Germplasm is living tissue from which new plants can be grown. It can be a seed or another plant part – a leaf, a piece of stem, pollen or even just a few cells that can be turned into a whole plant. Germplasm contains the information for a species’ genetic makeup, a valuable natural resource of plant diversity.
Agriculture benefits from uniformity among crop plants within a variety, which ensures consistent yields and make management easier. However, genetic uniformity leaves crops especially vulnerable to new pests and stresses. Genetic diversity of germplasm gives plant breeders the sustained ability to develop new high yielding, high quality varieties that can resist constantly evolving pests, diseases and environmental stresses. Sexually compatible wild species and landraces – ancestral varieties of crop species- are the key to genetic diversity, but the amount of land where plants grow wild continues to shrink and many plant species and varieties are disappearing. This is why the plant science community has developed conservation programs to gather, preserve, evaluate, catalogue and distribute germplasm for people all over the world to use.
Farming could be considered the original biological technology (biotechnology) when, some 10,000 years ago, humans began to cultivate and harvest specific plants to produce food. With increasing knowledge of genetics, plant breeders have accelerated the selection process, steadily increasing crop yields and enhancing quality. Some of the new technologies include: genomics, the study of the genome of organisms; genotyping, the process of determining the genotype; induced mutation, an externally generated change in the structure of DNA or chromosomes often resulting in a visible or detectable trait alteration; phenomics, a field of study concerned with the characterization of phenotypes; and proteomics, the large-scale study of proteins, particularly their structures and functions.
Genome: the complete set of chromosomes carried by a cell.
Genotype: the total of all genetic information contained in an individual organism.
DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid): In most organisms, DNA carries the primary genetic information. DNA is a molecule consisting of long chains of nucleotides. Each nucleotide consists of a base (abbreviated A, T, G or C) linked to a sugar (deoxyribose) and a phosphate molecule.
Phenotypes: observable or detectable characteristics of organism that result from interactions of its genetic constitution with the environment in which it grows.