National Plant Germplasm
Because pests and diseases evolve over time,
breeders continually need new and diverse
germplasm from outside the utilized stock.
They sometimes use exotic germplasm such
as wild relatives and landraces (traditional
farmer-developed varieties) to find specific
traits to maintain or improve yields. In
short, the plant breeding process is a continual
one, and diverse genetic resources are a
critical input in the agricultural production
The National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS)
is the primary player in the U.S. effort
to conserve and use crop germplasm. The NPGS
has collections of about 85 crops. It is
one of the world's largest collectors and
distributors of germplasm. This public germplasm
management system has yielded large economic
benefits for U.S. and world agriculture.
Publicly funded germplasm banks provide society
with different services than private collections.
Private incentives to collect and maintain
a collection that meets germplasm needs in
the long term are small, because any economic
returns may not be realized until long into
Because exotic germplasm maintained in public
collections is often difficult to work with,
it is not used routinely by private breeders.
It is a crucial source of needed traits,
however, particularly resistance traits.
Also, many forms of germplasm have limited
appropriateness (private returns are difficult
to capture) because such biological resources
can be easily reproduced for breeding purposes.
Finally, the NPGS collections are kept for
national security purposes, so that the United
States has an adequate supply of breeding
material, regardless of any changes in the
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