PLANT GENETIC RESOURCES ACTIVITIES
Plant genetic resources are constituted by the old varieties no longer in use, land races called as local varieties, their wild relatives and clearly defined lines related to hereditary traits. Turkey is a very rich country in terms of plant diversity. This rich plant diversity and plant genetic resources face to erosion and faced with the danger of extinction under environmental and other pressured. The protection of genetic diversity of plant genetic resources especially of cultivated varieties is of utmost importance for the sustainability of plant/crop production.
In 1963, an agreement was signed between the Government of the Turkish Republic and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization for the establishment of an International Regional Centre for the purpose of surveying, collecting, preserving and evaluating plant genetic resources, landraces, the wild relatives of these varieties and wild varieties with economic potential found in South-West Asian countries. Those activities were initiated in 1964 at "Plant Research and Introduction Centre" known today as Aegean Agricultural Research Institute (AARI). Activities and conservation efforts had continued at this centre until the 1970s and first national Seed Gene Bank of Turkey established in compliance with international standards for long-term ex situ conservation of the plant genetic resources in Turkey. This gene bank was also one of the first genebank in the world. Activities pertaining to plant genetic resources were scheduled with implementation projects prepared within the framework of "National Plant Genetic Resources Research Project" (NPGRRP) initiated in 1977. Since the initiation of the Agricultural Research Project (ARP) in 1995, these activities have been conducted at the national level within the scope of programs entitled "Biological Diversity in Plants and its Conservation" and "Development of Database and Early Warning System for Natural Resources" of the Research Opportunity Area of "Natural Resources and Environment". Aegean Agricultural Research Institute is operated as the Program Coordination Centre and the coordination task is undertaken by the Plant Genetic Resources Department of AARI. Activities on plant genetic resources are conducted under the main disciplines of survey, collection, systematic and taxonomy, conservation (ex situ and in situ) and documentation by working groups for Cereals, Grain Legumes, Forage Plants, Industrial Crops, Vegetables, Fruits and Grapes, Ornamental Plants, Medicinal and Aromatic Plants and Endemic Species. In this scope, research subjects are determined as ex situ, in situ and on-farm conservation, survey, collection, socio-economy, ethno-botany, characterization, evaluation, material exchange, documentation, multiplication and regeneration.
SURVEY AND COLLECTION
During collection, survey and inventory activities, collection data such as location of collection, coordinates (latitude and longitude), and altitude recorded with a GPS (Global Positioning System) to be used in GIS (Geographical Information Systems) studies. Moreover, data is also recorded such passport information as the province, county, village and area of collection and such data as terrain and soil qualities, Botanical name, as well as the common name, population density and habitat properties of the collected sample. In addition, such ethno-botanic data as the local name and areas of use of the collected sample are also specified. The random sampling is essential to collect the maximum variation.
Ex situ Conservation – Conservation at Seed Gene Bank
At the National Seed Gene Bank of AARI, seed samples of plant genetic resources in Turkish origin are preserved as addressed within the scope of "Generative (ex situ, seed) Conservation Project" for plant genetic resources. Those seed samples belong to land races/local varieties of Turkey, improved or developed varieties, breeding lines with certain significant characteristics and wild relatives of cultivated plants existing in the natural flora and other wild varieties and weedy forms of the species. In the cold rooms of AARI National Gene Bank, two sets are preserved, namely the long-term base collection at -18/-20°C and the medium-term active collection at 0°C. The Gene Bank features high-capacity spare preservation rooms (totally 680 m3 twelve cold rooms) for future conservation efforts. The safety duplicates of the base collections are kept at Turkish Seed Gene Bank (TSGB) of Field Crops Central Research Institute.
Ex situ Conservation - in vitro Conservation and Cryopreservation
One of the long-term conservation methods for plant genetic resources is in vitro conservation and cryopreservation applications where in vitro techniques are used. Currently, research studies on conservation of sub-cultures are ongoing for the conservation of such plant genetic materials as meristem, shoot tip and bud by in vitro techniques. In addition, the activities are also conducted for the application of in vitro techniques for cryo-preservation for preservation the freezing materials in liquid nitrogen at ultra-low temperatures. Cryo-preservation research studies have been initiated on mint (Mentha spp.) and garlic (Allium sativum) varieties.
Ex situ Conservation – Conservation at Field Gene Banks
AARI is one of the institutes responsible for the conservation at field gene banks of fruits genetic resources. So plum, sour cherry, quince, pomegranate, almond, apricot, Satsuma and chestnut collections which are individually evaluated within Projects on Fruit Genetic Resources are preserved at AARI field gene banks.
