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 Page 4 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System 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 Page 5 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System 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. Page 6 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System 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. Page 7 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System 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 Page 8 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System 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 Page 10 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System 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. Page 12 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System 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. Page 13 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System 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. Page 14 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System 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. Page 15 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System 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. Page 16 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System 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. Page 21 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System 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). Page 23 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System 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 Chapter 1 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 alu n— riz n— ss — n lasof m ev tatiot & on cte atio & on din / g nta nt & rt ati e on ole and bio ular y tes and g g pla f sm IN pr anc h on erv nd on erv nd on ne ree ent rm n o erv tiv log tio tin din pa tion po ara nt p. GR nti ati ati es e a ati es e a ati n res Ac pr cem isi c ge utio ch me lo me e me e f m nt bil tion ee en rc p ara cu pm cu pm pr rag cu eve rm qu e o me int sea Br n ity eb ib n via ra Qu do velo do elo Ac ge sto ha do D us op str ma Re ne e/p v En l Di ve -up De De ge rag De Re ck sto Ba 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 ici r t ici t t t ien en en uff ha en en uff no ici ins ew ici ffic ins ient uff uff m su ic So ts ins uff ry ha ry Ve rs ew Ve he m it So Ne 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 0 0 t t ici r t ici t t t ien ien en uff ha en en uff no ins ew ici ffic ffic ins ient uff m su su ffic So ins ry t ha su ry Ve ew Ve er m ith So Ne 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. Page 40 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System 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 t ici r t ici t t t ien ien en uff ha en en uff no ins ew ici ffic ffic ins ient uff m su su ffic So ins ry at su wh ry Ve Ve er me ith So Ne 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. Page 41 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Chapter 3 Many NPGS Germplasm Collections Lack Information Needed for Crop Breeding 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. Page 42 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Chapter 3 Many NPGS Germplasm Collections Lack Information Needed for Crop Breeding 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. Page 43 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Chapter 3 Many NPGS Germplasm Collections Lack Information Needed for Crop Breeding 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. Page 44 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Chapter 4 Preservation Activities Have Not Kept Pace 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. Page 45 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Chapter 4 Preservation Activities Have Not Kept Pace With Needs of the Collection 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. Page 46 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Chapter 4 Preservation Activities Have Not Kept Pace With Needs of the Collection 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. Page 47 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Chapter 4 Preservation Activities Have Not Kept Pace With Needs of the Collection 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. Page 48 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Chapter 4 Preservation Activities Have Not Kept Pace With Needs of the Collection 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. Page 49 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Chapter 4 Preservation Activities Have Not Kept Pace With Needs of the Collection 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. Page 50 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System 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.) Page 52 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System 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. Page 53 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Appendix II Results of GAO’s Survey of Crop Germplasm Committees Page 54 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Appendix II Results of GAO’s Survey of Crop Germplasm Committees Page 55 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Appendix II Results of GAO’s Survey of Crop Germplasm Committees Page 56 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Appendix II Results of GAO’s Survey of Crop Germplasm Committees Page 57 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Appendix II Results of GAO’s Survey of Crop Germplasm Committees Page 58 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Appendix II Results of GAO’s Survey of Crop Germplasm Committees Page 59 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Appendix II Results of GAO’s Survey of Crop Germplasm Committees Page 60 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Appendix II Results of GAO’s Survey of Crop Germplasm Committees Page 61 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Appendix II Results of GAO’s Survey of Crop Germplasm Committees Page 62 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Appendix II Results of GAO’s Survey of Crop Germplasm Committees Page 63 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Appendix II Results of GAO’s Survey of Crop Germplasm Committees Page 64 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Appendix II Results of GAO’s Survey of Crop Germplasm Committees Page 65 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Appendix II Results of GAO’s Survey of Crop Germplasm Committees Page 66 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Appendix II Results of GAO’s Survey of Crop Germplasm Committees Page 67 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Appendix II Results of GAO’s Survey of Crop Germplasm Committees Page 68 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Appendix II Results of GAO’s Survey of Crop Germplasm Committees Page 69 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System 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) Page 70 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System 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) Page 71 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System 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) Page 72 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System 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) Page 73 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Appendix III 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) Page 74 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System 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) Page 75 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System 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) Page 76 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System 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. Page 78 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Appendix IV Comments From the U.S. Department of Agriculture See comment 2. See comment 3. Page 79 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Appendix IV Comments From the U.S. Department of Agriculture See comment 4. Page 80 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Appendix IV Comments From the U.S. Department of Agriculture See comment 5. Page 81 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Appendix IV Comments From the U.S. Department of Agriculture Page 82 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Appendix IV Comments From the U.S. Department of Agriculture Page 83 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Appendix IV Comments From the U.S. Department of Agriculture Page 84 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Appendix IV Comments From the U.S. Department of Agriculture Page 85 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System Appendix IV Comments From the U.S. Department of Agriculture Page 86 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System 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 Page 87 GAO/RCED-98-20 Information on Germplasm System 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 Ordering Information The first copy of each GAO report and testimony is free. Additional copies are $2 each. Orders should be sent to the following address, accompanied by a check or money order made out to the Superintendent of Documents, when necessary. VISA and MasterCard credit cards are accepted, also. Orders for 100 or more copies to be mailed to a single address are discounted 25 percent. Orders by mail: U.S. General Accounting Office P.O. Box 37050 Washington, DC 20013 or visit: Room 1100 700 4th St. NW (corner of 4th and G Sts. NW) U.S. General Accounting Office Washington, DC Orders may also be placed by calling (202) 512-6000 or by using fax number (202) 512-6061, or TDD (202) 512-2537. Each day, GAO issues a list of newly available reports and testimony. To receive facsimile copies of the daily list or any list from the past 30 days, please call (202) 512-6000 using a touchtone phone. A recorded menu will provide information on how to obtain these lists. For information on how to access GAO reports on the INTERNET, send an e-mail message with "info" in the body to: email@example.com or visit GAO’s World Wide Web Home Page at: http://www.gao.gov PRINTED ON RECYCLED PAPER United States Bulk Rate General Accounting Office Postage & Fees Paid Washington, D.C. 20548-0001 GAO Permit No. G100 Official Business Penalty for Private Use $300 Address Correction Requested
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)