needed for Crop Breeding




                                      and root stock traits.2 (See fig. 3.2.) While identifying shortcomings in the
                                      evaluation information, almost half of the CGCs said that NPGS’ management
                                      of evaluation data has improved since about 1990. (In addition, 20 CGCs
                                      said that there has been no change, and 1 said it has worsened.)


Figure 3.2: CGCs’ Assessment of the
Extent to Which Major Traits Have     Number of CGCs
Been Evaluated                        40
                                              38                                                                38

                                                                   35                        35
                                      35


                                      30

                                                                                                                                     25
                                      25


                                      20


                                      15                                                                                                  14


                                      10

                                                                           5                       5
                                          5
                                                    2
                                                                                                                      1                        1
                                                         0                      0                       0                 0
                                          0

                                               Tolerance to          Quality                  Production         Root stock traits    Resistance to
                                               abiotic stresses      characteristics          characteristics                         pests/pathogens
                                               considered a                                                                           considered a
                                               serious risk                                                                           serious risk



                                                        Little or no extent or some extent

                                                        Moderate extent

                                                        Great or very great extent



                                      Note: One CGC did not respond to the question regarding root stock traits.




Almost Half the CGCs                  Characterization data provide information on highly inheritable traits that
Reported That                         are little influenced by varying environmental conditions. These data help
Characterization                      distinguish germplasm samples of the same type of plant from one another
                                      and provide a baseline for ensuring that the genetic integrity of a
Information Is Insufficient


                                      2
                                       Root stocks are used in grafting clonal crops.



                                      Page 38                                            GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
                                       Chapter 3
                                       Many NPGS Germplasm Collections Lack
                                       Information Needed for Crop Breeding




                                       germplasm sample is maintained.3 It is generally the responsibility of NPGS
                                       curators to develop characterization information when they regenerate
                                       germplasm samples.

                                       Nineteen of the 40 CGCs reported that characterization information on their
                                       NPGS germplasm is somewhat or very insufficient for crop breeding. These
                                       19 CGCs included some economically important crops, such as cotton,
                                       grapes, and peanuts. Only nine CGCs reported that characterization
                                       information for their crops’ germplasm is somewhat sufficient for
                                       breeding. Figure 3.3 shows the sufficiency of characterization information,
                                       as reported by the CGCs. In addition, over half the CGCs said that NPGS’
                                       management of characterization data has improved since 1990.


Figure 3.3: CGCs’ Perceptions of the
Sufficiency of Characterization        40        Number of CGCs
Information for Crop Breeding
                                       35


                                       30


                                       25


                                       20
                                                                                           17

                                       15
                                                                                   12

                                       10                             9


                                           5
                                                                                                   2
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                                           0
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                                       3
                                        During germplasm regeneration, considerable care must be taken to minimize genetic shifts to the
                                       resulting seeds, or offspring. Genetic markers measured in characterization can be used to determine
                                       whether shifts have occurred.



                                       Page 39                                                     GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
                          Chapter 3
                          Many NPGS Germplasm Collections Lack
                          Information Needed for Crop Breeding




Most CGCs Reported That   Passport information includes the data on the plant’s classification, the
Passport Information Is   location of the germplasm sample’s origin, and the ecology of that
Sufficient for Crop       location. This information is essential for assessing the quality of the
                          collections and for using and managing these collections.4 NPGS uses the
Breeding, but NPGS        data to ensure, for example, that it does not unnecessarily collect samples
Managers Said It Is       that have previously been collected from the same location.5 Passport data
Inadequate for Their      are generally the first data obtained on a new germplasm sample and are
Purposes                  often provided by the donor when the germplasm is given to NPGS.
                          However, much germplasm is donated to NPGS without complete passport
                          information.6

                          Although NPGS’ passport information may be incomplete, the CGCs were
                          considerably more positive about the passport information than about
                          either evaluation or characterization information. As shown in figure 3.4,
                          almost three-quarters of the CGCs reported that passport information for
                          their crops is somewhat or very sufficient for crop-breeding purposes.
                          Only five CGCs reported passport information to be somewhat insufficient
                          for breeding.




                          4
                           Managing Global Genetic Resources: Agricultural Crop Issues and Policies, National Research Council
                          (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1993).
                          5
                           On the other hand, NPGS may use passport data to resample rich areas or to recover lost samples
                          from the same location.
                          6
                           For older samples, this information will likely be unobtainable for various reasons—e.g., the original
                          collector did not provide it or no other relevant records are available.



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                                          Chapter 3
                                          Many NPGS Germplasm Collections Lack
                                          Information Needed for Crop Breeding




Figure 3.4: CGCs’ Perceptions of the
Sufficiency of Passport Information for   40     Number of CGCs
Crop Breeding
                                          35


                                          30
                                                                    28


                                          25


                                          20


                                          15


                                          10
                                                                                   6
                                                                                           5
                                           5
                                                    1
                                                                                                    0
                                           0
                                                        t



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                                          Furthermore, three-quarters of the CGCs said that NPGS’ management of
                                          passport data has improved since about 1990.

                                          Although most CGCs found passport information to be somewhat or very
                                          sufficient for crop-breeding purposes, NPGS officials told us that it is not
                                          sufficient for their internal planning for germplasm acquisition. About
                                          two-thirds of NPGS’ samples lack passport data on the location of origin,
                                          according to the GRIN data provided by NPGS officials. This information is
                                          key to pinpointing areas where germplasm has already been collected,
                                          thereby minimizing the possibility of unnecessarily collecting material
                                          already in the NPGS collection. Origin information also assists in targeting
                                          sites for future collection trips. Furthermore, according to NPGS officials,
                                          even when location information is available, it is sometimes inaccurate or
                                          incomplete. GRIN data, for example, show that 90 percent of NPGS’ samples
                                          have no information on the latitude and longitude of the site of origin.




