Week 3 (Unit 5)
Genetic Resources and Biodiversity
Germplasm, gene pools
Genetic resources and conservation
Intellectual property - plant variety protection,
Ethical Issues Related to Germplasm Ownership
to all of the genes, species and ecosystems in a region or in the
pertains to the diversity found in agricultural systems. It encompasses
many types of biological resources related to agriculture including:
- edible plants and crops, including traditional varieties, cultivars,
hybrids, and other genetic material developed by breeders
- livestock and freshwater fish
- soil organisms vital to soil fertility, structure, and quality
- naturally occurring insects, bacteria, and fungi that control
insect pests and diseases of domesticated plants and animals
- agroecosystem components and types (polycultural/monocultural,
small/large scale, rainfed/irrigated, etc.)
- genetic resources of domesticated plants and animals
- and "wild" resources (species and elements) of natural habitats
and landscapes that can provide services (for example, pest control
and ecosystem stability) to agriculture.
It is generally recognized that agrobiodiversity is essential for
sustainable agricultural production and food security, as well as
environmental conservation. According to the World
Resources Institute, experience and research have shown that
- Increase productivity, food security, and economic returns
- Reduce the pressure of agriculture on fragile areas, forests,
and endangered species
- Make farming systems more stable, robust, and sustainable
- Contribute to sound insect pest and disease management
- Conserve soil and increase natural soil fertility and health
- Contribute to sustainable intensification
- Diversify products and income opportunities
- Reduce or spread risks to individuals and nations
- Help maximize effective use of resources and the environment
- Reduce dependency on external inputs
- Improve human nutrition and provide sources of medicines and
- Conserve ecosystem structure and stability of species diversity.
Nonetheless, the predominant patterns of agricultural growth have
tended to erode biodiversity. In this module we examine this apparent
conflict and look for practical means for enhancing biodiversity
in agricultural systems.
In 2001 the UN launched a comprehensive
scientific study, the Millennium
Ecosystem Assessment, to review the
consequences of current changes to ecosystems and to evaluate scenarios
for the future. The first report was released on March 30, 2005. You
are encouraged to review the synthesis
report (219 pages) or the summary
power point presentations that describe the major findings
of the study. A popular account of the main findings of
can be found at http://www.greenfacts.org/ecosystems/. Additional
reports on major themes of the project have also been released, including
one that specifically addresses
the issue of Biodiversity.
Erosion of Diversity in Cropping Systems
Source: Thrupp, 1997. http://pubs.wri.org/pubs_description.cfm?PubID=2633
Genetic erosion is
the irreversible loss in genetic diversity, usually of crop plants or
domestic animals. Lack of diversity leads to genetic
vulnerability, which is the potential for rapid,
large-scale disease or insect epidemics. Reduction in diversity
often increases vulnerability to climatic stresses as well.
Causes of genetic erosion:
- Release of high-yielding modern cultivars
- Use of a few cultivars that are highly related (narrow
- Increased reliance on monocropping (monoculture) - growing a single
crop species in a field
- Loss of land races and local varieties
- Increased dependence on high levels of inputs such as irrigation,
fertilizers, and pesticides
- Loss of natural vegetation
Increased mechanization of agriculture has promoted the use of monocropping.
Machinery has become more specialized to perform single tasks, often
for a single crop. Modern cultivars are often bred to perform best at
high plant densities with high levels of fertilizer, which also favors
highly mechanized production of single crops.
Although humans consume over 7,000 plant species, only 150 species
are commercially important, and about 103 species account for 90
percent of the world's food crops. Wheat, rice, and maize together
account for about 60 percent of the calories and 56 percent of the
protein that people obtain from plants.
Extent of Genetic Uniformity
in Selected Crops
||Number of Varieties
||From 2,000 varieties in 1959 to less than
75% descend from a common stock.
||62% of varieties descend from a common stock.
||74% of varieties descend from a common stock.
||50% of crop in 9 varieties.
||75% of crops in 4 varieties.
||50% of crops in 6 varieties.
|Source: World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
1992. Global Biodiversity: Status of the Earth's Living Resources
(Brian Groombridge, ed.). London: Chapman & Hall.
Examples of Crop Failures due to Genetic Uniformity
Irish Potato Famine
||Late Blight of potatoes caused by Phytophthora
infestans was introduced into Europe in 1845 from the Americas.
