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13 December 2010

Wild seeds seen as world crop 'insurance'

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British scientists say they plan to collect wild plant relatives of essential food crops including wheat, rice and potatoes to preserve their genetic traits

The project, coordinated by the Global Crop Diversity Trust, aims to safeguard valuable genetic traits in wild plants that could be bred into crops to make them more hardy and versatile, the BBC reported Friday.

The plant material collected will be stored in seed banks in the long term, but will also be used in "pre-breeding trials" to find out if the wild varieties could be used to combat diseases already threatening food production.

"There is a real sense of urgency about this," said Paul Smith, head of the Millennium Seed Bank at London's Kew Gardens.

"For some of these species, we may just get this one bite of the cherry, because so many of them are already threatened (with extinction) in their natural habitats," he said.

The hope is that the wild relatives of food crops will help plant-breeders produce strains that can cope with changing climate, plant diseases and loss of viable agricultural land.

"All our crops were originally developed from wild species -- that's how farming began," said Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

"Climate change means we need to go back to the wild to find those relatives of our crops that can thrive in the climates of the future."


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