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                            Many NPGS Germplasm Collections Lack
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                            Incomplete passport information also makes it more difficult for curators
                            to determine which samples are unique and which are duplicates.7
                            Identification of duplicate samples is necessary to avoid needless
                            duplication of costly germplasm-related activities, such as preservation,
                            characterization, and evaluation. Curators for about half of the crop
                            collections reported that it is moderately to extremely important to
                            decrease the duplication of samples in their NPGS collection. For example,
                            the sorghum curator estimated that about 10 to 25 percent or more of the
                            samples in the sorghum collection are duplicates. He added that the
                            elimination of these duplicates would be expensive and time-consuming
                            because many samples lack complete passport data.


                            While some information has not been developed because of resource
Needed Information Is       constraints, even data that have been developed have not always been
Not Available for           entered into GRIN. NPGS officials told us that developing, obtaining, and
Several Reasons             documenting information in GRIN are lower priorities than preserving the
                            germplasm collections, and in some cases, these activities are outside the
                            system’s control.


Some Information Has Not    Thirty-nine CGCs estimated that, on average, 50 percent of existing, useful
Been Developed or           evaluation data on their collections are not in GRIN.8 According to the NPGS
Entered Into the Database   managers of several sites and ARS officials who oversee crop-specific
                            research programs, gaps in evaluation data for NPGS germplasm result from
                            a variety of factors, including the large amount of germplasm that needs to
                            be evaluated, the resource-intensive nature of evaluations, and limited
                            resources. In addition, most germplasm evaluations are conducted outside
                            of NPGS, primarily by ARS and university scientists who do not always
                            provide NPGS with the resulting information for entry into GRIN. Thus, even
                            when evaluation data exist, they are not always available through GRIN.
                            Some scientists who conduct germplasm evaluations are funded by ARS
                            and are required to submit their evaluation results to NPGS. However, other
                            scientists, not funded by ARS, conduct evaluations as part of their larger
                            research objectives. According to a former National Program Leader for
                            Plant Genetic Resources, some of these evaluations merit inclusion in


                            7
                             Curators responding to GAO’s survey were more negative regarding passport information than the
                            CGCs. Curators on 15 CGCs found passport information insufficient for their crops; curators on 18
                            CGCs found it sufficient. On the CGCs that had strong differences of opinion among members,
                            curators may have focused on a different aspect of the information (e.g., taxonomy versus site of
                            origin) than other CGC members.
                            8
                             Members of one CGC provided no estimate.



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                           GRIN; however, he said that NPGS does not have a clear policy on the
                           curators’ responsibility in obtaining this information.

                           Several CGC reports developed for NPGS have identified the need to enter
                           additional evaluation information into GRIN. For example, the 1996 corn
                           CGC report stated that much evaluation data had accumulated without
                           being entered into GRIN or otherwise disseminated. Furthermore,
                           according to the 1996 CGC report for cucurbits (e.g., squash, watermelon,
                           cucumbers), NPGS has had relatively few requests for watermelon
                           germplasm, in part because of the lack of relevant evaluation data in GRIN.

                           In addition, NPGS does not have a process for tracking whether scientists
                           under agreement with ARS to evaluate NPGS germplasm have submitted
                           evaluation data for entry into GRIN. As a result, NPGS has little assurance
                           that the results of these ARS-supported evaluations are entered into GRIN.
                           While several NPGS managers said they believe that most of this
                           information is in GRIN, NPGS is nonetheless developing a system to track the
                           information. The system is expected to be completed by early 1998.

                           Finally, some passport information—for example, the location of
                           origin—cannot be developed because the germplasm samples were
                           provided many years ago, and it would be very difficult or impossible to
                           reconstruct the missing data. In addition, some passport information may
                           be available but has not been added to GRIN. Although GRIN may not have
                           complete data, 36 CGCs reported that it effectively provides information
                           about their NPGS germplasm collections. Thirty-seven CGCs reported that
                           NPGS’ management of GRIN had improved since about 1990, making it the
                           NPGS activity that was cited most frequently as having improved.9



Several NPGS Managers      According to several NPGS officials responsible for managing germplasm
Stated That Maintaining    activities, preserving germplasm to keep it viable is of more fundamental
Germplasm Viability Is a   importance than developing information and making it available. In
                           addition, the total number of germplasm samples in NPGS’ collections has
Higher Priority Than       increased about 29 percent from 1986 through 1996, according to the GRIN
Information-Related        data provided by an NPGS official. With larger collections come greater
Activities                 demands on curators’ time and resources. Therefore, the development and
                           documentation of characterization information, which is done primarily by
                           NPGS curators, occurs only as time permits. A case in point is the cucurbit
                           collection. The CGC for cucurbits reported that characterization and

                           9
                            CGCs were asked how much NPGS management of 13 activities had improved or worsened since
                           about 1990.



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evaluation information is insufficient for breeding of its crops. However,
the curators for these crops reported that some cucurbit regeneration
backlogs had increased and that between 5 and 40 years would be required
to regenerate various parts of this collection given current resources.




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With Needs of the Collection

                      Preservation activities—including viability testing, germplasm
                      regeneration, and secure, long-term backup storage of germplasm—have
                      not kept pace with the preservation needs of the collections. First, only
                      minimal viability testing—testing that determines the amount of live
                      germplasm in a sample—has been conducted at some sites, including two
                      plant introduction stations that account for over one-fourth of NPGS’
                      germplasm samples. Viability testing is needed to determine when
                      germplasm should be reproduced to prevent the loss of the sample.
                      Second, NPGS has significant backlogs for regenerating germplasm at all
                      four plant introduction stations. Regeneration—reproducing germplasm to
                      obtain sufficient numbers of viable seeds—is essential, particularly when
                      viability is known to be low or has not been tested. Third, over one-third of
                      NPGS’ germplasm is not backed up in NPGS’ National Seed Storage
                      Laboratory (NSSL), which provides secure, long-term storage for the
                      system. Germplasm that is not backed up at NSSL is at greater risk of being
                      lost.


