CrackSense Interview4

Spotlight on: The Significance of Germplasm Collections in Agriculture

Expert in the spotlight:

Laurent Julhia is an Agricultural Engineer working at the Experimental Unit UE Citrus, at INRAE San Giuliano (Corsica, France), specialised in citrus cultivation. He develops participative and applied research on citrus fruit quality: multiscale diagnosis on fruit quality from tree to agricultural systems; quality and production management with Regular Deficit Irrigation, decision support system on fruit quality. He works with geneticists and breeders to design participatory trials for new citrus varieties selection with farmers. Within CrackSense, he is heavily involved in experiments on citrus and is the scientific representative for INRAE-Corsica.

Topic in the spotlight: Wild relatives of cultivated crop varieties often harbour genes for traits like disease resistance, drought resistance, or pest resistance that are absent in cultivated varieties. By hybridising these wild relatives with high-yielding cultivated varieties selected from germplasm collections, breeders can create improved hybrid varieties that inherit desirable traits from both parents. Germplasm encompasses all biological materials and genetic resources, including seeds, tissues, and DNA sequences, which are collected and preserved for various purposes such as plant breeding, conservation, agriculture, and research.

These resources may be stored in seed banks, maintained as trees in orchards, or preserved in gene banks. Germplasm collections vary widely, ranging from collections of wild species to elite domesticated breeding lines that have undergone extensive human selection. The collection and preservation of germplasm are vital for maintaining biological diversity, ensuring food security, and supporting conservation efforts.

INRAE is a French national public institute specializing in agriculture, food systems, industry, and major environmental challenges, while promoting social and economic inclusivity. Its scope is to develop knowledge and innovation for a sustainable and resilient agroecology and covers a broad range of topics, including water resources, regional agricultural strategies, biodiversity preservation and restoration, risk anticipation and management along with digital agriculture. The Corsican branch, which is a joint INRAE-CIRAD facility, boasts expertise in citrus cultivation. The heart of their work lies in citrus germplasm, housing over 1,000 varieties and is one of the world’s largest citrus collections, where various citrus varieties are meticulously preserved. Each tree in this vast collection represents a different citrus variety, showcasing the diversity within the citrus family.

Our Spotlight on guest, Laurent, emphasizes the significance of preserving such diversity. While only a few citrus varieties are commonly found in supermarkets, their collection includes ancestral varieties crucial for breeding new varieties. These ancestral varieties often possess traits like disease resistance or adaptability to climate change, making them invaluable resources for addressing agronomic challenges. The INRAE-CIRAD germplasm collection serves as a repository for these varieties, allowing researchers to develop new citrus cultivars that can tackle emerging agricultural issues.

Furthermore, the germplasm serves as a resource for citrus growers seeking to diversify or adapt their crops. When growers encounter challenges like unsuitable varieties for their region or emerging diseases, they can turn to the Institute for access to new varieties. This exchange fosters innovation in citrus cultivation, ensuring the resilience and adaptability of citrus crops in the face of changing agricultural landscapes. In essence, the germplasm plays a crucial role in safeguarding citrus diversity, facilitating research, and supporting agricultural innovation to meet the challenges of the future.

Find out more in the video below.