Seed World

New Crop Identifiers for Genebanks and Plant Breeders


For the first time genebanks and plant breeders will get guidance on standard identification, thus enhancing the automated exchange of research results, particularly through the growing Global Information System (GLIS) of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. GLIS will offer a standardized automated ‘one-stop shop’ for plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) information, including other existing information systems.

The use of specific Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs), a standard adapted to identify plant germplasm worldwide is now a reality through the new registration module of the Global Information System. The identifiers were endorsed earlier this year by the Scientific Advisory Committee on the GLIS of the International Treaty that reviewed and agreed on the Guidelines for the optimal identification of PGRFA.

There are currently more than 7 million accessions in genebanks, many of them are duplicates that get a different identification code when the material is transferred from one holder to another. Additionally, different communities of users often follow different rules and methods to assign identifiers. This lack of global standardization in identification prompted the Governing Body of the International Treaty to prioritize work on standardizing the identifiers to be assigned by GLIS.

“Helping users around the world identify samples of PGRFA uniquely, permanently and in a way that fully utilizes the power of the Internet and modern digital technology is one of the basic building blocks for the implementation of the Global Information System and it is now a reality with the launch of the new Portal,” says Kent Nnadozie, Secretary (ad interim) of the International Treaty.

To be given a DOI for a PGRFA, a GLIS user must provide five mandatory types of data for each crop material in the form of descriptors: the local identifier, the holder, the scientific or common name, the date on which the PGRFA was obtained and the method through which it was obtained. In addition, the DOI Guidelines recommend providing additional information, such as the status of the material available through the Treaty’s Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-sharing.

Through the use of DOIs, GLIS will facilitate linkages between available data sets existing in other information systems, such as WIEWS, Genesys and others. Users will then be able to more easily access information on the distinctive attributes of PGRFA, including nutritional quality, resistance to pests and diseases, and adaptability to current and future climates, essential for the conservation and sustainable use of PGRFA available in dispersed systems.

Worldwide consultations across domains

“The Guidelines on the adoption of DOIs in GLIS were developed through consultations with experts and research institutions from around the world, including genebanks, molecular biologists, bioinformaticians, and plant breeders, and the work of the Scientific Advisory Committee on the Global Information System,” Secretary Nnadozie says. “We look forward to continuing our close collaboration and partnerships as we fine-tune this important information-sharing mechanism.”

The Secretariat has developed the portal in collaboration with the Information Technology Division of FAO, and offers the registration of crop germplasm as a free service for the entire PGRFA community. “Thanks to the support of the Government of Germany, we have already started training breeders and genebank staff in different regions and plan to reach out to other projects and initiatives in the coming months,” says Secretary Nnadozie.

The International Treaty’s Multilateral System allows farmers and researchers around the world to access and share germplasm for purposes of research, plant production and conservation of PGRFA. GLIS is expected to help promote this exchange and to better connect the results of the research undertaken on the material pooled. The System, which will be officially presented at the Seventh Session of the Governing Body in Kigali this October, will help automatize some of the links that up to now are manually established. This is expected to save a lot of time and resources over the next decades, as well as considerably improve data quality and accessibility.