                      NPGS’ standards require that viability testing be conducted as often as is
Much Germplasm at     needed for each species. Managers of three plant introduction stations
Two Major Locations   stated that the germplasm in their collections should be tested every 5 to
Has Not Been Tested   10 years, depending on the species and the storage conditions for the
                      germplasm.1 Viability testing is important to determine when the sample is
for Viability         at risk of being lost.

                      According to NPGS data and NPGS officials, the amount of testing at some
                      locations—including two of the four plant introduction stations—is
                      insufficient. These two stations account for more than one-quarter of NPGS’
                      active collection. The stations—in Griffin, Georgia, and Pullman,
                      Washington—had tested less than one-fourth of their germplasm from
                      1986 through 1996.2 A curator at the Griffin station cited a specific
                      consequence of the failure to test for viability on a regular basis—all 10
                      samples of recently tested butternut squash were dead. The collection had
                      previously not been tested for many years. As a result, he feared that much
                      or all of this collection of about 500 samples—the only one of its kind in
                      NPGS—may be dead.



                      1
                       Viability testing is conducted primarily on seeds because the viability of clonal material can generally
                      be determined by observation. The leader of the Geneva Plant Introduction Station stated that in the
                      future this site’s germplasm will need to be tested only every 10 to 30 years because the collection is
                      now stored at about –18 degrees Celsius.
                      2
                       In contrast, at the two other stations—Ames, Iowa, and Geneva, New York—about 60 percent or more
                      of the germplasm had been tested for viability in the past 10 years.



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                       While agreeing that viability testing is important, the Griffin and Pullman
                       station managers told us that, given their large regeneration backlogs,
                       focusing their limited resources on regeneration to maintain germplasm
                       viability is more likely to save diversity in the germplasm collections than
                       testing the germplasm. Other obstacles cited as reasons for infrequent
                       testing include the large numbers of different species to test and the lack
                       of testing methods for some of them.

                       NSSL also conducts viability tests on the germplasm it maintains in
                       long-term storage. At NSSL, 82 percent of its samples have been tested,
                       69 percent from 1985 through 1996. Of the 18 percent never tested,
                       61 percent do not have enough seeds for testing,3 and 39 percent are part
                       of a backlog that has not yet been processed because of the lack of
                       resources, according to NSSL data and NPGS officials.

                       While NPGS’ data indicate that viability testing is not conducted as often as
                       it should be, responses to our survey on the sufficiency of viability testing
                       were mixed. Only 4 of the 40 CGCs we surveyed reported that NPGS’ viability
                       testing activities are insufficient for their crops, although 29 indicated that
                       the current staff levels for testing (as well as for regeneration) have
                       hindered the preservation of their collections. However, when we
                       examined the responses of the curators alone—who are responsible for
                       maintaining and preserving the collections and are most knowledgeable
                       about their condition—curators for part or all of 16 of 38 crop collections
                       (including major crops such as corn, alfalfa, and cotton) reported that
                       viability testing for their crop collections is insufficient.4 For example, the
                       curator responsible for over 80 percent of the corn collection reported that
                       regeneration and viability testing are somewhat insufficient and should be
                       the first priority in case of additional funding.


                       Regeneration is necessary to ensure that NPGS has an adequate supply of
NPGS Has Significant   viable seeds. NPGS generally schedules a sample for regeneration when the
Backlogs of            viability of the sample is low—i.e., more than 35 percent of the sample’s
Germplasm Requiring    seeds are dead—or the quantity of seeds is too low for distribution. NPGS
                       has significant backlogs of germplasm requiring regeneration. According
Regeneration           to NPGS officials, large backlogs may cause the loss of diversity in
                       collections or prevent distribution to users and to NSSL for secure backup.

                       3
                        Some of these are seeds of special genetic stocks that will be used in research and should not be
                       sacrificed for germination tests.
                       4
                        Curators for two CGCs reported having no basis to judge. In addition, 15 CGCs have multiple curators
                       on their committees, each of whom is responsible for parts of the collection.



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                                         NPGS  officials from two plant introduction stations told us that, generally,
                                         their sites’ germplasm that is low in viability or quantity should be
                                         regenerated within 2 to 5 years in order to minimize the loss of diversity in
                                         their collections over the long term. However, it may take as much as 75 to
                                         100 years for the samples at these two locations that need regenerating to
                                         be regenerated, according to NPGS curators. Table 4.1 shows the estimated
                                         number of years required to regenerate samples, at current resource
                                         levels, for various crops at the four plant introduction stations, as of
                                         Spring 1997. Some of these years are underestimated because they do not
                                         include the regeneration that would be required to provide germplasm for
                                         secure backup to NSSL and material to users that has been correctly
                                         regenerated.5

Table 4.1: Estimated Years Required to
Regenerate the Samples of Major Seed                                                    Percent of                                  Median
Crops at the Plant Introduction                             Total                Total      these Range of years                      years
Stations at Current Resource Levels      Plant        number of             number of     samples    required to                 required to
                                         introduction major seed           samples in    requiring   regenerate                  regenerate
                                         station           crops          these crops regeneration     samples                     samples
                                         Ames,
                                         Iowa                       10          35,300                35                5-23                 10
                                         Geneva,
                                         New
                                         York                         6           8,900               35                3-20                  5
                                         Griffin,
                                         Georgia                      9         63,690                16               5-100                 10
                                         Pullman,
                                         Washington                 17          63,932                51                3-75                  7
                                         Notes: Major seed crops are those representing the station’s largest collections. Although these
                                         data are primarily for seed crops, a small number of clonally propagated samples are included. In
                                         addition, sites did not provide estimates for the years required to regenerate the samples for a
                                         few crops.

                                         Source: Estimates were provided by each of the four plant introduction stations.



                                         As table 4.1 shows, of the four plant introduction stations, the Pullman,
                                         Washington, location has the biggest backlog in terms of the percentage of
                                         samples requiring regeneration. Such regeneration is important not only
                                         for preservation of diversity but also for supplying seed to NSSL for
                                         long-term, secure backup.

