With Syria torn apart by civil war, a team of scientists in Mexico and Morocco are rushing to save a vital sample of wheat’s ancient and massive genetic diversity, sealed in seed collections of an international research center formerly based in Aleppo, but forced to leave during 2012-13.
Researchers at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) began restoring and genetically characterizing more than 30,000 unique seed collections of wheat from the ICARDA Syrian genebank.
“With war raging in Syria, this project is incredibly important,” said Carolina Sansaloni, genotyping and DNA sequencing specialist at CIMMYT. “It would be amazing if we could be just a small part of reintroducing varieties that have been lost in war-torn regions.”
The team as part of the Seeds of Discovery (SeeD) project at CIMMYT has been sequencing DNA from 2,000 seed samples a week, as well as deriving molecular markers for breeder- and farmer-valued traits, such as disease resistance, drought or heat tolerance and qualities that contribute to higher yields and grain quality. They are using a high-end DNA sequencing system located at the Genetic Analysis Service for Agriculture (SAGA), a partnership between CIMMYT and Mexico’s Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA) and with the support of a private company from Australia, Diversity Arrays Technology (DArT).