It spread rapidly throughout the British islands and caused complete
failure of the potato crop in Ireland in 1845-1846. Because potatoes
were the major staple food crop, one million people died during
the epidemic due to starvation and disease. During the years that
followed, millions of people emigrated from Ireland to the northeastern
US and other destinations.
|Photo by Scott Bauer
ARS USDA Image Gallery
|Potatoes infected with late blight are purplish and shrunken on
the outside, corky and rotted inside.
Coffee Rust Epidemic
In 1868, Ceylon was the leading producer of Coffea arabica
in the world and a major exporter. By 1885, no coffee could be exported
due to a leaf disease caused by a fungus, Hemileia vastatrix. Many
factors contributed to the epidemic, but one of the most important
the destruction of native jungles in Ceylon and the establishment of
an agricultural monoculture of coffee.The coffee rust epidemic reached
by 1876, East Africa by 1894, and Brazil by 1970. The pathogen is highly
variable and can be controlled by fungicides, but this is not economical
unless the climate is ideal. Genetic resistance is available in Coffea
canephora (Robusta), but Robusta coffee is of lower quality. Tea
became more popular as the result of this epidemic.
Southern Corn Leaf Blight Epidemic
To produce hybrids, female
inbred lines must not be permitted to produce pollen. In the early
years of the hybrid corn industry in the USA, this was achieved
by manually removing their tassels. A novel approach was found
the use of a cytoplasmic
male sterility system. Genes in the mitochondria caused
male sterility. Male fertility restorer genes from the male inbred
in the F1 hybrid. Before long, much of the US hybrid corn industry
relied on the Texas male-sterile (Tms) cytoplasm that was the source
of the male sterility
system. Because the cytoplasm is inherited from the maternal parent,
all of the F1 hybrids generated with this system had the same cytoplasm.
In 1970, a country-wide epidemic of Southern Corn
Leaf Blight caused by a new strain of a fungus Bipolaris
maydis (formerly known as Helminthosporium maydis)
led to an estimated $1 billion losses in corn production.
The epidemic started in Florida
strain, known as Race T,
virulent on maize with Tms cytoplasm. An estimated 80-85% of
the dent corn grown in 1970 had Tms cytoplasm. The hybrid industry
quickly reverted back to the use of normal cytoplasm and detasseling.
|Photo by Keith Weller
ARS USDA Image Gallery
|The greener leaf of the tropical
corn line, left, shows that it is more resistant to corn leaf blight
than the severely damaged domestic leaf on the right.
Current concerns and examples:
- Narrow genetic base of modern US soybean varieties - 60% of the
US soybean crop has the Roundup-Ready trait.
- More than 70% of the US cotton crop has the Bt trait for insect
- About 30% of the US corn crop has the Bt trait for insect resistance.
- Current genetic vulnerability in wheat:
- 70% of world wheat varieties carry Rht1 or Rht2 semidwarf genes
- >60% of CIMMYT-derived wheat varieties carry 1B/1R; most
through ‘Veery’ genetic background
- PNW wheat varieties
- Common bunt resistance traces to CI178383
- Strawbreaker footrot resistance entirely from VPM
- Plains wheat varieties
- Sr6, Sr17, Sr24 form backbone of resistance to stem rust
- Luckily, stem rust races are unchanged since the epidemics
of the 1960’s due to barberry eradication efforts (now
- Leaf rust races change every 4-5 years in response to deployment
of new resistance genes
Key Principles and Practices to Use and Enhance Agrobiodiversity:
http://pubs.wri.org/pubs_description.cfm?PubID=2633 (Adapted from UNDP, 1995; Altieri, 1991)
I. Management of Diverse Productive Resources
- Diversification and Diversity Enhancement
Recycling and Conservation of Soil Nutrients and Organic Matter
- temporal (crop rotation, sequences)
- spatial (polycultures, agroforestry, crop/livestock systems,
- genetic (multiple species/varieties, multilines, interspecies)
- regional (i.e., variation in watersheds, zones)
Integrated Pest Management, stressing agroecological approaches
- plant biomass (green manures, crop residues, mulch, for diverse
- animal biomass (manure/dung, urine, etc.)
