Ukrainian agricultural research is threatened by war


Mewas t a A moment of horror. In a video posted on the internet on May 14th Sergei Avramenko, a researcher at the Ukrainian National Gene Bank, the tenth largest such facility in the world, put his finger on a bag of burnt seeds. “Everything turned into ashes,” he saddened.

It was later revealed that only the bank outpost was suffering from the bombardment that caused this destruction. The main herd of seeds remains safe in the basement vault. But that may have been imminent. The bank in question is located in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, and its defenders have just repelled the Russian troops that surrounded it.

The instability of the Kharkiv Gene Bank underscores the importance of protecting and protecting genetic material from crops, as climate change, population growth and prosperity are driving the demand for new approaches to plant breeding. I am. Started as an experimental station in 1908, it is now one of more than 1,700 such repositories around the world.

The purpose of gene banks is to archive the biodiversity of crops. Most often this is done by dehydrating and freezing the seeds. The united nationsFood and Agriculture Organization estimates that in the 20th century, commercial farmers focused their efforts on several reliable varieties, reducing the variety of crops planted by 75%. However, the resulting abandoned varieties may still hide valuable properties, and state-of-the-art genetic techniques such as genome-wide association studies (searching for synergies between different parts of the genome) have unearthed these. May be available.

“Life insurance can be planted in the future,” says Lise Lykke Steffensen, director of the Nordic Genetic Resources Center, which operates the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, one of the largest and most famous seed banks. Norwegian archipelago. In addition to the obvious risks of rising temperatures and increasing drought frequency, climate change can also contribute to new pests and diseases. To prepare for such an event, breeders need to choose formidable genetic weapons.

The vault of Kharkiv remains intact, but the attack caused concern. Even if the Russian army retreats, 150,000 samples of 1,802 species representing 544 Russian-hosted crops are still at risk as the war intensifies. The same is true for collections of crops, such as strawberries and grapes, that are bred by cuttings rather than seeds and are stored outdoors by banks.

Moreover, Kharkiv is not the only facility affected by the war. For example, in March Ukraine lost access to Kherson’s plant irrigation system and the city fell to Russian troops. And, as observed by Olga Trophimzewa, a foreign ministry’s agricultural expert, many agricultural research workers joined the army and others left the country.

The need for diversity

Such problems are not unprecedented. In 2002, Afghanistan’s National Seed Bank in Kabul was destroyed and looted in battle. A year later, the same thing happened to the Iraqi seed bank in Abu Ghraib. Also, a collection of seeds from the arid region of Aleppo, Syria, was closed in 2012, when the civil war began, and needed to be reestablished in Lebanon and Morocco.

Therefore, backing up seed collections abroad is a good practice in all countries. For example, the Svalbard Vault has samples of about 1.1m, many of which are stored on behalf of other institutions. Still, many gene banks, including Ukraine, lack the resources to find the additional seeds needed to fully back up their collections. As a result, only 2,800 of the 150,000 Ukrainian samples overlap the Svalbard permafrost.

The country has stored some reproductions elsewhere, but unfortunately “other places” include the Babylov Seed Bank in St. Petersburg, which is now the enemy’s territory. After the end of the war, Ms. Trofimtseva diversified connections by incorporating Ukrainian agricultural research institutes into networks previously developed during the Russian Empire and the Soviet era and connecting to other agricultural institutions around the world. I want to do it. ■■

Ukrainian agricultural research is threatened by war

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