ABOUT THE DEPARTMENT
Our country, which has extraordinary natural beauties, has a privileged position in terms of plant diversity. The plant biodiversity, genetic resources, and especially endemic taxa that our country possesses have strategic importance due to their economic, social, and cultural values. The conscious preservation and sustainable management of biological diversity and genetic resources have become an increasingly strategic issue on the world agenda. The sustainable use of our plant genetic resources for current and future generations is very important for our country in terms of transforming them into economic value. The preservation of genetic diversity with species and ecosystem diversity and ensuring its continuity is a vital issue for future generations.
Especially, the preservation of genetic diversity in plant genetic resources of the cultivated species is of great importance for the sustainability of plant production. The plant richness that our country possesses has become more widely known and valued in society through recent awareness-raising efforts.
The Department of Biodiversity and Genetic Resources conducts surveys, collections, and long-term preservation (ex situ and in situ) of all plant genetic resources found in our local varieties referred to as village populations and flora (wild relatives of cultivated plants, commercially valuable edible or medicinal wild plant species, endemic, rare and threatened plant species, etc.) against the danger of extinction, and documents all related information. Additionally, our department conducts studies on different conservation strategies (Seed gene bank, field gene bank, in vitro conservation, cryopreservation) to identify and preserve biodiversity for food and agriculture and to contribute to the economy for future generations.
In 1963, an agreement was signed between the Government of the Republic of Turkey and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN/FAO) to establish an International Regional Center for the survey, collection, conservation, and evaluation of plant species cultivated in Southwest Asian countries, their wild relatives, and economically potential wild species. The center was established at the "Plant Research and Introduction Center," which is now known as the Aegean Agricultural Research Institute (ETAE), and the works started in 1964. The work and preservation continued at this center until the 1970s, and in 1974, the first national Seed Gene Bank of our country, in compliance with international standards, was established under the ETAE. The preservation efforts for the ex situ (outside of their native region) long-term preservation of our plant genetic resources began at this time. This gene bank is also one of the first gene banks in the world.
The Aegean Agricultural Research Institute serves as the Program Coordination Center, and this coordination task is carried out by the Plant Genetic Resources Department. Plant genetic resources studies are conducted by the Cereals, Legumes, Forage Crops, Industrial Crops, Vegetables, Fruit and Vine, Ornamental Plants, Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, and Endemic Species groups in the main disciplines of survey collection, systematic and taxonomy, conservation (ex situ and in situ), and documentation. In this scope, the research topics were identified as ex situ, in situ, and on-farm conservation, survey, collection, socio-economics, ethno-botany, characterization, evaluation, material exchange, and documentation.
SURVEY AND COLLECTION
Survey and collection are carried out by an expert team including botanists and taxonomists. Fieldwork consists of two stages. In the first stage, a field visit is carried out during the flowering period to determine the scope of the population in the field, collect herbarium samples, verify the species, or label the individuals from which seeds will be collected during the flowering period. In the second stage, seed collection is carried out by visiting the identified plants during the seed-setting period. Selection of populations that maximize genetic diversity is important during collection. The general rule is to collect randomly from a wide area and from many plants using a random sampling method without endangering the population.
During the survey and inventory studies of populations from which the plant and seed are collected, data such as coordinates (latitude and longitude), elevation, and other information about the location are recorded using a Global Positioning System (GPS) device to be used in Geographic Information System (GIS) studies. Additionally, passport data such as the province, district, village, region, and terrain type of the collection site, as well as the population frequency, threat factors, threat category, and habitat characteristics of the collected sample are also determined. Ethnobotanical data such as local names and usage areas of the sample are also collected.
Preservation of the diversity in plant genetic resources of cultivated species is crucial for the sustainability of plant production. Preservation of plant genetic resources is carried out by ex situ (off-site) conservation methods, depending on the nature of the material to be preserved, such as seed banks, collection gardens (field gene banks), pollen gene banks, etc. On-site conservation (in situ) is carried out by preserving wild species and cultivated plants in their natural habitat, under farmer conditions for local varieties. In vitro conservation and preservation in ultra-cold conditions (cryopreservation) have become important techniques with developments in biotechnology, and all of these methods have gained complementary qualities.