- reuse of nutrients and resources internal and external to
the farm (e.g., tree litter)
- integrate diverse plants or organisms (vermiculture, cover
crops, mainly legumes)
- natural biological control (enhancing natural control agents)
- imported biological control methods (e.g., add natural enemies,
- diverse cropping/soil management methods to enhance natural
- enhancing use of habitats and species in habitats
II. Conservation and Regeneration of Resources (stressing Diversity
- Germplasm Conservation (plant & animal species, landraces,
- Beneficial Fauna and Flora (multiple use vegetation, pollinators,
- Soil Health (erosion control, fertility enhancement, see recycling
- Water (harvesting, conservation, management, irrigation)
Germplasm, Gene Pools
What is germplasm?
Plant germplasm refers
to the 'genetic base'
of a particular crop, including individuals, populations, or relatives
that may contribute genetically to breeding and crop improvement.
Germplasm may include:
- Currently utilized or formerly used "elite"
germplasm--the product of modern plant improvement.
- Landraces, or
traditional varieties--the product of selection by traditional
The term 'landrace',
is widely applied to local, often genetically highly variable,
crop variants cultivated as part of traditional agriculture. Frequently,
a landrace includes a broad mixture of genotypes.
- Wild or weedy plants
with the potential of providing useful genes for plant improvement
and natural products useful to humans. These plants may be candidates
- Specialized genetic stocks
Germplasm is the genetic base for recombination and selection in
breeding programs needed to improve crops.
Diversity is needed to:
- sustain genetic improvement for polygenic traits, such as yield
- respond to changing pathogen pressures, such as new races, or
introduction of new pathogens
- provide ‘genetic buffering’, both within and among
cultivars, that can reduce losses to unusual environmental fluctuations
or race-specific disease organisms.
Examples of germplasm value and use:
The Russian Wheat Aphid (RWA) was introduced into the Great Plains
in the 1980’s. No varieties or local germplasm had resistance
or tolerance to the aphid. Genetic resistance was identified through
systematic screening of USDA wheat germplasm collections. Genes
have been deployed in new varieties for W. Kansas and Colorado production
areas, resulting in reduced pesticide applications and reduced losses
from the RWA.
Leaf rust races change periodically in the Plains wheat producing
area. Average lifespan of a wheat variety is 4-6 years due to changes
in virulence and evolution of the rust disease organism. Leaf rust
genes now number Lr1 through Lr45, with most recent genes being
derived from weedy species (T. tauschii) that were accessions
from germplasm collections.
Harlan and de Wet proposed three informal categories of gene pools,
based on the ease with which particular germplasm could be crossed.
Chromosome pairing at Metaphase I of meiosis is also used to indicate
the degree of chromosomal homology between two germplasm groups.
The system is an informal, utilitarian scheme designed to organize
the various types of germplasm from the perspective of plant breeders.
- primary gene pool
- germplasm that can be crossed easily to the crop or species
of interest, producing a highly fertile hybrid and, consequently,
highly efficient gene transfer. The boundaries of a primary gene
pool are similar to those of a "biological species”.
- secondary gene pool
- crossing and gene transfer are more difficult, and require more
elaborate techniques. Hybrids between individuals in the secondary
gene pool and the crop species of interest are often somewhat
sterile and/or weak.
- tertiary gene pool
- although crosses can be made with great effort between individuals
in this gene pool and the crop species of interest, the F1 plants
are generally inviable or sterile.
A modified version of the ‘Gene Pool’ concept is needed
to take into account new gene transfer techniques (genetic engineering).
Boundaries between species and gene pools are increasingly less
clear due to modern genetic, cytogenetic and biotech tools.
Modern plant breeding requires a large amount of diverse genetic
variation, a large gene pool to fulfill constant and changing needs.
Large repositories of this genetically diverse germplasm are being
created and maintained by subsistance farmers around the world and
in large international centers dedicated to this purpose. Useful
genetic variability also lingers in many wild populations around
Genetic Resources and Conservation
A genebank (seed bank)
is a facility established for the ex situ conservation of seeds,
tissues, or reproductive cells of plants or animals. With intensification
of agriculture and increasing urbanization, gene banks are increasingly
important as means to preserve genetic diversity for future use.
Seed viability can be extended for several years by maintaining seeds
in cold storage at low relative humidity. Many of the larger genebanks
use additional techniques for prolonging seed storage life, such as dehydrating
the seeds, seeling them in airtight containers, and storing them at freezing
temperatures. Cryogenic preservation methods have also been developed
using liquid nitrogen. These techniques may permit seeds to be stored
for decades, but at some point all accessions must be taken from storage
and grown out to regenerate the seed supply. This is a time consuming
and expensive task that requires careful record keeping and quality
control. Vegetatively propagated crops have additional requirements for
The number of genebanks has grown rapidly since the early 1970s,
when there were fewer than ten, holding perhaps no more than a half
million accessions. A total of more than 1,400 collections are now
recorded in FAO's World Information database. Many breeding programs,
seed companies, nurseries, and public display gardens perform some
of the functions of germplasm management and hold valuable collections.