In situ and On-Farm Conservation
In situ conservation activities were initiated with the "Project on In situ Conservation of the Genetic Diversity of Turkey" supported by the World Bank. This project has been implemented with activities aimed at the in situ conservation of wild chestnut and plum genetic resources in Mount Ida and of wild wheat and legume genetic resources in Central Taurus Mountains (Bolkar and Aladaglar) and Ceylanpinar areas.
Two other projects regarding in situ conservation activities are also implemented: The first project is "In situ (on-farm) Conservation of the Genetic Diversity of the Transitional Zone" aimed at creating an inventory of local varieties currently cultivated in the Transitional Zone in the provinces of Eskisehir, Kutahya, Bolu, Bilecik and Kastamonu, and investigating the possibilities to preserve einkorn wheat, bean, chickpea and lentil landraces/local varieties on farm. The second project, on the other hand, is "Protection and Management of Threatened Plant Varieties in their Ecosystems" aimed at protecting in their Ecosystems the threatened endemic wetland plant species distributed in the provinces of Konya, Aksaray, Ankara (Sereflikochisar), Denizli, Isparta, Burdur and Adana. The project on "Design, Testing and Evaluation of Best Practices for in situ Conservation of Economically Important Wild Species" is another Project fort he in situ conservation of plant diversity. Within the framework of in situ and on-farm conservation projects, socio-economic and etnobotanic surveys have also been conducted. The public awareness for the protection and conservation of plant diversity is one of the components of in situ program.
Herbarium and Preservation of Herbarium Specimens
AARI Plant Genetic Resources Department has a modern herbarium that contains dried plant samples collected from Turkey. Aegean Agricultural Research Institute Herbarium coded in the "Index Herbariorum" with the abbreviation "IZ", preserves samples at international standards and plant samples collected during survey and collection mission activities are identified and preserved at AARI Herbarium for long-term. The very old herbarium samples of wheat and barley collected by M.GÖKGÖL in 1920s and 1930s are also preserved at AARI herbarium..
Fungarium and Conservation of Mushroom Genetic Resources
Identification of the collected mushroom samples and their maintenance at AARI fungarium are carried out within the framework of "Macro Fungi Genetic Resources Research Project". Objectives of this project are; determination of macro-mycota distribution of Turkey, achieving information on edibility of mushroom species and their utilization by the local people and conservation of mushroom genetic resources for future generations.
For these purposes; survey and collection programs are carried out at Aegean Region of Turkey since 2004. Collected mushroom samples are dried and their spore prints are taken for identification and conservation.
Within the frame work of this project, fungarium with around 1000 dried macro-fungi samples and their database and a spore bank have been created.
The domestic and foreign distribution of plant genetic resources is performed in accordance with the provisions of the "Regulation on Collection Conservation and Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources" published in 1992. Moreover, materials are also introduced from abroad on request and transmitted to their requestors upon quarantine procedures. In this scope, information and plant genetic resources materials are provided to local and foreign researchers and vegetative materials of foreign origin are provided (introduced) as required for research studies conducted in Turkey.
The documentation activities are conducted within the framework of "Plant Genetic Resources Documentation Project" of AARI. The National Plant Genetic Resources Database has been created for materials stored at national gene bank and the field gene banks and in this scope, the following data are collected:
● Passport data (data of samples recorded during collection activities, data on the area of collection and coordinates and latitude data of the location as obtained by GPS and data on samples and habitat of the samples)
● Storage and conservation data (all data pertaining to the ex situ preservation of seeds and vegetative materials)
● In situ conservation data (eco-geographical and socio-economic data, ethno-botanic data, topographic data etc. compiled by surveys and inventory activities)
● Characterization and evaluation data (data for the samples characters and genetic and molecular evaluation including response of samples to biotic and abiotic factors)
These activities include data analyses and mapping for the interpretation of results by using the Geographical Information Systems.
CHARACTERIZATION AND EVALUATION
The genetic diversity of various plant genetic resources including cultivated form of crops of Turkish origin and their local cultivars, wild relatives and primitive forms is characterized by their significant agro-morphological and molecular properties. Activities for the determination of agro-morphological characteristics were initiated in 1980s and various related projects were finalized both by the Plant Genetic Resources Department and the plant groups.
The National Strategy urges public awareness-raising and training for the biological diversity and resource management and AARI conducts the regular training and awareness-raising activities as Coordination Institute for Plant Genetic Resources Institute. AARI therefore, organize seminars and courses both for international, regional and national level on conservation and use of agrobiodiversity and plant genetic resources. The in country trainings are organized each year mainly to the National Program Project staff, in some cases, courses to tourist guides; extension services staff (Staff of Agricultural Provincial Directorates). AARI has also given the practical training to the students of agricultural faculties. The training and awareness activities for the school children have also been projected.