U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service
Frequently Asked Questions
is the NCGRP located in Fort Collins?
What are genetic resources?
What is germplasm?
What is an accession?
What is a propagule?
What is genetic diversity?
Can anyone get seeds from NCGRP?
Where does germplasm come from and who donates it?
How do I donate germplasm?
Does NCGRP save endangered species?
How large is the NCGRP plant collection?
What is the NCGRP capacity?
How many species are in the NCGRP collection?
How do I get information about a particular crop species in the collection?
What is the best way to store seeds?
How long can seeds survive in storage?
What is the oldest living seed?
How long does DNA last?
Can I plant seeds from an apple I really enjoyed?
What is a recalcitrant seed?
Why is the NCGRP located in Fort Collins, Colorado? The dry climate was a primary reason that the USDA National Seed Storage Laboratory (NSSL) was located in Fort Collins, CO. With an average relative humidity of about 30%, little effort was needed to adjust seed moisture content to the optimum level needed for long-term storage. In the 1950’s a Colorado State University professor, Dr. D.W. (Scotty) Robertson, was very active in promoting germplasm preservation. A barley breeder, Dr. Robertson, argued that a base collection for genetic resources should be established and worked to have the Laboratory built on the Colorado State University campus. The Beet Sugar Development Foundation also supported these efforts.
What are genetic resources? Genetic resources are genes, genetic combinations (a.k.a. genotypes) or genetic frequencies that give desired traits to populations. In agriculture, genetic resources are used to increase yields and stress tolerance, improve nutrition, and add value, beauty, flavor, and adaptability.
What is an accession? An accession is an item in a collection. An accession in a genebank is like a book in a library, with a title (species, population, parental line), editor (collector or breeder) and brief summary (phenotypic information, date of collection, etc) available in a database. At NCGRP, an accession appears as a bag of seeds, a straw of animal semen, plant tissue cultures or buds from twigs of fruit crops.
What is genetic diversity? Genetic diversity is variation in life that is inherited. It is created as species and populations adapt to the environment in which they grow and this diversity provides attributes that enable the species to adapt to changes in the environment.
Can anyone get seeds from NCGRP? Distributions are made for research purposes from the NPGS sites located around the US. See the NPGS website to see how to request germplasm.
Where does the germplasm come from and who donates it? Germplasm comes from all over the world and it is donated by collectors, breeders or experts in systematics who locate material with unusual or interesting traits that may eventually be useful in agriculture. For example, a collector may find an apple with unusual flavor or a wheat landrace that is resistant to aphids. Most of the germplasm for agricultural crops comes from the area where that crop evolved. This area, known as the Center for Diversity, is believed to have the highest genetic variability in the smallest geographic area.
How do I donate germplasm? By contacting the curator of a particular crop, you can find out whether the germplasm already exists in the NPGS collection. The curator will also be able to tell you procedures for donating germplasm. The curator for each crop can be located through GRIN. Please use the forms when submitting materials directly to NCGRP.
Does NCGRP save endangered plant species? In collaboration with conservation groups, we store seeds of endangered species. This activity can preserve the remaining genetic diversity of an endangered species until it is reintroduced into native habitats.
How large is the NCGRP plant collection? There are about 475,000 accessions in the collection. Each accession contains about 3,000 to 5,000 seeds, depending on the reproductive biology of the species.
What is the NCGRP capacity? The NCGRP has capacity to store between one and 1.5 million accessions, depending on the size of the propagule, in storage vaults cooled to 18C (conventional storage). In addition, the NCGRP has a 220 cryotank capacity, with each cryotank holding about 3,000 seed and 70,000 semen accessions.
How many species are in the NCGRP plant collection? There are about 5,000 species in the NCGRP collection, but over 10,000 species (1,500 genera) are represented in the National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS). Better preservation technologies will enable all 10,000 species to be eventually included in the base collection at NCGRP. In addition, changing needs for US agriculture and landscapes will lead to an inevitable increase in the numbers of species collected and stored at NCGRP.
How do I get information about a particular crop species in the collection? The NPGS website provides information on which species are in the collection and where they are grown and evalulated. You may contact the curator at that location for more specific information.
How long can seeds survive in storage? Seed longevity depends on storage conditions and seed quality. We expect most undamaged seeds that are properly dried to survive about a hundred years in conventional storage (-18C) and about a thousand years under cryogenic (liquid nitrogen) conditions.
What is the oldest live seed? The most reliable studies show some seeds in soil at archeological sites surviving for 100 to 1,700 years. (e.g. Odum 1965. Germination of ancient seeds: floristical observations and experiments with archaeological dated soil samples. Dan. Bot, Arkiv 24(2):1-70; Shen-Miller, J., Mudgett, M.B., Schopf, J.W., Clarke, S., and Berger, R. 1995. Exceptional seed longevity and robust growth: Ancient sacred lotus from China. American Journal of Botany)
How long does DNA last? DNA, the genetic code, found in all life, is a very stable molecule. Fragments that are thousands of years old have been found in archeological artifacts, especially if the artifacts have been kept dry or free from microbes that cause decay.
Can I plant seeds from an apple I really enjoyed? You can plant seeds from that apple and get a tree in about 5-10 years, but the fruit from the new tree will not be the same as the apple that you enjoyed. This is because fruit quality is specific to the mother plant, and the mother tree and the offspring tree are genetically different. Most fruit crops must cross-pollinate to produce seeds. For fruit crops, the same genetic line is usually maintained by grafting budwood from the mother plant onto a rootstock or rooting stems that are cut from the mother plant.
What is a recalcitrant seed? A recalcitrant seed, in contrast to most crop seeds, is a seed that cannot survive drying and so cannot survive in the freezer. Preservation of recalcitrant seeds requires a procedure that prevents damage by drying or freezing. This has been accomplished in several species by excising the growing part of the seed, optimizing the water content, and cooling very rapidly. Recalcitrant seeds are frequently produced by temperate-zone forest trees, riparian species, and plants from the tropics. Examples of recalcitrant seeds are oak seeds, wild rice, and citrus.
USDA, Agricultural Research Service, National Center for Genetic Resources
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