Approximately 6.1 million accessions are stored worldwide in ex
situ germplasm collections, including approximately 527,000
accessions stored in field genebanks.
One of the largest groups of collections is that maintained by
the International Centers of the
Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
There are now over 600,000 accessions of major food and forage crops
in these collections, which have been designated as part of the
International Network of Base Collections
under the auspices of FAO.
|Examples of ex situ
collections of crop-specific plant germplasm at selected CGIAR centres
(source: SGRP data)
||Wheat (including Triticum, Aegilops)
Maize (including Teosinte, Tripsacum)
Andean roots and tubers
||Barley (including wild Hordeum)
Wheat (including Triticum, Aegilops)
Chickpea (including wild Cicer)
Lentil (including wild Lens)
situ conservation in some of the largest national base
collections (FAO, 1996)
| China: Institute of Crop
||Long-term storage, space available
|USA: National Seed Storage
||Long-term storage, capacity of 1,000,000
||No long-term facilities
| India: NBPGR
||New genebank built for 600,000 accessions
|Korea, Republic of: RDA
||Long-term facilities, total capacity 200,000
|| Long-term facilities
| Germany: IPK (Institute
for Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research), Gatersleben
||Long-term facilities, capacity for 100,000
|Germany: FAO, Braunschweig
|Ethiopia: Biodiversity Institute
|Hungary: Institute for Agrobotany
|Poland: Plant Breeding & Acclimatization
Although over 6 million accessions are currently in storage world-wide,
this represents only a fraction of the natural genetic diversity in crop
plants and related species in the wild. Only a very small sample of advanced
germplasm from world breeding and plant improvement efforts is maintained.
Furthermore, minor crops are poorly represented. Over 40% of all accessions
in genebanks are cereals. Food legumes are the next largest category constituting
about 15% of global collections stored ex situ. Vegetables, roots
and tubers, fruits, and forages, each account for less than 10% of global
collections. Medicinal, spice, aromatic, and ornamental species are rarely
found in long-term public collections.
Leading Institutions and Organizations involved in Germplasm Conservation
Convention on Biological Diversity
At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, world leaders agreed
on a comprehensive strategy for "sustainable development".
One of the key agreements adopted at Rio under the auspices of the
United Nations Environment Programme was the Convention on Biological
Diversity. This pact among the vast majority of the world's governments
sets out commitments for maintaining the world's ecological underpinnings
as we go about the business of economic development. The Convention
establishes three main goals: the conservation of biological diversity,
the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable
sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources.
The National Plant Germplasm System
of the United States
The National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS) of the United States
evolved from the USDA plant introduction program, which was established
in 1898 to introduce new plant species, crops, and genotypes to
Four Regional Plant Introduction Stations (at Ames, IA; Geneva,
NY; Griffin, GA; and Pullman, WA) were first established in the
late 1940s, to increase, maintain, characterize and distribute germplasm.
These stations specialize in curating active collections of seed-propagated
crop species and their wild relatives.
The Plant Introduction network has evolved into a national, coordinated
germplasm system. Components of the system include:
- The National
Center for Genetic Resources Preservation (NCGRP) was established
in 1958. Now located at Ft. Collins, CO, the NCGRP serves as long-term
storage and back-up site for other collections. (See also National
Seed Storage Laboratory, NSSL)
- A network of clonal repositories and crop-specific germplasm
collections - clonal repositories emphasize species of fruits,
nuts, ornamentals and industrial crops that are usually vegetatively
- Crop-specific collections that specialize in a single crop or
group of related species.
- The Germplasm Resources
Information Network (GRIN), which began operations in 1984.
GRIN is the master database for all sites in the NPGS. It sets
standards for documentation and holds passport, inventory, characterization
and evaluation data for NPGS collections.
- The Plant Germplasm Operations Committee which convenes all
NPGS curators to discuss system-wide concerns, to develop management
guidelines, and to advise USDA-ARS National Program Staff on technical
and policy matters related to germplasm management.
