Plant genetic resources are an important component of the agricultural biodiversity. They include the diversity of genetic material contained in traditional varieties, modern cultivars, crop wild relatives and other wild plant species. Plant genetic resources contribute to people’s livelihoods by providing food, medicine, feed for domestic animals, fibber, clothing, shelter and energy. They are also the sources of rare genetic traits needed for crop improvement to cope with environmental stresses, plant disease and pests.
In recent times, destruction and modification of natural habitats and adoption of genetically uniform modern varieties replacing the highly diverse traditional varieties are resulting in the erosion of plant genetic diversity. Genetic resources are disappearing at an alarming rate and unless they are conserved now before it is too late, the genes contained in them will not be available when required in future.
The conservation of plant genetic resources can be achieved through an integrated approach balancing in situ (conservation in natural habitats) and ex situ (conservation away from the natural habitats) strategies.
In situ conservation offers the advantages of allowing natural selection to continue. However, when habitat destruction is inevitable, endangered species need to be preserved by ex situ means before they become extinct.
Ex situ conservation can also provide the opportunity to study the biology of endangered species in order to eventually consider successful species recovery programs like restoration and reintroduction. It also has the advantage of preserving plant material and making it available for research purposes, without damaging the natural populations. Ex situ is therefore complementary to in situ conservation and can act as an "insurance policy" when species are threatened in their natural habitats.
Since its establishment, ICBA has been assembling germplasm of salt-tolerant crops with proven or potential salinity tolerance to provide a source of genetic diversity for researchers to mitigate problems of salinity in agricultural production systems. The collections are stored in a on-site Genebank facility at ICBA headquarters.
So far, over 12,600 accessions of some 230 proven to be or potentially salt-tolerant species, originating from 130 countries have been assembled from various sources and conserved in the ICBA Genebank under controlled environment.
ICBA Genebank has undertaken expeditions to collect and conserve some of the economically important species native to the UAE since they are under threat due to overgrazing, rapid urbanization and expansion of human settlements.