Inventory created for wild relatives of important crops

Jan 28, 2014 by Jan Suszkiw
ARS researchers and their collaborators have finished a first-of-its-kind inventory of wild relatives of important crops indigenous to the United States, such as sunflowers, or that have become naturalized to aid in the conservation of their genetic diversity. Credit: Peggy Greb

A first-of-its-kind inventory for wild and weedy relatives of important crops has been developed by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists and their collaborators.

According to Stephanie Greene, a plant geneticist with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the inventory was created to aid the conservation of these so-called "crop wild relatives" (CWRs) and ensure their availability as prized sources of genetic diversity for an array of economically important traits, including improved drought tolerance and resistance to pests and diseases.

Greene and her colleagues prioritized the U.S. national inventory based on factors such as how closely related the wild species are to crops, especially those grown for food; their availability in gene banks or protected habitat areas, and the ease or difficulty of transferring desirable traits from the wild species to their cultivated "cousins."

All told, the inventory covers 4,596 taxa from 985 genera and 194 plant families that are either indigenous to the United States or have become naturalized—established of their own accord following human introduction. Among CWR of major crops, the genus Helianthus (sunflower) is the most abundant, numbering 73 total taxa, including H. annuus (domesticated as the sunflower). Other important CWRs include species closely related to strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, grapes, and stone fruits such as cherries and plums.

There are many examples of native wild U.S. species that have played key roles in ensuring the continued health and productivity of crops grown worldwide, according to Greene, who works at the ARS Plant Germplasm Introduction and Testing Research Unit worksite in Prosser, Wash. The inventory itself lists 17 major that have benefitted from traits associated with 55 native CWR.

A recent example is cultivated sunflowers worldwide, which have benefitted from wild North American relatives in the form of resistance to rust, sclerotinia, downy mildew and other diseases and pests.

Explore further: Protecting the weedy and wild kin of globally important crops

More information: Read more about this research in the January 2014 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

US a surprisingly large reservoir of crop plant diversity

Apr 29, 2013

North America isn't known as a hotspot for crop plant diversity, yet a new inventory has uncovered nearly 4,600 wild relatives of crop plants in the United States, including close relatives of globally important ...

Time is ticking for some crop's wild relatives

May 30, 2012

A botanist brings a species of alfalfa from Siberia, to the United States. His hope? The plant survives, and leads to a new winter-hardy alfalfa. But what also happened during this time in the late 1800's, isn't just a story ...

New strawberry species found in Oregon

Jul 16, 2013

A recently discovered wild strawberry provides new genetic material for plant research and may lead to a new class of commercial strawberries, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientist. ...

Recommended for you

The microbes make the sake brewery

Jul 24, 2014

A sake brewery has its own microbial terroir, meaning the microbial populations found on surfaces in the facility resemble those found in the product, creating the final flavor according to research published ahead of print ...

User comments : 0