At present, the NPGS holds about 438,000 accessions: 197,000 at
Plant Introduction Stations, 32,000 at Clonal Repositories, and
the remainder at crop-specific collections and the NSSL.
Consultative Group on International
Agricultural Research (CGIAR)
There are 16 International Agricultural Research Centers (IARCs)
in the CGIAR system, and most of them are located in developing
countries. The IARCs and their partners conduct research on most
of the principal food crops consumed in developing countries, focusing
on variety improvement, cropping systems research, plant protection,
control of animal diseases, post-harvest systems, and various aspects
of food policy. The centers are also involved with training, information
dissemination and genetic resources conservation.
Most IARCs with commodity mandates are actively involved in germplasm
conservation, evaluation, and distribution. Centers like CIMMYT,
IRRI, IITA, CIAT, ICRISAT, and ICARDA maintain large gene banks
and provide this germplasm on request to both developed and developing
The System-wide Information
Network for Genetic Resources (SINGER) is the genetic resources
information exchange network of the International Agricultural Research
Centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural
Research (CGIAR). It provides access to information on the collections
of genetic resources held by the CGIAR Centres. Together, these
collections comprise over half a million samples of crop, forage
and tree germplasm of major importance for food and agriculture.
International Board of Plant Genetic
Resources (IPGRI, IBPGR)
In 1974, the CGIAR created the International Board for Plant
Genetic Resources (IBPGR) now called Biodiversity International, giving it a mandate to promote an international
network of genetic resource centers for the collection, conservation,
documentation, evaluation, and use of plant germplasm.
In the early 1990s, the IBPGR was transformed into the International
Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI). The Institute was designed
to assume the scientific and technical duties performed by the IPBGR.
IPGRI was founded on a new set of guiding principles that recognizes
changing international roles brought about by the Convention on
Today, from its base in Rome (alongside FAO) and through regional
offices, the IPGRI coordinates a network of international centers,
supports plant exploration and key regional projects, provides technical
advice and training programs on germplasm increase, preservation
(both in situ and ex situ), characterization and
evaluation, and publishes recommended procedures, descriptor lists
and the FAO/IPGRI
Plant Genetic Resources Newsletter.
Food and Agriculture Organization
of the United Nations (FAO)
FAO plays a key role in formation of policy regarding plant genetic
resources. They convened the International Technical Conference
on Plant Genetic Resources in Leipzig, Germany, in 1996. The conference,
which involved 150 countries, approved the first Global Action Plan
for the conservation and better use of plant genetic resources for
food and agriculture. The Conference also adopted the "Leipzig
Declaration", which stressed that the primary
objective must be to enhance world food security through conserving
and sustainably using plant genetic resources.
After seven years of negotiations, the FAO Conference (through
Resolution 3/2001) adopted the International
Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture,
in November 2001. This legally-binding Treaty covers all plant genetic
resources relevant for food and agriculture. It is in harmony with
the Convention on Biological Diversity.
World Network of Germplasm Conservation
A broad network of institutions and organizations
has evolved, sharing the goal of preserving biodiversity. This network
includes international agricultural centers, national genetic resource
programs, botanical gardens, and non-governmental organizations.
It is supported by the IPGRI, the International Union for the Conservation
of Nature, World Wildlife Fund, International Association of Botanic
Gardens (see also the Botanical Gardens Conservation International),
national governments, and many other organizations.
This network is formalized only in parts, but is generally based
on the principles of open exchange of germplasm and its documentation
to support scientific research, the overall preservation of biodiversity,
and the central theme of research-based methods to preserve genetic
diversity in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
Many nations support some level of ex situ germplasm conservation
as part of their ministries or departments of agriculture and/or
forestry. Some developed countries, especially in Europe, do not
support national programs, but instead rely on neighboring countries
and regional programs, such as the Nordic Gene Bank. Other developed
nations, such as Australia, have extensive national programs and
Many national programs face problems, including inadequate long-term
financial support, unreliable storage facilities, and the lack of
a large, well-organized community of users. These problems are especially
acute in developing countries and those of Eastern Europe and the
former Soviet Union.
The National Bureau of Plant Genetic
Resources of India
The National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) was founded
in 1976 by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research. The NBPGR
coordinates all activities related to germplasm collection, introduction,
exchange, quarantine, evaluation, documentation, and conservation
through its national office in New Delhi and ten regional centers.
There are many national and international programs cooperate with
and receive advice from the NBPGR.
