GFAR blog, Research in society

How gene banks can contribute to a healthier future


Chronic or non-communicable diseases are the leading causes of mortality around the globe. Take a look at these staggering figures from the World Health Organization: Of the 56 million deaths in 2015, 40 million or 70 percent were caused by heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes.

Most of those illnesses can be prevented. One way to do so is through more nutritious, diverse diets.

That’s where gene banks can help.

“[W]e should start thinking about … biodiversifying our diets. We have the tools … it’s the genetic diversity that’s being conserved in our gene banks,” said Peter Wenzl, Leader of Genetic Resources at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), during the #CIAT50 celebrations at the center’s headquarters in Cali, Colombia.

CIAT is seeking to build a state-of-the-art gene bank that not only conserves crops and their diversity, but also harnesses this diversity to improve diets, reduce the impact of farming on the environment, and enable agriculture to adapt to climate change.

Called Future Seeds, this biorepository will have three major pillars:

  • Traditional gene bank. Future Seeds will continue the work that CIAT is doing to conserve crops in accordance to international standards.
  • Digital gene bank. Future Seeds will serve as a platform for collaboration and sharing of knowledge among gene banks in Latin America, particularly on genomics. Another goal is to use big data and other innovative technologies to predict traits of plants based on their genetic characteristics.
  • Education. Future Seeds will partner with universities in the region and elsewhere to breed a cadre of scientists who are well-versed in genomics. It will also build public awareness in Colombia about the importance of crop diversity in agriculture to secure the future of the planet.

“I think [Future Seeds] is a strategic investment: It’s a strategic idea to be implemented in a strategic location at a very critical time,” said Wenzl, alluding to Colombia, which is among the most biodiverse countries in the world.

During the #CIAT50 celebrations, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos committed US$3.3 million toward Future Seeds. The U.K. government has also pledged its support toward the initiative.

Learn more about Future Seeds here.

Blog post by Ma. Eliza Villarino

PARTNER SPOTLIGHT logoThis story is part of our Partner Spotlight on the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). Join us this week as we feature the stories from of one of the leading CGIAR international research centers, whose mission is to reduce hunger and poverty, and improve human nutrition in the tropics through research aimed at increasing the eco-efficiency of agriculture.

GFAR Secretariat is turning the spotlight on the work and collective actions of Partners in GFAR who share in our mission to strengthen and transform agri-food research and innovation systems globally. Not a GFAR partner yet? Join now!

Photo credit: CIAT

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