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Genetic resources in the spotlight at the European Commission

Published: 24/06/2016
Many members of the forest genetic resources community attended the final conference of the Preparatory Action in Brussels. Credit: E.Hermanowicz/EUFORGEN
M.Bozzano as part of the panel at the final conference of the Preparatory Action in Brussels. Credit: E.Hermanowicz/EUFORGEN

A one-day conference in Brussels on 9 June 2016, presented the findings, draft conclusions and preliminary recommendations of the “Preparatory action on EU plant and animal genetic resources” (Preparatory Action). The event gathered around 300 participants, representing research institutes related to forest, crops, animal and microbial genetic resources, as well as farmers' and seeds' associations and national authorities.

The aim of the Preparatory Action was to deliver inputs on how to improve communication, knowledge exchange and networking among all actors potentially interested in the conservation of genetic resources and to contribute to their sustainable and economically viable use. Over two years, the project team interviewed and surveyed a range of stakeholders to provide an overview of efforts in the conservation and sustainable use of agricultural genetic resources in the EU, and to identify missing links and areas to be addressed in future interventions.

The conclusions, built on practical and detailed suggestions formulated by stakeholders, allowed the formulation of preliminary recommendations, grouped under 13 problem areas, ranging from the definition of agro-biodiversity in EU legislation to enhanced cooperation between actors at all levels of the supply chain.

Of key significance for EUFORGEN is that the Preparatory Action identified, as a top priority, securing long-term support for existing regional networks. Such networking programmes serve as platforms to enhance the science-policy-practice dialogue, to increase cooperation and coordination among Member States, to assess and communicate relevant scientific knowledge and to coordinate the development of common strategies.

A panel of ten experts from different research fields were invited to comment on the Preparatory Action’s preliminary recommendations during the conference’s final afternoon session. In addressing the issue, Michele Bozzano, EUFORGEN Coordinator, highlighted the difference in approaches to the conservation of forest genetic resources versus crop genetic resources, outlining the enormous asymmetry in storage and regeneration times. Unlike crops, forest tree seeds can be stored for as little as a couple months, up to a few years, to maintain full viability of the seed-lot. For crops, diversely, seeds can be kept safely in genebanks for many years. As for the contrast in regeneration times, it may take several decades to regenerate a silver fir, while regeneration of wheat, for example, takes only a few months. Moreover, tree species are also dependent on the surrounding ecosystem, including other plants, animals and fungi. Hence, genetic conservation strategies for forest trees emphasize in situ conservation of both the material itself and the dynamic processes influencing the genetic composition of the species. The main goal is to conserve the adaptive potential of the species or the population and the ecosystem in which it occurs.

M. Bozzano informed the audience that EUFORGEN, as a networking programme, has already played a vital role in developing a joint in situ conservation strategy for European countries targeting forest genetic resources and that the recently developed ‘Pan-European strategy for genetic conservation of forest trees and establishment of a core network of dynamic conservation units” could be used as an example for other sectors (e.g. wild crop relatives).

M. Bozzano also underlined that the long-term existence of a well-functioning programme like EUFORGEN is the best strategy for the conservation, sustainable use and development of genetic resources at the EU level.

The final document of the Preparatory Action is planned to be released later this year, yet it will be up to the European Commission to implement the recommendations outlined therein.

To follow live reporting of the event in Brussels, search twitter for #EU_geneticresources and check out the Preparatory Action website for more information.