The NBPGR holds about 160,000 accessions in long-term storage and
is expanding its collections both through outside introduction and
from numerous domestic explorations, emphasizing species with centers
of diversity or origin in the Indian subcontinent.
Botanical Gardens and Arboreta
Botanical gardens vary widely in their goals and
in the nature of their commitments to conservation. Some gardens
emphasize aesthetic displays or utilitarian evaluation. Others have
much expertise with in situ conservation through management of natural
lands or cooperative projects.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), other than gardens, have
been increasingly important participants in germplasm conservation.
NGOs that are primarily composed of gardeners and traditional farmers
often have access to varieties overlooked by, or even unavailable
to, national or international governmental programs. Such "grass-roots"
organizations can be effective educators, explaining the importance
of germplasm and of conserving genetic resources to a gardening
audience and to the general public.
In situ methods of conservation that
maintain domesticated crops and their wild and weedy relatives in their
natural ecosystems have received increased emphasis in recent years
(see Biodiversity International at: http://www.bioversityinternational.org/Themes/Conservation_and_Use/index.asp#In_situ_conservation
for further information.)
Intellectual Property - Plant Variety Protection,
Who owns the worlds' crop plants??
Goal of establishing intellectual property rights (IPR):
- Create incentives and stimulate new technological advances by
providing means and mechanisms to capture financial returns on
- Reward inventors with exclusive rights for some period of time.
- Create an avenue for public disclosure of technology, which provides
stimulus for further advances.
In the USA, intellectual property protection for plants is provided through
plant patents, plant variety protection and utility patents. Plant
patents provide protection for asexually reproduced (by
vegetation) varieties excluding tubers. Plant
variety protection (PVP) provides protection for sexually
(by seed) reproduced varieties including tubers, F1 hybrids, and essentially
derived varieties. Utility patents
currently offer protection for any plant type or plant parts. A plant
variety can also receive double protection under a utility patent and
plant variety protection.
Current principles and issues at stake in agriculture:
- Ownership of ‘living organisms’, genes - what is the resulting
impact on international food security?
- There is a need for private companies to recoup R&D investments,
but application of IPR laws is leading to increased corporate
control over world food production.
- What is the impact on economic and social development of developing
countries? There is concern about access to agricultural technologies
by subsistence farmers and developing countries.
- What is the potential for impact on biological diversity, genetic
base of major crops, and long-term improvement efforts? How will
this affect the future of public research through USDA and Land-grant
History of intellectual property rights for plants and agriculture in
Prior to 1930 - Farmers' rights
- Farmers had direct access to seed and germplasm
- Crops were ‘true breeding’ and seed was easily saved
- Most reeding was publicly financed
- Land-grant institutions established in 1860’s
Discouraged private investments in plant breeding because it was
difficult to maintain control over sales and markets and recoup
1930’s - Trade secrecy
- With introduction of hybrid corn, saved seed was no longer an
- Hybrid varieties could be protected through trade secrecy
- Proprietary corn hybrids were initially based on public inbreds
- Pressures to develop and support commercial plant breeding increased
- All released varieties and hybrids could be used as breeding
Trade secrets and contracts are often used as low-cost alternative
to more formal means of protection. Breeders often will sequester
segments of their program. Use and access to breeding germplasm
may be limited or restricted, even during cooperative testing.
1930 - Plant Patent Act
- First US legislation to protect plants
- Protection for horticultural crops and nursery stocks
- Asexually propagated plants only (plants reproduced through
buds or grafting)
- Potato excluded
- Variety must be ‘distinct’ and ‘new’
- Administered through US Patent Office.
1970 - Plant Variety Protection Act
- Goal was to promote commercial investments in plant breeding
- Provides ‘Patent-like’ protection for plants reproduced
- Limited exclusive rights to owners
- Protection limited to entire plant and harvested material
- Duration 20 years; cost ~$3,500
- Issued by USDA
- Seed sales only through ‘authorized dealers’
- ‘Research exemption’ for use in breeding
- Allows seed to be saved for use on farm, or for ‘limited
- Similar to 1961 European (UPOV) ‘Plant breeders
- Breeders have right to exploit products of their profession
- ‘Authorization’ required for plant production, sale
- Variety must be ‘distinct, uniform, and stable’;
novel in at least one trait
- Widespread ‘brown-bagging’ (illegal sales and use)
- Erratic and inadequate enforcement
- Enforcement responsibility of PVP holder
- ‘Minor’ penalties for violation or infringement
- Concern over impact on germplasm exchange and crop diversity
This law led to an increase in private breeding, but only for
a few crops. Market size and profit margins were primary determinants
of commercial success. Crops such as wheat and barley, which are
self-pollinated, faced with low profit margins for seed and extensive
pirating, received only limited private investments.
