Plant genetic resources are central to the study and harnessing of biological diversity. At the heart of the Genebank department is the Federal Ex situ Gene Bank, representing one of the world’s largest germplasm collections, with a current of holding of 151,348 accessions. The mandate of the department is to conserve agrobiodiversity and also to provide the research community with plant genetic resources; the collection is dispersed over three sites, namely Gatersleben, Groß Lüsewitz and Malchow. The Gene Bank has gained a global reputation as a pioneer in the conservation and quality management of plant germplasm and, over the more than 70 years which have passed since its foundation, has developed into a globally used research infrastructure.
In addition to the accessions conserved in the form of seed, the Gene Bank also maintains one of the world’s largest cryo-collections of vegetatively propagated plant species; it also curates a herbarium comprising over 446,000 voucher specimens, about 109,000 seed/fruit reference samples and 56,600 cereal/grass spikes.
In the department Genebank the research focus is directed to improving the conservation management of genetic resources, which mostly involves an exploration of the biological and biochemical processes affecting the long term storage of seeds and vegetative organs.
The scientific focus of its utilisation-related research activity is the analysis of the genomes of some of our most important crop species, specifically wheat, barley and rye. Of particular interest are the molecular basis of evolution and speciation and the identity of the drivers of intraspecific diversity, since these are expected to provide important insights into the adaptation of crop plants to a changing environment. An important contribution is made by the systematic acquisition of DNA sequence from sub-collections of each of the species alongside analyses of the accessions’ phenotype; this activity fits with the continuing expansion of the Gene Bank's digital information offering and its planned development into a bio digital Resource Centre.