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1 Aug 2021

Germplasm Guidelines, Key for Conservation

Germplasm. It sounds like a something from science fiction, but it’s key to conserving common, rare and threatened species.

Germplasm collections are a way of storing plants for long term conservation.

Germplasm is a living resource, a store of plant tissues such as seeds, spores, potted plants and living collections in botanic gardens. Seeds can be stored in the seed bank, while tissue culture and cryopreservation is the top choice for species that can’t have their seeds frozen in the seed bank. It’s part of an insurance policy against extinction of native plants in the wild.

Seed banking doesn’t work for all species, so cryopreservation (pictured) is used as an alternative. Image: Michael Lawrence-Taylor.

This way of conserving plants requires careful planning, unique skills and processes. They’ve been written up in "Plant Germplasm Conservation in Australia", also known as the Germplasm Guidelines, a handbook for ex situ (off site) conservation. This year, the Guidelines have been updated, featuring the innovative work from scientists at the Australian Institute of Botanical Science.

This is what some of the contributing scientists had to say about the achievement;

“In line with the recent release by the United Nations  of the new Global Framework for Managing Nature Through 2030  that aims to safeguard 90 per cent of the genetic diversity of wild and domesticated species, these new guidelines emphasise the importance of capturing genetic diversity with germplasm collections.” 
Dr Marlien van der Merwe, Biodiversity Research Officer and Scientific Officer.
The updated Guidelines will act as a handbook for scientists hoping to store plant tissue as germplasm collections.
“With each successive update of the guidelines, we can see increasing effort in the science and practice of plant conservation. The 2021 guidelines were assembled by Australian and other international experts, who are devoting their lives to conserving our flora. The contributors come from a vast spectrum of organisations, including the restoration and agricultural sectors, botanic gardens, CSIRO  and universities” 
 
Dr Cathy Offord, Principal Research Scientist.
Germplasm collections are an example of conservation done “ex situ”, meaning out of the plant’s natural habitat.
“The third edition of ‘Plant Germplasm Conservation in Australia’ is the result of an incredible collaborative effort: we have 78 contributors to this edition and 16 of these were staff and students from the Australian Institute of Botanical Science helping lead and write chapters and case studies, while other staff helped with peer review and provided stunning images. As project manager for this update, I am proud that we can help set the benchmark for good practice in ex situ conservation for the decade to come” 
 
Dr Amelia Martyn Yenson, Seed Research Officer.

The newly updated Germplasm Guidelines will be launched during the Australasian Seed Science Conference.
 
The Guidelines will also be a key reference for the Australian Academy of Science Fenner Conference on the Environment 2021, with the theme “Exceptional times, exceptional plants”. It will delve into methods other than seed banking that are critical for conservation of some of our most threatened plant species.
 
You can sign up to the Fenner Conference here (free registration). 

To learn more about the Australian Institute of Botanical Science and it’s important work, check out our video series, What the Flora!?

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