In this episode, Dr. Clare Coyne, curator of the USDA cool season food legume collection in Pullman, Washington gives us a really fascinating look into this extensive collection. You’ll hear how the collection is curated, preserved and utilized to continue to provide high quality seed to researchers, and ultimately to farmers. The seeds are stored under refrigeration and controlled humidity as part of a combined state and USDA effort. Under ideal conditions, they could store as long as 100 years.
Dr. Coyne has worked at the station for 25 years and has been in her current role since 1998. She's responsible for over 22,000 accessions of peas, lentils, chickpeas and fava beans. This collection serves as the genetic resources available to breeders and researchers to develop new varieties of pulse crops.
“Plant genetic resources are a guarantee that we can continue to improve the farmgate value of that harvested crop.” - Dr. Clare Coyne
The program for maintaining our crops' genetic resources is not new. The United States has been collecting seeds for crops of interest since the founding fathers. “We can look at the USDA system as the gold standard for plant genetic resources in the world.” There are other extensive collections in stations located in Mexico, Morocco and India to name a few. But these collections don’t just exist for academic or historical purposes. They serve a very important role in making sure that breeders have the genetic material they need to develop varieties that continue to meet the needs of growers.
“If we're presented with a new disease or a disease that in the past wasn't a problem and all of a sudden becomes a problem, then we need these breeding resources.” - Dr. Clare Coyne
Dr. Coyne offers root rot resistant genetics as a more recent need among producers. Cultivars for this ability were screened in the gene bank and are likely to make a difference for the growers. Fortunately, these collections continue to expand with a big focus being put on wild relative varieties of current crops. “We're realizing that the genetic reserve that's held in these crop wild relatives is very key to future progress made in our crops and not just on diseases, but also on yield components and nutritional components.” Once collected, Dr. Coyne and her colleagues grow these lines out in the field and collect data. That data is available online to researchers of all kinds wanting to utilize these genetics.
“Kind of a bottom line for growers is we can rely on a genetic answer so that when you plant that cultivar you already have a package where you're ahead of the game. If there is drought tolerance, if there is heat tolerance, if there is disease resistance in the genetics of that cultivar that you're planting, then that's an additional production cost that you don't have to bear.” Dr. Clare Coyne