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Plant Breeding, Genetics, & Genomics

National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS)

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 process.

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 the future.

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 global situation.

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