Ex Situ Conservation - Conservation in the National Seed Gene Bank
Under the continuous project entitled "Generative (ex situ, seed) Conservation of Plant Genetic Resources" in the National Seed Gene Bank established within the scope of ETAE, seed samples belonging to plant genetic resources of Turkish origin are preserved. These seed samples belong to local varieties grown in our country, improved or developed varieties, breeding lines with some important characters, wild relatives of cultivated plants present in natural flora, other wild species and intermediate forms. They are stored in two sets in cold rooms at -18/-20°C for long-term base collection and at 0°C for mid-term active collection in the cold rooms of ETAE National Gene Bank. There are high-capacity backup storage rooms (12 cold rooms with a total of 680 m3) available for future conservation efforts. The safety backups of the base collections in the National Gene Bank are also made at the Turkey Seed Gene Bank, which is continuing its work under the Field Crops Research Institute (TBMAE), in the same way as the safety backup of the Turkey Seed Gene Bank material is carried out in the National Gene Bank.
Ex Situ Conservation - Conservation in Field Gene Banks
ETAE is one of the responsible institutions for conservation within the Fruit and Vine Genetic Resources Projects. Therefore, it is responsible for the conservation of types of our genetic resources of apricot, cherry, quince, pomegranate, almond, apricot, satsuma and chestnut in the field gene banks. In addition, conservation of genetic resources such as garlic, mint, apricot, etc. of local types is also carried out by cryopreservation, i.e., under ultra-cold storage conditions.
Ex situ conservation - In vitro conservation and Cryopreservation
Within plant genetic resources, particularly species with recalcitrant seeds, foreign pollination and low seed production, or materials that cannot be propagated from generative organs, as well as endemic rare species, are easily at risk of extinction. In vitro conservation and cryopreservation using in vitro techniques are long-term conservation methods for plant genetic resources. Seed conservation at low temperatures (-20°C in gene banks) is the most commonly used ex situ conservation method. However, it is not suitable for vegetatively propagated plants or species that produce recalcitrant seeds. Therefore, cryopreservation (-196°C storage in liquid nitrogen and other liquefied gases) is the preferred method for germplasm storage to maintain the genetic characteristics of vegetatively propagated materials. Cryopreservation is defined as the freezing of biological material and its long-term storage in liquid or vapor phase of liquefied gases at ultra-low temperatures while still alive.
With the objectives stated, studies are carried out in the Biodiversity and Genetic Resources department for the cryopreservation of endemic or threatened cultural or natural plants that have germination problems in their seeds, have persistent seeds, and have difficulties in their vegetative preservation, using in vitro and cryopreservation methods. Cryopreservation protocols have been developed for mint (Mentha sp.), garlic (Allium sativum L.), thyme (Thymus cilicicus Boiss. & Balansa), and marjoram (Origanum sipyleum L.) through cryopreservation studies that started in 2006. Research on plum (Prunus sp.) is still ongoing. A "National Cryobank" will be established soon within the scope of the Agricultural Research and Policies General Directorate. With these studies, while the cryopreservation of all genetic resources in our country is aimed, priority will be given to the development of the opportunities for the cryopreservation of plants that have germination problems in their seeds, persistent seeds, have difficulties in their vegetative preservation, are endemic or threatened in our country, and have economic value. Thus, disposing of the material that is a source of genetic information, which is essential for the development of highly productive varieties and for solving future problems of disease and pests, will be prevented.
Conservation in situ and under farmer's conditions
In situ (on-site) conservation efforts began with the "Turkey Genetic Diversity In Situ Conservation Project". Within the scope of this project supported by the World Bank, in situ conservation efforts were carried out for wild chestnut and plum genetic resources in Kaz Mountains, for wild wheat and legume genetic resources in the regions of Middle Taurus (Bolkar and Aladaglar), and for local varieties currently grown in Eskisehir, Kutahya, Kastamonu, Bolu, and Bilecik provinces, including research into the preservation possibilities for Kaplica wheat, beans, chickpeas, and lentils in farmer's conditions, under the project "In Situ (Farmer's Conditions) Conservation of Genetic Diversity in the Transition Zone."
In situ conservation efforts continued with two other projects. One of these is the "Protection and Management of Endangered Plant Species in their Ecosystems" project, which aims to protect and manage endangered plant species in their ecosystems in wetlands, such as Tuz Lake, wetlands in the western regions starting from the lake district, and the Sultan marsh and Karatas delta in the east. The other project is the "In Situ (Farmer's Conditions) Conservation of Genetic Diversity in the Transition Zone," which aims to identify the inventory of local varieties currently grown in the Ege-Iç Anadolu transition region, and to research the preservation possibilities for these varieties, such as Kaplica wheat, beans, chickpeas, and lentils, in farmer's conditions in the provinces of Konya, Aksaray, Ankara (Sereflikochisar), Isparta, and Burdur. Socio-economic surveys were also conducted within the framework of in situ and farmer's conditions conservation projects. The preservation of plant diversity is the most important component of the in situ conservation program.
