Hutton bioinformatics support BOLD action for future food security and climate resilience

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30 September 2021, UK: Bioinformaticians at the James Hutton Institute are supporting a 10-year, US$58m initiative launched by the Crop Trust and the Government of Norway to improve global food security and climate resilience.

The newly announced BOLD (Biodiversity for Opportunities, Livelihoods and Development) project seeks to safeguard crop diversity in gene banks, and facilitate its use by breeders, smallholder farmers and researchers to develop new crop varieties. This is an essential first step to secure a sufficient, healthy food supply for all.

BOLD builds on the major success of the Crop Wild Relatives Project (CWR Project). The CWR Project was a pioneering effort in developing new climate-resilient crop varieties. Over the past 10 years, it has enhanced the capacity of 25 national gene banks around the world to collect and conserve the diversity found in wild plants related to crops. It has also developed partnerships spanning 50 countries to use wild relative diversity to help prepare 19 crops to combat the effects of climate change.

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BOLD will extend support to 15 national gene banks to better conserve and use their crop diversity, expand on the most successful pre-breeding partnerships of the CWR Project, and strengthen linkages between gene banks and seed systems. It will also support gene banks to safety-duplicate their invaluable collections and store them in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.

Crop Trust Executive Director Stefan Schmitz said: “Crop diversity is the backbone of agriculture, and seeds have never been more important—there is no more urgent time to save what’s left of our crop diversity and use it.”

Norway’s Minister for International Development, Dag-Inge Ulstein, added: “Biodiversity is crucial for sustainable food systems. This understanding is part of the reason for Norway’s establishment of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. 

“We are pleased to support BOLD as it effectively translates conservation of crop diversity in gene banks into development outcomes related to food security.”

The James Hutton Institute will contribute to BOLD through Germinate, the Institute’s open-source, plant database platform, on which complex data from genetic resources and pre-breeding experiments can be stored, queried and visualized.

Germinate is supported by funders including the Crop Trust and Scottish Government to hold experimental data for over 20 different crops, allowing researchers to import, visualize, explore and share project data through a common interface.

Dr Paul Shaw, who leads the Hutton element of BOLD, commented: “This is a fantastic opportunity for us to build on the work we have already carried out during the CWR Project and develop our informatics tools further to support this ground-breaking work that BOLD will carry out. The potential impact of this work is huge.

“Securing and exploiting natural variation in crops held in gene banks fits in exactly with the work we do here at Hutton, and we are excited at the possibilities that this work will bring us and the software we develop.

“This work really is critical for ensuring food security for millions of people around the world. We are working with current CWR partners under BOLD and look forward to enhancing the tools and resources that we develop.”

Sebastian Raubach, who co-leads this work, added: “We are thrilled to be part of this initiative and to further support and contribute to the fantastic resources generated through this project. Germinate will play a major role in the dissemination of valuable data resources and I am excited to see Germinate evolve further. We have lots of exciting features and tools that we will be working on over the coming years and can’t wait to get started.”

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