                                         5
                                          According to NPGS officials, in past decades germplasm in some collections was regenerated
                                         incorrectly because of inadequate curatorial knowledge, adverse environmental conditions (e.g., hail,
                                         windstorm), or lack of resources. For example, some germplasm was regenerated with an insufficient
                                         plant population and some without controlling pollination to prevent contamination from other plants.
                                         NPGS officials believe that practices involving human error have largely been eliminated. However,
                                         some of this germplasm still needs to be replaced through regeneration using correct methods.



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                    Several factors contribute to these backlogs. The biggest single factor is
                    the limited number of permanent employees and seasonal laborers
                    available to manage and carry out the necessary field and greenhouse
                    activities, according to NPGS officials. Furthermore, at some locations,
                    facilities for regeneration are inadequate, and at others the growing
                    conditions for germplasm are less than ideal for producing good yields of
                    high-quality seed.6 For some collections, these regional climatic conditions
                    also contribute to the development of pests and pathogens, which can
                    hinder the preservation and use of germplasm.7 To overcome these
                    problems and increase its capacity to regenerate quality seed, NPGS
                    recently established a new site—at Parlier, California—that is in an arid
                    region with a long growing season. The Department has requested
                    increased funding for genetic resources research in the fiscal year 1998
                    budget, part of which is to increase regeneration capability, according to
                    an NPGS official.

                    CGC responses to our survey regarding the sufficiency of regeneration
                    activities were similar to those on viability testing. Only 7 of the 40 CGCs
                    we surveyed reported that NPGS’ regeneration activities are insufficient for
                    their collections, although 29 CGCs reported that the lack of staff for
                    regeneration and viability testing had hindered the preservation of their
                    collections. When we examined the responses of the curators (those most
                    knowledgeable about the collections’ conditions), curators for part or all
                    of 15 of 39 crop collections reported that regeneration is insufficient for
                    part or all of their crop collections.8 The curator responsible for most of
                    NPGS’ corn collection reported that regeneration is insufficient and that the
                    15-year regeneration backlog for corn placed an important part of this
                    collection at the risk of losing diversity.


                    Although NPGS’ policy requires that all seed samples in active collections
Much Germplasm Is   be backed up at NSSL, over one-third are not. Furthermore, methods to
Not in Long-Term    ensure the secure backup of most clonal germplasm have not yet been
Backup Storage      developed. Backup is needed to provide protection against losses at the
                    active sites resulting from (1) deterioration, which generally occurs more


                    6
                     Curators for part or all of 16 of 40 crop collections—including corn and tomato— reported that the
                    ability to produce high-quality seed or maintain clonal crops at present sites hindered the preservation
                    of their collections.
                    7
                     Curators for part or all of the 14 crop collections reported that the ability to test for and maintain
                    pathogen-free collections hindered the preservation of their collections.
                    8
                     Curators for one CGC reported having no basis to judge in response to this question.



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rapidly in seeds stored at active sites, or (2) human error, extreme
weather, equipment failure, flood, fire, vandalism, or other catastrophes.

Sixty-one percent of the approximately 440,000 seed samples at NPGS’
active sites are backed up at NSSL, where they are stored at –18 degrees
Celsius or in containers over liquid nitrogen to slow deterioration.9 Of
these backed-up samples, 44 percent do not meet NPGS’ standards and
goals for the quantity of seeds and the percentage that should be
viable—65 percent. The seed samples not stored at NSSL are at increased
risk of deterioration because seeds generally deteriorate much more
rapidly at active sites, which generally store germplasm at warmer
temperatures—5 degrees Celsius.10

According to NPGS officials, seeds have not been adequately backed up
primarily because of the large regeneration backlogs at active sites. That
is, until the sites regenerate germplasm, they often do not have a sufficient
number or quality of seeds to send to NSSL for backup storage. In addition,
even when they have sufficient quantities of seeds, some sites have not
sent the seeds to NSSL because before they can be sent, the sites must
reinventory the germplasm samples and repackage the seeds. According to
NPGS officials, these activities use resources that are in short supply. In
addition, NSSL has its own 16-month backlog of about 27,000 samples that
must be processed (which includes viability testing) before being placed in
secure, long-term storage.

The backup of clonal samples is even more limited, with only 4 percent of
the approximately 30,000 samples at the active sites backed up at NSSL.
This limited backup occurs because the methods for providing secure,
long-term storage for most clonal germplasm have not yet been
developed.11 Clonal germplasm may be backed up—in greenhouses as
living plants, as tissue culture, or through cryopreservation—at the active
site where the primary collection is maintained. Thus, in case of a natural
disaster, disease, or other catastrophe, both the active and backup
samples could be destroyed. For example, in 1992, over 2,000 germplasm
samples were lost at NPGS’ Miami facility following Hurricane Andrew.
These samples were not backed up at another NPGS site or at NSSL. Included

9
 According to the director of NSSL, a higher percentage of the germplasm of the 50 most important
crops is backed up.
10
 While plant introduction stations have recently acquired some –18 degrees Celsius storage capacity,
most of their germplasm is still stored at 5 degrees Celsius.
11
  According to ARS’ Assistant Administrator for Genetic Resources, research on methodologies for
clonal crop cryopreservation will be NSSL’s highest research priority if new funding is made available.



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in this group were about 30 percent of the mango and avocado collections
and about 50 percent of the site’s ornamental collection (e.g., palm trees).
The storm uprooted the trees, and they could not be successfully
replanted. The curator for these crops stated that most of this material will
not be replaced because of resource constraints, difficulties in locating the
material, and difficulties in getting foreign collections to provide
replacement samples.

