site.btaBulgaria’s Collection of Plant Genetic Resources Is Largest in SE Europe – IPGR Director Assoc. Prof. Uzundzhalieva
Bulgaria’s Collection of Plant Genetic Resources Is Largest in SE Europe – IPGR Director Assoc. Prof. Uzundzhalieva
The Institute of Plant Genetic Resources (IPGR) in Sadovo, Southern Bulgaria, preserves the richest collection of cultivated plant species and their wild predecessors, its Director Assoc. Prof. Katya Uzundzhalieva said in an interview for BTA. The institute is also responsible for providing the Bulgarian samples sent to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault secure backup facility for the world's crop diversity on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen. This provides security of the world's food supply against the loss of seeds in genebanks due to various critical situations ranging from funding cuts and war to natural disasters.
"The National Seed Genebank in Sadovo maintains more than 62,000 samples, of which 43,147 are under long-term storage conditions. The basic collection is represented by 33 families, 150 genera and 600 plant species," . Uzundzhalieva said, adding that this year IPGR is marking the 150th anniversary of the birth of its patron, Konstantin Malkov.
A remarkable phytopathologist of world renown Malkov was the founder of agricultural science in Bulgaria.
Another remarkable figure associated with IPGR was Academician Pavel Popov, who was actually born in the same year the experimental station in Sadovo was established, 1902. A prominent Bulgarian breeder, creator and co-author of 67 new varieties of wheat that have glorified Bulgarian agricultural science, Popov was listed in the Golden Book of the Patent Office of the Republic of Bulgaria in 1986, Uzundzhalieva said.
Last year, IPGR marked another two anniversaries – 140 years of agricultural science in Bulgaria and a quarter of a century of the institute’s existence which has naturally evolved over the past 45 years.
Besides maintaining in the National Genebank, quarantine and botanical garden plant species according to criteria agreed with FAO, IPGR today is is National Coordinator of the Programme for Plant Genetic Resources, which is part of the European Programme for Plant Genetic Resources (ECPGR). This is essentially Bulgaria’s biodiversity, for it maintains mainly plant species of Bulgarian origin, wild relatives of cultivated plants and old varieties. The maintenance of wild relatives of cultivated plants and old varieties is particularly important. This is currently a priority in Europe and worldwide in view of climate change, the expert explained.
The institute also works on breeding programs for major crops in the country and the creation of competitive high-quality varieties of drought-resistant wheat, peanuts and sesame, with peanuts being the favourite seed bought from abroad.
The National Genebank, which is the largest in SE Europe, includes a collection of cultivated species and their wild predecessors distributed in eight main groups: cereals, grain legumes, forage species, industrial, oilseed, vegetable, medicinal and ornamental species, the IPGR Director explained, adding that they are kept in basic, working and exchange collections. Over 60,000 samples in all are kept at the institute.
Regrettably, so far the IPGR has not been declared a site of national significance, in spite of all the efforts and the support of the Agricultural Academy. The complex process depends on the understanding and cooperation of a number of authorities and Uzundzhalieva is confident they will succeed in their cause.
As to the Global Seed Vault, IPGR has so far sent two batches of select samples. The first one of 933 samples from the cereal and grain legume group (specifically dried seeds of wheat, barley, chickpea, maize, sorghum, beans, broad beans, lentils, wigna and sorghum) and a total number of 606,420 seeds. At the end of September 2022, a second consignment of 6 boxes was sent, comprising 1,186 samples of 16 genera and 33 plant species and a total number of seeds of 676,498, bringing the total number of boxes deposited to 11. Among these are also much loved tasty old varieties of vegetables like lettuce and tomatoes still raised in home gardens in Bulgaria.
Uzundzhalieva frequently raises the question of the influx of foreign genetics and selection of different plant varieties. The IPGR’s produce of cereal, peanut and sesame seeds are usually sold out, she now says, for quite a number of Bulgarian farmers have come to see their advantages and prefer them to the imported ones. Still, the pressure of imported varieties continues to be strong, for they have the funds for advertisement and rule the market, giving farmers incentives to buy their seeds.
IPGR Sadovo also maintains a large botanic garden. It was established in 2002 with the aim to preserve local species via in garden/in vivo conservation.
The area of the demonstration collections is 1.1 ha and a collection of 400 species of vascular plants, representatives of the Bulgarian wild and cultural flora, as well as 57 species with protected status was created by 2016. The plant species are divided thematically according to their potential use: Wild relatives of cultivated plants; Food species; Medicinal and spices; Fodder; Oil-producing; Ornamental.
The IPGR has four research laboratories, a Museum of Agricultural Science, a library of exceptional bibliographic value collected over the past 135 years and a team of 27 academic enthusiasts, its Director said.
In 2018-2022 this team has created four new wheat varieties, one sesame variety and one peanut variety. One of the new wheat varieties, Sashets, won the Innovations Competition at the AGRA 2021 and the competition organized by the Inventors’ Union in 2022.
The national PGR collection is part of the European electronic catalogue EURISCO (http://eurisco.ecpgr.org), under a renewed contract with Bioversity International. The database (BGR National Inventory) in EURISCO (September, 2022) includes passport information for 69,767 voucher specimens described according to the FAO/Bioversity (2017) descriptor. The analysis shows that the Bulgarian BGR collection is the seventh largest in Europe, occupying a share of 3.5% of the European total, after the UK, Russia, Germany, Ukraine, Poland and Spain.
The story about IPGR and its Director, Assoc. Prof. Katya Uzundzhalieva, is published within the framework of a partnership initiative between BTA and BPO, which envisages the presentation of Bulgarians listed in BPO's Golden Book and the activities of the Patent Office in a joint weekly column entitled "Created in Bulgaria".