Kew Gathers Crop Relatives to Help Climate Adaptation

The U.K.’s Royal Botanic Gardens Kew plans to start collecting wild relatives of 26 crop plants in a partnership with the Global Crop Diversity Trust to prepare for climate change in the future.

Climate change will likely cause a geographical shift and a reduction in suitable growing ranges for many crops, Ruth Eastwood, coordinator of Kew’s Crop Wild Relatives Project, wrote on the Plantwise blog. Genetic traits of wild crop varieties have been used to breed resistance against pest and disease, as well as drought and cold, she wrote.

Without climate adaptation, future potato yields are predicted to drop by as much as a third, according to Eastwood. Climate conditions also contribute to the spread of pests and disease, making the outlook “bleak,” she wrote.

Crop wild relatives “are important because unlike most of our major crops, they have not been subject to genetic bottlenecks and they are distributed across a diverse range of habitats,” Eastwood wrote on Plantwise, a blog maintained by plant disease and pest researcher CABI.

Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Partnership will collect the species and pass them to so-called pre-breeders, who will grow the wild crop relatives and select them for certain traits, according to Eastwood. The project targets the wild relatives of crops including alfalfa, cowpea, eggplant, potato, rice and wheat, she wrote.

(Corrects last paragraph of story published Sept. 20 to show Kew will pass on wild crop species to pre-breeders.)
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