Working on a Long-Held Dream

An International Panel of Experts to Steer a Global Initiative to Harness Crop Diversity

Almost sixty organizations from two-dozen countries have elected a group of international experts to steer the Diversity Seek (DivSeek) initiative, a global partnership to harness crop diversity for climate adaptation and food security.

On May 28, this group of nine scientists – officially named the DivSeek Steering Committee – will meet in Rome to lay the groundwork for DivSeek’s initial work-plan.

“DivSeek is a global meeting platform for researchers and projects that use new, game-changing technologies to unlock the untapped value of crop genetic resources. We will be taking initial steps toward synchronizing and reinforcing global efforts in this direction,”

says Ruaraidh Sackville Hamilton, member of the DivSeek Steering Committee and in charge of the genebank at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines.

Topics to be discussed will include data-management standards and platforms and a landscaping study to identify already ongoing projects across a variety of crops. At the core of this work-plan is the coordinated harnessing of seed collections in genebanks for genes underlying traits such as drought tolerance or resistance to pests, and the use of these genes in adapting crops to new challenges like climate change.

Susan McCouch, the elected Chair of the DivSeek Assembly, explains:

“There are still vast reserves of valuable genes and traits hidden in low-performing wild ancestors and long-forgotten early farmer varieties of rice that can be coaxed out of these ancient plants by crossing them with higher-yielding modern relatives.”

This opportunity to realize a long-held dream by many working in this area presents itself just in time for agriculture to adapt to a changing climate.

Since the official DivSeek launch, which was held in San Diego in January 2015, the initiative has already received much welcomed attention in the media, including an endorsement from the prestigious Nature Genetics journal and coverage by the equally prestigious Science journal and outlets such as SciDev.

It was during this meeting that the DivSeek Charter was adopted, which outlines the purpose and the principles of the initiative.

Crop diversity is one of the most fundamental yet grossly underutilized global public goods. Let's congratulate these scientists for accepting the responsibility to steer the DivSeek initiative; nothing less than global food security is at stake here – not a small task for a group of nine!

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The elected Steering Committee members

  • Management of seed banks
  • Genetics and genomics research
    • Sarah Ayling from The Genome Analysis Centre in the UK
    • Susan McCouch from Cornell University in the USA*
    • Rajeev Varshney from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in Hyderabad, India
  • Governance and intellectual-property rights
    • Emily Marden from the University of British Columbia, Canada

* Susan McCouch also doubles as the Chair of the DivSeek Assembly


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