Genebank's links preserve options for future local varieties

Top genetic resources for Australia's grain crops flow from Genebank's overseas links


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Jimmy Wanma, from West Papua, and Gibson Sosanika, from Papua New Guinea, collecting wild Sorghum laxiflorum in Kakadu National Park in 2018. PHOTO Sally Norton, AGG

Jimmy Wanma, from West Papua, and Gibson Sosanika, from Papua New Guinea, collecting wild Sorghum laxiflorum in Kakadu National Park in 2018. PHOTO Sally Norton, AGG

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International links boost the flow of genetic resources for Australian grain varieties.

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Key points

Australian Grains Genebank (AGG)

  • The AGG plays a pivotal role in supplying new genetic material to meet the current and future needs of Australian grain growers
  • Strong international relationships are essential to ensuring access to diverse germplasm
  • By helping developing nations to conserve their own genetic material, AGG is ensuring access to better genetic diversity for future variety development

Improved yield and quality, pest and disease resistance, and tolerance to constraints such as acid soil or low pH, chilling and heat, are just some of the important targets of GRDC's genetic research.

These diverse research programs have one thing in common - the need to access international genetic resources to meet the current and future needs of Australian growers.

Driving that access is the Australian Grains Genebank (AGG), established at Agriculture Victoria (AV), in Horsham, with GRDC co-investment.

The AGG plays a pivotal role in importing new germplasm, as well as conserving Australian wild relatives of crops to make them available for international research.

These diverse research programs have one thing in common - the need to access international genetic resources to meet the current and future needs of Australian growers. - Australian Grains Genebank leader Dr Sally Norton

Genetic resource for new varieties

Australian Grains Genebank leader Dr Sally Norton with visiting scientists Naing Kyi Win, Minn San Hein, Syaw Soe Hein and Ohn Mar Aung from Myanmar National Genebank. PHOTO Justine Severin, Agriculture Victoria

Australian Grains Genebank leader Dr Sally Norton with visiting scientists Naing Kyi Win, Minn San Hein, Syaw Soe Hein and Ohn Mar Aung from Myanmar National Genebank. PHOTO Justine Severin, Agriculture Victoria

In the past five years, Australian agencies have requested more than 13,000 new accessions to contribute to research on:

  • Russian wheat aphid (RWA)
  • Heat tolerance in pulses
  • Acid soil tolerance in chickpeas
  • Other important agronomic and pest and disease resistance traits.

After importation, AGG shepherds the seed through quarantine, either in Horsham or through its NSW Department of Primary Industries partner, in Tamworth.

Each accession is germinated and grown to maturity to ensure AGG retains a viable sample of seed while satisfying the original request.

These steps are part of a process that is vital to Australia's grain industry productivity.

When RWA was detected in Australia in 2016, the AGG was able to immediately supply stocks of more than 400 conserved germplasm with important resistance genes to Australian researchers.

Since then, AGG has imported more than 1400 new lines, that have now been distributed, and has worked with Agriculture Victoria researchers to evaluate potential resistance in local field trials.

AGG also plays an important role in bringing new wheat, barley and pulse germplasm into Australia as part of the CIMMYT Australia ICARDA Germplasm Evaluation (CAIGE) program.

The program screens new lines for important quality traits as well as resistance to diseases such as rust, crown rot and Septoria tritici blotch.

The AGG plays a pivotal role in importing new germplasm to underpin the development of new, more resilient grain crops for Australian grain growers. - Australian Grains Genebank leader Dr Sally Norton

"Most grain crops grown in Australia today owe at least part of their genetic make-up to the germplasm now held in AGG or imported from overseas," says Dr Sally Norton, Agriculture Victoria scientist and AGG leader.

"We preserve material, such as Australia's first wheat variety, Federation, that provides not only the foundations of the varieties today but also the varieties of the future."

Dr Norton says the AGG collection underpins the development of new, more resilient grain crops for Australian grain growers, but it is the collaboration and learning from others that means we can do this job well.

"We not only collect our own local resources, but also help others to preserve their genetic resources," she says.

"Any one of these wild relatives might hold the genetic holy grail that will help future crop varieties meet the needs of growers in Australia and overseas."

Upskilling the world

Australian Grains Genebank scientist Dr Kath Whitehouse collecting Sorghum laxiflorum in Kakadu National Park as part of international plan to preserve wild relatives of important crops in 2018 PHOTO Sally Norton, AGG

Australian Grains Genebank scientist Dr Kath Whitehouse collecting Sorghum laxiflorum in Kakadu National Park as part of international plan to preserve wild relatives of important crops in 2018 PHOTO Sally Norton, AGG

One such collection opportunity came last year during a tour of Kakadu National Park with the traditional owners and scientists from Papua New Guinea and West Papua.

The tour, supported by AV, AGG, GRDC, the Australian Seed Bank Partnership, the Crawford Fund and the Millennium Seed Bank UK, also improved the skills of the visiting scientists and led to the establishment of a new seed bank in Papua New Guinea.

With the aim of expanding the world's genetic resources, Dr Norton has traveled to India and Malaysia as one of the experts delivering three Genebank Operations Advanced Learning (GOAL) masterclasses.

More than 70 participants from more than 15 developing countries throughout South-East Asia and Pacific areas have completed the course since 2015.

"I'm not just there as a trainer. I learn a lot about different ways to run genebank operations and I've built some great relationships that lead to ongoing collaboration, ultimately improving the way we run AGG and the germplasm that we can offer to Australian researchers," Dr Norton says.

Every grain crop grown in Australia today owes at least part of its genetic make-up to the germplasm held in AGG. - Australian Grains Genebank leader Dr Sally Norton

Following a GOAL masterclass, AGG hosted three staff from Myanmar for in-depth training in 2018, with support from the Crawford Fund.

As a result, the Myanmar team have made some relatively small - and importantly, inexpensive - changes that will mean a big improvement to the life of its seed.

AGG has also been able to improve its own processes based on learning from overseas.

While on a GRDC-supported tour of the Philippines International Rice Research Institute Genebank in 2017, Dr Norton was impressed by the barcoding system it used to streamline seed handling.

The Australian Grains Genebank has implemented a barcoded seed-handling system based on a similar one used at the Philippines International Rice Research Institute genebank. PHOTO Sally Norton, AGG

The Australian Grains Genebank has implemented a barcoded seed-handling system based on a similar one used at the Philippines International Rice Research Institute genebank. PHOTO Sally Norton, AGG

Within a year, a similar system was implemented to manage AGG's 195,000 or so different seed samples, leading to significant time savings and reducing the chance of human error.

"While many of the benefits of our collaboration are realised overseas, we are actually making a massive difference to our own ability to source and supply new genetic material for Australia's researchers."

GRDC Research Codes 9176106, DAV1707-001BLX

More information: Dr Sally Norton, Agriculture Victoria, 03 4344 3111, sally.norton@ecodev.vic.gov.au

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