1980 - Utility Patent of ‘living
Diamond vs Charkrabarty Supreme Court decision – 1980
- Established ‘anything under the sun made by man’
- Broadens patent law to encompass living organisms
Establishes ownership of plant varieties, traits, parts,
Claims can be broad based, including entire species. Examples:
plant parts, seeds, cell cultures, plant tissues, transformed cells,
expressed proteins, threshold traits, and genes themselves.
Standards for issuance of Utility Patent:
- Must be novel in relation to ‘prior art’
- Must be useful
- Must be non-obvious to one of ‘ordinary skill in the art’
- Provides more IPR protection than PVP, but at a higher cost,
standard for issuance
- Allows prohibition of farm-saved seed
- Allows prohibition of use in breeding
- Research exemption, but not for any ‘commercial use’
- Technology license required to access, or save, seed
- Granted for 20 years; application within 1 yr of ‘disclosure’
The first Utility Patent for genetically engineered maize was granted
in 1985. The chief interest in Utility Patents came from inventors
of biotechnology products and processes. However, seed companies
have looked toward Utility Patents for additional protection beyond
that afforded by PVP.
Concerns about plant patents:
- Restrictions placed on patented varieties for subsequent use
- Potential negative impact on crop diversity
- increased domination of breeding by larger companies.
1980 - Bayh-Dole Act
1986 - Tech Transfer
Impact on public plant breeding and research:
- Established that Universities have the right to obtain patents
and commercialize inventions created under government grants.
- Licenses and royalties sought by Universities as means to generate
revenue as government support declines.
- As an inventor, a University employee has the right to receive a portion
of the royalties on the invention (as an incentive to file a patent).
- Oregon: share determined by state law, through Board of
- CRADA: a mechanism developed to assign rights from joint work
to a private company, while government retains non-exclusive license.
1994 - Amendment of PVPA
- Eliminates ‘saved-seed’ provision of PVPA
- Farmer can save only for own on-farm replantings
- Reaffirmed in Asgrow vs Winterboer, 1995 Court case
- Brings PVPA into accordance with UPOV
2001 - Plant Patenting reaffirmed
Supreme Court decision of December, 2001: JEM Agricultural Supply
vs Pioneer Hybrid
Utility Patents, Plant Patents, and PVP are different, but ‘complementary’.
2004 - Canadian Supreme Court: Schmeiser
A Canadian farmer named Percy
Schmeiser was charged with patent
infringement for growing Roundup Ready canola on his farm. Mr. Schmeiser
claimed that the patented genes had entered his field through wind-blown
pollen contamination and mechanical mixtures from passing trucks.
As a farmer who breeds his own crops and saves his seed, he objected
to Monsanto's claim that they owned any plants on his farm that contained
genes. The debate received worldwide
and was ultimately decided by the
Supreme Court. To hear the farmer's perspectives on the 2004 ruling,
visit http://www.percyschmeiser.com/ .
To read Monsanto's interpretation of the case, see
International Agreements impacting Plant Biodiversity and use
1989 - FAO - International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources
Non-binding international agreement.
Purpose: To ensure that genetic resources will be explored, preserved,
evaluated and made available for breeding and science.
- Genetic resources are a heritage of humanity; should be available
- Establishes ‘Farmers’
Rights: farmers should be compensated for development
and conservation of genetic resources
- Sovereign rights of nations to preserve, protect and be compensated
for innovations utilizing their native genetic resources
The challenge is to define rewards for access and utilization of
germplasm: who, how, how much??
1991 - Revision of UPOV convention
The International Union for the
Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV)
- Limits farmer’s exemption to ‘saved seed’
- ‘Essentially derived’
- Expanded breeders' protection
- Violation loosely defined as ‘intent’ to recapture
genotype with ‘minor modification’. Such as: mutants,
somaclonal variants, backcrossing, genetic engineering
- Definition to be decided ‘in court’
An essentially derived
variety is distinct and predominantly derived from a protected initial
variety, while retaining the essential characteristics of that initial
variety. Essentially derived varieties may be obtained by the selection
of a natural or induced mutant, or of a somaclonal variant, the
selection of a variant individual from plants of the initial variety,
back-crossing, or transformation by genetic engineering. The
commercialization of an essentially derived variety needs the authorization
of the owner of the rights vested in the initial variety.