Herbarium and Herbarium Sample Storage
Herbarium is a collection of dried and mounted plants or plant parts that are properly collected from nature without losing their important characteristics, and are preserved on cardboard without losing their identifying features. Although there are many different purposes for making herbarium, it can generally be expressed as identifying the plant, proving the existence of the plant, providing ready-made material when reaching the plant is not possible, revealing the flora of an area, and protecting endangered species or populations. Herbariums arranged according to a certain classification system have a documentation center for those working in biology, agriculture, forestry, medicine, pharmacy, food, and many other fields.
The Herbarium of the Aegean Agricultural Research Institute (ETAE), coded as "IZ" in the World Herbarium Index (Index Herbariorum), which started its work with the establishment of the National Gene Bank in 1963, is a herbarium where samples are stored according to international standards. The ETAE Herbarium is one of the comprehensive herbaria in Turkey where plant samples collected in projects and studies conducted by our institution and other institutes are preserved, especially the herbaria of agriculturally important species. The presence of wheat, barley, and oat samples collected by the prominent scientist Mirza Gokgol from many regions of Turkey in the ETAE Herbarium during the 1920s and 1930s is among the features that make this herbarium important.
In addition, all plant samples that come as a result of field work and are stored in the ETAE "IZ" herbarium are diagnosed and transferred to the TAGEM digital herbarium.
Preservation of Fungal Genetic Resources and Fungarium
The ETAE-Fungarium was established within the framework of the "Macro Fungal Genetic Resources Project", which has been carried out since 2006 under the Biodiversity and Genetic Resources Department. As part of the project, the survey, collection, and identification of macrofungi genetic resources in our country are being carried out. Dried fungal specimens are preserved in the ETAE-Fungarium, and spore prints (+4 C) and fungal isolates for creating a mycelium bank are preserved in the long term (-80 °C).
According to the Regulations on the Collection, Preservation, and Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources published in 1992, domestic and international distribution of plant genetic resources is carried out. In addition, upon request, foreign material is introduced and sent to requesters after quarantine procedures. In this context, information and plant material are provided to researchers both domestically and internationally, and the acquisition of foreign plant material necessary for research in Turkey is carried out through introduction. Seed transfer to both domestic and foreign countries is carried out in accordance with the provisions of the Material Transfer Agreement (MTA).
The documentation of the data obtained from the plant genetic resource programs and projects is carried out within the scope of the "Plant Genetic Resource Documentation Project" at ETAE. The National Plant Genetic Resources Database has been created for the materials kept in gene banks and field gene banks, and within this framework:
Passport data (data related to the collected sample during the collection activities, data related to the collection location and coordinate and altitude data obtained with the help of GPS)
Storage and preservation data (all data related to the ex situ preservation of seed and vegetative material)
In situ preservation data (ecological, socio-economic, ethnobotanical data compiled with survey and inventory studies, climate, topography, etc.) are recorded.
In these studies, data analyses and mapping are carried out in connection with Geographic Information Systems for the interpretation of analysis results.
Characterization and Evaluation
The genetic diversity in many plant species, including species of origin in our country, local varieties of these species, wild relatives and primitive forms of these species, is revealed using important agro-morphological and molecular features. Studies on the characterization of agro-morphological features began in the 1980s, and many projects have been concluded by both the Plant Genetic Resources Department and plant study groups within this scope.
The Use of Plant Genetic Resources
Through breeding programs carried out by different plant groups at ETAE, many varieties have been developed and registered using plant genetic resource collections. These include 3 beans varieties, 2 kidney beans varieties, 5 chickpeas varieties, 1 fresh beans varieties, 1 thyme variety, 2 sage varieties, 1 lemon balm varieties, 1 mountain tea variety, 1 anise variety, 72 tobacco varieties, 10 common vetch varieties, 2 hairy vetch varieties, 3 Hungarian vetch varieties, 1 Italian ryegrass variety, 1 Persian clover variety, 2 broad beans varieties, 2 clover varieties, 7 sesame varieties, 4 sunflower varieties, 2 flax varieties, 1 okra variety, 5 melon varieties, 4 eggplant varieties, 3 pepper varieties, 1 lettuce variety, and 2 tomato varieties. In addition, 5 quince, 6 plum, 3 cherry, 9 pomegranate, 4 almond, 2 mandarin, 11 sweet cherry, 11 green plum, 16 European plum, 18 Japanese plum, 21 pomegranate, and 3 quince varieties, as well as 8 plum rootstocks, have been registered using the materials available in the ETAE field gene bank collection.