China food security: 530,000 new germ plasma

China’s largest-ever survey of germ plasma resources collected over 530,000 new types of genetic material over the past three years amid Beijing’s heightened focus on the seed industry’s pivotal role in ensuring food security.

The survey, which took place more than a decade after the previous edition, for the first time also added aquatic resources to its original scope of crops and livestock, the People’s Daily said on Sunday.

The findings expanded the variety of crop germ plasma resources in the national resource repository by 21.4 per cent, pinpointed 51 livestock and poultry germ plasma resources with potential use value and identified the biological characteristics of 312 pivotal aquaculture species, according to the newspaper.

“These newly collected resources have significant potential for industrial development, with some harbouring excellent genes and some exhibiting distinct regional characteristics,” said Li Lihui, the deputy director at the office of the Third National Agricultural Germ Plasm Resources Census.

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Germ plasma resources are seeds, plant or animal tissues that are kept for the genetic material they contain and are used in breeding programmes and for research.

Agricultural experts also highlighted the survey’s significance in attaining technological self-reliance in the seed industry, as well as keeping China’s germ plasma resources “independent and controllable”.

During the survey, China also built a relatively comprehensive protection system for germ plasma resources, which could meet its strategic needs for the next 50 years.

The national crop and marine fishery germ plasma repositories have begun operation, while a system for livestock and poultry is under construction, the People’s Daily added.

The collection in the survey is the first step in conserving and leveraging germ plasma resources, with the ultimate goal being their utilisations

Li Lihui

The developments came amid Beijing’s escalating efforts towards self-reliance in the seed industry, which is positioned as “strategic and fundamental” to agriculture despite being acknowledged as a vulnerable aspect of China’s growing push for food security.

China’s Seed Law came into effect in March 2022, aimed at addressing the over-reliance on imports from major exporters, including the United States, and a lack of innovative breeding technologies.

The government also strengthened the revitalisation of the seed industry and addressed core agricultural technologies in this year’s work report during the “two sessions” annual parliamentary meetings earlier this month.

“The collection in the survey is the first step in conserving and leveraging germ plasma resources, with the ultimate goal being their utilisations,” added Li, who is also a researcher from the Institute of Crop Sciences at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

“It is imperative to speed up the conversion of resource strengths into innovative and industrial advantage.”

Sun Haoqin, an inspector from the Department of Seed Industry at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, said the focus would be pivoted to the precise identification and shared use of germ plasma resources to support China’s food security from its sources.

He proposed to ramp up identifying usable superior genes in seeds for breeding purposes and to facilitate a shared information system, as well as encouraging local use of high-quality germ plasma resources to develop speciality industries.

“Many newly discovered germ plasma resources are in a precarious state and require simultaneous and effective protection to prevent loss after discovery,” said Sun, who added that urgent conservation is under way for 746 endangered crop germ plasma resources.

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