1992 - International Convention on Biodiversity, Rio de Janeiro
- Conservation of biological diversity established as an international
- Promote fair and equitable sharing of benefits from genetic
- Maintain appropriate access and transfer of relevant technology
- Reaffirms sovereign rights of states over natural resources,
including genetic resources
- Promote international agreements, efforts in technology transfer,
licensing, protection, sharing of R&D, cooperative training
Many issues regarding the implementation of the Convention on Biodiversity
(CBD) remain unresolved. This is particularly true for the United States,
because the Senate has been reluctant to ratify the Convention. The seventh
of the CBD was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in February, 2004
(see http://www.biodiv.org/meetings/cop-07/press/ for
1994 - TRIPS Agreement, Marrakech, Morocco
WTO members are obligated to provide/support patents for both products
and process inventions in all fields of technology.
Agree to protect crops by adopting ‘as low a standard of
protection’ as possible – typically ‘Plant Breeders
Collaboration in use of Genetic Resources
Historically, there has been excellent collaboration between the
U.S. Land-Grant Institutions and publicly supported International
Research Centers in plant improvement efforts. A Hallmark of the
collaboration has been the free exchange of plant germplasm and
information. Now there are increasing restrictions for use and exchange
of germplasm. It is often necessary to obtain access to genes through
Material Transfer Agreements
(MTA’s). Licenses and royalties are sought by some Universities
as means to generate revenue as government support declines. Application
of Patents and Plant Variety Protection to plants has become an internal
policy decision - there is no consensus among institutions.
- Restricted access and use of germplasm
- Legal costs and enforcement
- Restrictions on progeny, publications
- Joint ownership of progenies, discoveries
- Complicated by biotech patents on single genes, processes
- Public programs increasingly unable to access and use technology
- Companies increasingly restrictive and demanding.
Example: CIMMYT Material Transfer Agreement (MTA)
- Germplasm freely available for research and breeding
- Recipient agrees not to seek IPR protection
Ethical Issues Related to Germplasm
Ownership and Use
Summary of main points from Barton and Berger. 2001. Patenting
- Patents are slowing innovations in biotechnology, preventing
benefits from reaching those who need them most: people in developing
- Use of single technologies may involve numerous patents; significant
risk of patent infringement
- Land Grant institutions are pursuing patents, which may divert
efforts from developing world needs
- Patents apply not only to varieties, but to research tools and
- Many of the patents are controlled by a few multinational companies
- Possible responses to the problem of overly restrictive intellectual
property rights that could be applied by national programs:
- Stronger standard for rejecting the ‘obvious’
to prevent proliferation of minor patents
- Narrow scope of patents to prevent companies from monopolizing
broad areas of research
- Develop and apply fair competition laws in seed sector
- Developing-nation institutions could be granted a license to
all or many technologies from the private sector
- Provide public funding of licenses to developing countries
Reading and discussion
Read the article ‘Patenting Agriculture’, by Barton
and Berger, 2001.
Go to the discussion board and present your views on intellectual property rights. Whom
do they serve?
Take the quiz on this Unit on the Blackboard.
Barton, J.H., and P. Berger. 2001. Patenting Agriculture. Issues
in Science and Technology Online. http://www.issues.org/17.4/barton.htm#
Economic Research Service, USDA. 2000. Agricultural Genetic Resources:
Building Blocks for Future Crops. Agricultural Outlook, November,
Gepts, P. 2002. How did plants evolve under domestication? Fate
of genetic diversity. http://www.agronomy.ucdavis.edu/gepts/pb143/lec15/pb143l15.htm
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. 2005.
Millennium Seed Bank Project, Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. Useful
links on genetic resources and genebanks.
Raymond, R. and C. Fowler. 2001. Sharing the non-monetary benefits of
agricultural biodiversity. Issues in Genetic Resources No. 5, IPGRI. pdf
Thrupp, L.A. 1997. Linking Biodiversity and Agriculture: Challenges
and Opportunities for Sustainable Food Security. World Resources
Tripp, R. and van der Heidehttp, W. 1996. The erosion of crop genetic
diversity: challenges, strategies and uncertainties. http://www.odi.org.uk/nrp/7.html