CGC  responses to our survey regarding the sufficiency of backup storage of
germplasm varied. Only 6 of the 40 CGCs surveyed reported that NPGS’
activity in the area of backup storage/preservation is insufficient for their
crop collections. In contrast, the curators for part or all of 15 of 40 crop
collections reported that NPGS’ activity in the area of backup
storage/preservation of their crop collection is insufficient.12 The curators
for the collections of six major crops—corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa,
potato, and cotton—reported no insufficiencies in this area.




12
 Curators for nine collections—including citrus fruits, peanuts, and sugarcane—indicated that backup
was insufficient for their collections overall.



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Page 51   GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
Appendix I

Survey Methodology


             We surveyed crop germplasm experts identified by NPGS. These experts
             included the 542 members of 40 Crop Germplasm Committees (CGCs),
             including all NPGS curators and CGC chairs; 27 recently retired CGC
             members; and 38 experts who were not serving on a CGC. Forty-five of
             those surveyed served on more than one CGC and were asked to complete
             one survey for each CGC on which they served. For the purposes of our
             survey, experts not currently serving on a CGC were assigned membership
             on the CGC that represented their area of expertise. In all, we mailed
             questionnaires to 680 CGC “members”—one questionnaire to each of the
             562 members serving on one CGC and 118 questionnaires to the 45 experts
             serving on more than one CGC. We followed up this initial mailing with
             additional mailings and telephone calls to encourage response. We
             conducted our survey from November 1996 through March 1997.

             We received a total of 576 usable questionnaires, including responses from
             all the NPGS curators, for a response rate of 85 percent. Only two CGC chairs
             did not participate in the survey (alfalfa and small fruits). Response rates
             varied across CGCs, from a low of 57 percent for the vigna and pepper CGCs
             to a high of 100 percent for three CGCs (corn, sugarbeets, and tobacco).
             Response rates were above 70 percent for all but four CGCs (cotton, new
             crops, peppers, and vigna). The median response rate for CGCs was
             86 percent.

             We analyzed the survey results by CGC. To obtain a single CGC response for
             each question, we aggregated the responses of the CGC members on that
             committee. We performed this aggregation by first selecting only those CGC
             members who had a substantive opinion on a particular question (that is,
             the member did not select “no basis to judge” as his or her response). We
             did not use the opinion if the question asked about the entire NPGS
             collection but the respondent answered for only a minor portion of the
             collection, unless the respondent was an NPGS curator. The selected
             members’ responses were aggregated by using one of three statistics,
             depending on the type of question. The mean response was used for
             questions requiring a numeric response. (See, for example, app. II,
             questions 12 and 44.) The median response was used for questions
             requiring an evaluation of the NPGS collection or NPGS management. (See,
             for example, app. II, questions 7 and 42.) When the median was between
             two rating categories, we reported the results in the category with the
             lower intensity. For questions that required the respondent to sort
             information into nonnumeric, nonrating categories, we used the
             percentage of CGC members who selected each category to represent the
             CGC response. (See, for example, app. II, question 11.)




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Appendix I
Survey Methodology




Appendix II contains a copy of our survey with the results aggregated by
CGC. In order to report the data completely and show instances in which
the median was between two rating categories, we altered the original
format of the questionnaire by deleting the response option “no basis to
judge” from questions 17 and 18 and changing the size of the response
boxes for these and several other questions. We used the letter “t” to
indicate the number of medians that were between a given category and
the next most intense category for that question.




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Appendix II

Results of GAO’s Survey of Crop Germplasm
Committees




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Results of GAO’s Survey of Crop Germplasm
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Results of GAO’s Survey of Crop Germplasm
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Results of GAO’s Survey of Crop Germplasm
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Results of GAO’s Survey of Crop Germplasm
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Results of GAO’s Survey of Crop Germplasm
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Results of GAO’s Survey of Crop Germplasm
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Appendix II
Results of GAO’s Survey of Crop Germplasm
Committees




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Appendix II
Results of GAO’s Survey of Crop Germplasm
Committees




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Appendix III

Crop Germplasm Committees and the Crops
for Which They Are Responsible


CGC                       Crop                Subcrop                                         Total samples
Alfalfa                   Alfalfa             Alfalfa                                                 3,003
                                              Wild relatives of alfalfa                               4,515
                                                                                                      7,518
Apple                     Apple               Apple                                                   2,563
                                              Wild relatives of apple                                 2,246
                                                                                                      4,809
Barley                    Barley              Barley                                                 28,338
                                              Wild relatives of barley                                2,074
                                                                                                     30,412
Carya                     Chestnut            Chestnut                                                   18
                          Pecan               Pecan                                                     563
                                              Wild relatives of pecan                                   318
                                                                                                        899
Citrus                    Citrus              Grapefruit                                                 59
                                              Lemon                                                      69
                                              Lime                                                       21
                                              Orange                                                    236
                                              Orange, sour                                               45
                                              Pummelo                                                    93
                                              Wild relatives of citrus                                  453
                          Date Palm           Date Palm                                                  98
                          Kumquat             Kumquat                                                    13
                                                                                                      1,087
Clover                    Astragalus          Astragalus                                                852
                          Clover              Clover, crimson                                            40
                                              Clover, red                                             1,284
                                              Clover, sweet                                             896
                                              Clover, white                                             822
                                              Wild relatives of clover                                3,781
                          Lespedeza           Lespedeza                                                 152
                          Trefoil             Trefoil                                                   930
                                                                                                      8,757
Cool season food legume   Chickpea            Chickpea                                                4,434
                                              Wild relatives of chickpea                                174
                          Faba bean           Faba bean                                                 538
                                              Wild relatives of faba bean                             1,381
                          Lentil              Lentil                                                  2,724
                                              Wild relatives of lentil                                  149
                                                                                                 (continued)


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                    Appendix III
                    Crop Germplasm Committees and the Crops
                    for Which They Are Responsible




