Strengthening the impact of plant genetic resources through collaborative collection, conservation, characterisation, and evaluation: a tribute to the legacy of Dr Clive Francis
This paper is a tribute to the legacy of Dr Clive Francis, who directly and indirectly collected >14 000 accessions across 60 genera of pasture, forage, and crop species and their wild relatives around the Mediterranean basin, Eastern Africa, and Central and South Asia from 1973 to 2005. This was achieved by a collaborative approach that built strong interactions between disparate organisations (ICARDA, VIR, CLIMA, and Australian genebanks) based on germplasm exchange, conservation and documentation, capacity building, and joint collection. These activities greatly strengthened Australian pasture, forage, and crop genebanks, and led to widespread germplasm utilisation that has waned in the last 5 years, reflecting changing priorities among industry funding bodies and research providers. This situation must be reversed, given the pivotal role genetic resource collections must play to broaden the genetic and adaptive base of plant breeding, to meet the challenge of feeding an increasing population in a depleting resource base. Because the use of germplasm subsets that facilitate phenotyping will stimulate wider utilisation of genetic resources, we discuss the application of core collection and germplasm selection through habitat characterisation/filtering in Australian collections. Both are valid entry points into large collections, but the latter has the advantage of enabling both trait discovery and investigation of plant adaptation, and because it is based on a priori hypothesis testing, it increases understanding even when the trait of interest is not identified.