Informal Approach to Passport Databases Comparison
Andrew Omelchenko, Dr. Sergey Alexanian, Dr. Igor Loskutov


The N.I. Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry (VIR) is the only research institution in Russia whose activities include PGR collection, conservation and study. This Institute, its accomplishments, and role in maintaining the global ex situ collection are well known world-wide. Its global PGR collection represents plant diversity encompassing 320,000 accessions of 155 botanical families, 2,532 species of 425 genera. For instance, the collection harbours 95,000 accessions of grain crops, over 43,000 of legumes, 52,000 of groat crops, 26,000 of industrial crops, 28,000 of fodder crops, about 10,000 of potato, and 50,000 of vegetables. About 200,000 accessions were placed for long-term storage in the genebank built in 1976. VIR also maintains a herbarium of 260,000 specimens.

The scientific network of VIR includes the institute’s headquarters with 9 plant resources departments, 13 fundamental research laboratories, and 12 experiment stations in different geographic zones of Russia. The institute’s collections, donors and sources identified and developed by VIR’s scientists have played a decisive role in breeding. Utilization of germplasm materials from VIR by breeders in Russia alone has resulted in the release of over 2,500 cultivars, of which 450 are now cultivated on an area of 63 mln ha. This is valid for 80% of wheat cultivars. Primary evaluation helped to identify about 4,000 sources of valuable breeding characters. Genetic investigations localized 77 sources including 27 sources of resistance to the pathogens of wheat, barley, oats, peas, etc., and 9 sources of earliness in oats, maize and sunflower.

In the past five years, VIR sent abroad about 40,000 samples. VIR collaborates with the ex-USSR republics and continues to supply plant materials at requests from breeders. From 1996 through 2000, these countries received over 14,000 samples of various crops. In recent years, pursuant to the CBD, many countries have displayed interest in repatriation of their own PGR, and VIR meets such requests.

VIR has established efficient cooperation with more than 40 countries of the world. Joint project with CGN (Netherlands) and the next one with ZADI (Germany) were very important as they helped to computerize almost all accessions’ passport data and place them on the Internet. The next stage, which has already started, will be modification of the Vavilov Global Collection Information and Documentation System to give users better opportunity to optimize data on the largest and most important crop collections. Nordic Gene Bank now joins these activities.

VIR is planning to pay more attention to this aspect of PGR activities, in particular to make landraces from the collection available to those who wish to revive their cultivation.

Lately, experts of VIR have developed a structure for the national program, which has been sent to the Russian Government for consideration and approval. This proposal once again emphasizes the necessity of regional and global cooperation, and sets forth its objectives and tasks in order to intensify activities in conservation and sustainable utilization of PGR, and to enhance closer collaboration with IPGRI, FAO, IARCs, and genebanks of the world.

Creation and appropriate use of passport, characterization and other databases for the ex situ collections should be among the priorities of any genebank. Value of any collection strictly depends on the completeness of information about each accession. An item (accession) of a collection in any genebank is a plant form which must be registered and precisely identified. The problem of conservation and identification of global PGR is currently becoming the major one for many genebanks of the world. This problem is directly linked with the necessity to optimize and systematize the existing collections, and duplicates identification in collections held by genebanks is an aspect of special importance.

In view of the above, duplicates identification in the process of databases comparison has recently been receiving an increasing attention. At present, for solving this problem mostly the approaches that involve the analysis of databases alone, with no account of characteristics of the conserved seed material, are being employed.

We believe that for solving the problem the botanical component is extremely important. It is supported by the fact that data on specific, and especially intraspecific classification are gaining significance not only for botanical research and breeding purposes, but also for genebanks seeking genetic purity of the maintained live ex situ seed collections.

Most genebanks that were set up in the mid-60s and 70s of the 20-th century face the problem of accessions regeneration after long-term storage for 20 to 30 years. At the same time, many of them lack strict criteria for accessions identification at the level of a species, to say nothing of their capability to maintain intraspecific variation. The criteria are based on clearly visible and easily distinguishable morphological characters.

The majority of these criteria systems were created under the guidance of N.I.Vavilov in the 20s and 30s and later developed and refined on the basis of new data from studies of plant diversity. The underlying principles of the systems are:

  • Real intraspecific classification, as we understand it, is based on the complex approach to the rank of a variety as an objective unit of complicated polymorphous systems of species.
  • Value of the thoroughly developed – down to a variety or form – systems of cultivated species is in the included set of various characters, morphological ones in the first place, which have for decades used in VIR for the identification and, consequently, for the sake of preservation and study of the whole range of diversity of species. Only the application of intraspecific systematics may ensure conservation of the complete intraspecific diversity created by the nature and man.

Duplicates identification within germplasm collection is among the obligations of a crop collection curator, and success of this work is depemndent on the qualification, competence and will of a particular person.

The search for duplicated material between germplasm collections of different countries is necessary, in the first place, for the identification of advanced cultivars which have the same name and are stored in different collections. The retrieval by the cultivar name of duplicate accessions with the same identification numbers supposes their morphological identity. It is intraspecific systematics that is used for establishing identity of such accessions.

Talking of genetic identity of populations or landraces would be premature, as relevant information for these materials is very scanty in passport databases, or quite often is absent in most genebanks of the world.

Determination of genetic identity of advanced cultivars with the same parents is also problematic, as the contents of Pedigree fields in databases leaves much to be desired.

All discussions about duplicates of gene alleles in any accessions, or about parental duplication are unfounded due to the extreme scarcity of information.

The use of various molecular-biological techniques for the identification of duplicates in collections is hardly reasonable, if these techniques are inefficient and costly, while present-day collections in the world number dozens and hundreds of thousands of accessions.

Duplicates identification within and between germplasm collections of particular crops must be performed by an expert or curator specializing in this crop, as these are the people who can, thanks to their knowledge and experience, understand value and significance of a duplicate and come to a well-weighed decision in each particular case. Our opinion is that some formal approach targeted at revealing similarly sounding names should be used by the crop expert with utmost care, as absolutely different cultivars may have similar or the same names.

Quite often, accessions of national collections were received from other genebanks. When comparing collections for possible duplication, it is desirable to have the most complete information about the origin of an accession, that is, original name of the accession, catalogue number from the donor genebank, catalogue numbers for this accession in other genebanks of the world, the place of origin and reproduction of the accession.

In the end of 1999, VIR, ZADI and NGB agreed on the implementation of a pilot project on the comparison of Avena collections conserved in Russia, Germany and NGB. The comparison has been made by two experts from VIR – Dr. Igor Loskutov, Avena Collection Curator, and Ing. Andrew Omelchenko, VIR Database Administrator.

For the analysis of passport data, a special structure for a joint database has been developed to make possible the comparison of named accessions and additional information for each individual accession.

VIRCATNUM Catalogue Number of the N.I.Vavilov Institute (VIR, Russia)
BAZCATNUM Catalogue Number of (IPK, Germany)
IPKCANTUM Catalogue Number of Federal Centre for Breedeng Research of Cultivated Plants (BAZ, Germany)
NGBCATNUM Catalogue Number of Nordic Gene Bank (NGB, Sweden)
ACCENAME Accession name
SCINAM Scientific name – full botanical name with authority. Following abbreviations are used: sp., subsp., var., convar.
OTHERNUM Catalogue number(s) in others genebanks of the world
DONORNUM Catalogue number(s) of donor organization
ORIGCTY Country of origin
DONCTY Country of donor
ENTRYDATE Year of Entering in Catalogues [YYYY]

This structure allowed the development of a compact database that ensured the comparative analysis of accessions in the mentioned collections.

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