CGC        Crop                            Subcrop                                        Total samples
           Lupins                          Lupins                                                 1,287
                                                                                                 10,687
Cotton     Cotton                          Cotton                                                 4,810
                                           Wild relatives of cotton                               2,099
                                                                                                  6,909
Crucifer   Crucifers (Brassicas)           Broccoli                                                  88
                                           Brussel sprouts                                           84
                                           Cabbage                                                1,032
                                           Canola                                                   422
                                           Cauliflower                                              504
                                           Mustard                                                1,100
                                           Oil Brassica                                             544
                                           Rapeseed                                                 655
                                           Rutabaga                                                  24
                                           Turnip                                                   139
                                           Wild relatives of crucifers                            1,250
           Radish                          Radish                                                   748
                                           Wild relatives of radish                                  10
                                                                                                  6,600
Cucurbit   Cucumber                        Cucumber                                               1,551
           Melon                           Melons (honeydew, cantaloupe)
                                                                                                  3,069
           Melon/cucumber                  Wild relatives of melon/cucumbers                        580
           Squash                          Pumpkin                                                  891
                                           Squash                                                   831
                                           Zucchini squash                                        1,127
                                           Wild relatives of squash                                 531
           Watermelon                      Watermelon                                             1,862
                                           Wild relatives of watermelon                              34
                                                                                                 10,476
Grape      Grape                           Grape                                                  1,183
                                           Wild relatives of grapes                               2,726
                                                                                                  3,909
Grass      Andropogon                      Andropogon                                             1,100
           Bentgrass                       Bentgrass                                                254
           Bermudagrass                    Bermudagrass                                             524
           Bluegrass                       Bluegrass                                                837
           Bothriochloa                    Bothriochloa                                             672
           Bouteloua                       Bouteloua                                                110
                                                                                             (continued)


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                                  Appendix III
                                  Crop Germplasm Committees and the Crops
                                  for Which They Are Responsible




CGC                     Crop                             Subcrop                                           Total samples
                        Bromegrass                       Bromegrass                                                1,071
                        Buchloe                          Buchloe                                                      13
                        Canarygrass                      Canarygrass                                                 759
                        Cenchrus                         Cenchrus                                                    857
                        Digitaria                        Digitaria                                                   652
                        Elytrigia                        Elytrigia                                                   835
                        Fescue                           Fescue                                                    2,050
                        Gammagrass                       Gammagrass                                                   93
                                                         Wild relatives of gammagrass                                105
                        Millet, Italian                  Millet, Italian                                             759
                                                         Wild relatives of Italian millet                            248
                        Millet, pearl                    Millet, pearl                                             1,137
                                                         Wild relatives of pearl millet                              266
                        Oatgrass                         Oatgrass                                                    228
                        Orchardgrass                     Orchardgrass                                              1,464
                        Panicum                          Millet                                                      724
                                                         Wild relatives of panicum                                 1,128
                        Paspalum                         Paspalum                                                  1,501
                        Ryegrass                         Ryegrass                                                  1,335
                        Timothy                          Timothy                                                     626
                        Wheatgrasses                     Wheatgrasses                                              1,679
                        Wild ryegrass                    Wild ryegrass                                               555
                        Zoysia                           Zoysia                                                      119
                                                                                                                  21,701
Herbaceous Ornamental   Aster                            Aster                                                        10
                        Begonia                          Begonia                                                       4
                        Chrysanthemum                    Chrysanthemum                                                23
                        Day Lily                         Day Lily                                                      8
                        Dianthus                         Dianthus                                                     90
                        Euphorbs                         Poinsettia                                                    3
                        Gentian                          Gentian                                                       1
                        Geranium                         Geranium                                                      3
                        Impatiens                        Impatiens                                                    18
                        Liatris                          Liatris                                                      12
                        Lily                             Lily                                                         28
                        Petunia                          Petunia                                                      96
                        Zinnia                           Zinnia                                                       80
                                                                                                                     376
Juglans                 Walnut                           Walnut                                                      266
                                                                                                              (continued)


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                            Appendix III
                            Crop Germplasm Committees and the Crops
                            for Which They Are Responsible




CGC               Crop                             Subcrop                                       Total samples
                                                   Walnut, black                                            35
                                                   Wild relatives of walnut                                162
                                                                                                           463
Leafy vegetable   Celery                           Celery                                                   86
                                                   Wild relatives of celery                                129
                  Chicory                          Chicory                                                 250
                  Lettuce                          Lettuce                                               1,282
                                                   Wild relatives of lettuce                               222
                  Parsnip                          Parsnip                                                  63
                  Spinach                          Spinach                                                 379
                                                                                                         2,411
Maize             Corn                             Corn                                                 23,414
                                                   Wild relatives of corn                                  251
                                                                                                        23,665
New Crops         Amaranth                         Amaranth                                              1,818
                                                   Wild relatives of amaranth                            1,482
                  Apios                            Apios                                                     3
                  Calendula                        Calendula                                                87
                  Castor bean                      Castor bean                                           1,032
                  Crambe                           Crambe                                                  304
                  Crotalaria                       Crotalaria                                              260
                  Cuphea                           Cuphea                                                  808
                  Euphorbs                         Wild relatives of euphorbia                              87
                  Evening primrose                 Evening primrose                                        614
                  Guar                             Guar                                                  1,303
                  Guayule                          Guayule                                                 187
                  Jojoba                           Jojoba                                                  155
                  Kenaf                            Kenaf                                                   306
                                                   Roselle                                                 144
                                                   Wild relatives of kenaf                                 350
                  Lesquerella                      Lesquerella                                             136
                  Leucaena                         Leucaena                                                573
                  Lunaria                          Lunaria                                                   6
                  Meadowfoam                       Meadowfoam                                               56
                  Mesquite                         Mesquite                                                 73
                  Perilla                          Perilla                                                  22
                  Quinoa                           Quinoa                                                  169
                                                   Wild relatives of quinoa                                 52
                  Safflower                        Safflower                                             2,321
                                                                                                    (continued)


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                     Crop Germplasm Committees and the Crops
                     for Which They Are Responsible




CGC         Crop                            Subcrop                                        Total samples
                                            Wild relatives of safflower                              120
            Sesame                          Sesame                                                 1,221
                                            Wild relatives of sesame                                   9
            Stokes Aster                    Stokes Aster                                              39
            Vernonia                        Vernonia                                                 267
            Yucca                           Yucca                                                     15
                                                                                                  14,019
Oat         Oat                             Oat                                                   10,269
                                            Wild relatives of oat                                 11,597
                                                                                                  21,866
Pea         Pea                             Pea                                                    4,245
                                            Wild relatives of pea                                    222
                                                                                                   4,467
Peanut      Peanut                          Peanut                                                 8,434
                                            Wild relatives of peanut                               1,115
                                                                                                   9,549
Peppers     Peppers                         Peppers                                                2,594
                                            Wild relatives of pepper                               1,399
                                                                                                   3,993
Phaseolus   Bean                            Bean                                                  11,560
                                            Bean, lima                                             1,063
                                            Wild relatives of bean                                 1,192
                                                                                                  13,815
Potato      Potato                          Potato                                                 1,312
                                            Wild relatives of potato                               5,778
                                                                                                   7,090
Prunus      Stone fruits                    Almond                                                   117
                                            Apricot                                                  325
                                            Cherry                                                   395
                                            Nectarine                                                  9
                                            Peach                                                    436
                                            Plum                                                     237
                                            Wild relatives of stone fruits                         1,224
                                                                                                   2,743
Pyrus       Pear                            Pear                                                     939
                                            Wild relatives of pear                                 1,368
                                                                                                   2,307
Rice        Rice                            Rice                                                  18,332
                                            Wild relatives of rice                                   241
                                                                                              (continued)


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                         Appendix III
                         Crop Germplasm Committees and the Crops
                         for Which They Are Responsible




CGC             Crop                            Subcrop                                        Total samples
                                                                                                      18,573
Root and Bulb   Carrot                          Carrot                                                    55
                                                Wild relatives of carrot                                 824
                Onion/Garlic                    Garlic                                                   122
                                                Leek                                                       2
                                                Onion                                                  1,081
                                                Wild relatives of onion/garlic                           901
                                                                                                       2,985
Small Fruit     Blueberry                       Blueberry                                                205
                Cranberry                       Cranberry                                                121
                Blueberry/cranberry             Wild relatives of
                                                blueberry/cranberry                                      864
                Currant/Gooseberry              Currant/gooseberry                                     1,084
                Raspberry                       Raspberry                                                336
                                                Wild relatives of raspberry                            1,384
                Strawberry                      Strawberry                                               504
                                                Wild relatives of strawberry                           1,018
                                                                                                       5,516
Sorghum         Sorghum                         Sorghum                                               39,931
                                                Wild relatives of sorghum                                684
                                                                                                      40,615
Soybean         Soybean                         Soybean                                               17,420
                                                Wild relatives of soybean                              1,833
                                                                                                      19,253
Sugarbeet       Beet                            Beet                                                   1,567
                                                Wild relatives of beet                                   715
                                                                                                       2,282
Sugarcane       Sugarcane                       Sugarcane                                                919
                                                Wild relatives of sugarcane                            2,360
                                                                                                       3,279
Sunflower       Sunflower                       Sunflower                                              2,673
                                                Wild relatives of sunflower                            1,202
                                                                                                       3,875
Sweet Potato    Sweet potato                    Sweet potato                                             720
                                                Wild relatives of sweet potato                           452
                                                                                                       1,172
Tobacco         Tobacco                         Tobacco                                                1,841
                                                Wild relatives of tobacco                                305
                                                                                                       2,146
                                                                                                  (continued)


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                                  Appendix III
                                  Crop Germplasm Committees and the Crops
                                  for Which They Are Responsible




CGC                      Crop                            Subcrop                                         Total samples
Tomato                   Tomato                          Tomato                                                  8,123
                                                         Wild relatives of tomato                                1,983
                                                                                                                10,106
Tropical Fruit and Nut   Avocado                         Avocado                                                   474
                                                         Wild relatives of avocado                                  14
                         Banana                          Banana                                                    184
                         Brazil nut                      Brazil nut                                                  1
                         Breadfruit                      Breadfruit                                                 66
                         Cashew                          Cashew                                                      1
                         Cherimoya                       Cherimoya                                                  86
                         Coffee                          Coffee                                                      1
                         Guava                           Guava                                                      83
                         Kiwi                            Kiwi                                                       12
                                                         Wild relatives of kiwi                                     63
                         Litchi nut                      Litchi nut                                                135
                         Macadamia                       Macadamia                                                  27
                         Mango                           Mango                                                     295
                         Papaya                          Papaya                                                    154
                                                         Wild relatives of papaya                                   23
                         Passion fruit                   Passion fruit                                              36
                         Pineapple                       Pineapple                                                 137
                                                         Wild relatives of pineapple                                25
                         Rambutan                        Rambutan                                                   39
                         Star fruit                      Star fruit                                                 70
                                                                                                                 1,926
Vigna                    Cowpea                          Cowpea (blackeyed pea)
                         (blackeyed pea)                                                                         7,783
                                                         Adzuki bean                                               302
                                                         Black gram                                                303
                                                         Mung bean                                               3,919
                                                         Wild relatives of Vigna                                   503
                                                                                                                12,810
Wheat                    Rye                             Rye                                                     1,815
                                                         Wild relatives of rye                                     106
                         Triticale                       Triticale                                               1,411
                         Wheat                           Wheat                                                  34,618
                                                         Wheat, durum                                            6,901
                                                         Wild relatives of wheat                                 7,685
                                                                                                                52,536
                                                                                                            (continued)


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                           Appendix III
                           Crop Germplasm Committees and the Crops
                           for Which They Are Responsible




CGC               Crop                                Subcrop                                               Total samples
Woody Landscape   Arborvitae                          Arborvitae                                                            9
                  Barberry                            Barberry                                                             35
                  Cedar                               Cedar                                                                 3
                  Cypress                             Cypress                                                              12
                  Dogwood                             Dogwood                                                              170
                  Elm                                 Elm                                                                  59
                  Fir                                 Fir                                                                  22
                  Hemlock                             Hemlock                                                              16
                  Holly                               Holly                                                                130
                  Juniper                             Juniper                                                              71
                  Larch                               Larch                                                                 5
                  Lilac                               Lilac                                                                35
                  Magnolia                            Magnolia                                                             44
                  Maple                               Maple                                                                225
                  Oak                                 Oak                                                                  57
                  Pine                                Pine                                                                 81
                  Privet                              Privet                                                               37
                  Redbud                              Redbud                                                               66
                  Rhododendron                        Rhododendron                                                         100
                  Rose                                Rose                                                                 150
                  Silverbell                          Silverbell                                                           106
                  Sourwood                            Sourwood                                                              6
                  Spiraea                             Spiraea                                                              50
                  Spruce                              Spruce                                                               20
                  Viburnum                            Viburnum                                                             105
                  Yew                                 Yew                                                                  20
                                                                                                                      1,634
All CGCs                                                                                                           399,236

                           Notes: The information in this appendix was provided by NPGS officials from the GRIN database
                           as of February 28, 1997. In addition to the 399,236 germplasm samples shown above, NPGS
                           maintains more than 35,000 other samples that are not listed here because they have no CGCs
                           providing advice and guidance on them.




                           Page 77                                   GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
Appendix IV

Comments From the U.S. Department of
Agriculture

Note: GAO comments
supplementing those in the
report text appear at the
end of this appendix.




See comment 1.




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                 Appendix IV
                 Comments From the U.S. Department of
                 Agriculture




See comment 2.




See comment 3.




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                 Comments From the U.S. Department of
                 Agriculture




See comment 4.




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                 Comments From the U.S. Department of
                 Agriculture




See comment 5.




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Agriculture




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Agriculture




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Agriculture




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Agriculture




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Agriculture




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                 Appendix IV
                 Comments From the U.S. Department of
                 Agriculture




                 The following are GAO’s comments on USDA’s September 17, 1997, letter.


                 1. We agree that NPGS has made improvements in a number of areas over
GAO’s Comments   the past 6 years, as USDA discusses in the attachment to its letter. However,
                 the purpose of our review was to obtain the views of the CGCs—crop
                 experts who advise NPGS—on the sufficiency of NPGS’ principal activities:
                 acquisition, development and documentation of information, and
                 preservation of germplasm. Thus, the report focuses on the current status
                 of NPGS’ activities and not on improvements made to the system. However,
                 chapter 1 discusses actions taken during the 1990s to address identified
                 shortcomings—in particular, the expansion of NSSL’s long-term storage
                 capacity, the increased use of –18 degree Celsius storage by NPGS sites, and
                 improvements made to the GRIN database. In addition, other chapters
                 discuss areas where most CGCs reported that aspects of NPGS collections or
                 activities were sufficient. Therefore, given the purpose of our review and
                 the language already incorporated into the report, we did not add
                 information on other improvements.

                 2. While our report cites curators and CGCs as having different views on the
                 sufficiency of some NPGS activities—e.g., preservation and passport
                 information—they do not, for the most part, have different views on NPGS’
                 top priorities. According to survey responses, both curators and CGCs, on
                 average, viewed acquisition as their top priority if additional funding
                 becomes available. Development and documentation of characterization
                 information is also ranked highly by curators and CGCs (they ranked it
                 second and third, respectively), as is development and documentation of
                 evaluation information, which is ranked fifth by curators and second by
                 CGCs. On the other hand, there were greater differences in the CGCs’ and
                 curators’ ranking of regeneration and viability testing, with curators
                 ranking it third and CGCs, eighth. (See app. II, question 44.)

                 3. We wish to clarify USDA’s interpretation of our survey results. While
                 chapter 3 notes that almost all CGCs reported that the management of GRIN
                 has improved since about 1990 and three-quarters said that the
                 management of passport data had improved, the survey results are less
                 clear-cut with regard to the management of characterization and
                 evaluation data. Specifically, over half (22) the CGCs said that the
                 management of characterization data has improved, 17 said that there is
                 no change, and 1 CGC said that it has worsened. For the management of
                 evaluation data, just under half (19) said that the management of




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Appendix IV
Comments From the U.S. Department of
Agriculture




evaluation data has improved, half (20) said that there is no change, and 1
said that it has worsened. (See question 42, app. II.)

In chapter 4, we state that relatively few CGCs reported that regeneration,
viability testing, and backup storage are insufficient for their crop
collections. However, we also report that almost three-quarters of the CGCs
stated that the lack of staff for regeneration and viability testing has
hindered preservation of their crop collections. In response to question 43
on the amount of funding NPGS provides for these activities, given current
resources, 19 CGCs reported that for regeneration and viability testing it is
about the right amount and 21 reported that it is probably too little. For
backup storage/preservation, 26 CGCs reported that it is probably the right
amount and 14 that it is probably too little. (See question 43, app. II.)

4. We appreciate the challenges NPGS faces in having to juggle multiple
priorities and manage continually increasing collections in the face of
declining resources. We hope that our report will provide useful
information to congressional and other decisonmakers in future
deliberations on the role of NPGS and the resources available to NPGS for
carrying out its role.

5. We support USDA’s efforts to optimize the management of NPGS to make
most effective use of its limited resources.




Page 88                                GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
Appendix V

Major Contributors to This Report


                        Jerilynn B. Hoy, Assistant Director
Resources,              Beverly A. Peterson, Evaluator-in-Charge
Community, and          Sonja J. Bensen
Economic                Nancy S. Bowser
                        Carolyn M. Boyce
Development Division,   Carol Herrnstadt Shulman
Washington, D.C.




(150713)                Page 89                        GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System
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