Frequently Asked Questions
- Q: How do I use the portal?
- Q: What are genetic resources?
- Q: Why are GRFA important?
- Q: Who is responsible for GRFA policy in the UK?
- Q: What are the origins of the inventories that are searchable on this web portal?
- Q: What is an in situ collection?
- Q: What is an ex situ collection?
- Q: What is meant by 'access' to genetic resources?
- Q: What is meant by 'benefit-sharing'?
- Q: How can I contribute data to the portal search?
- Q: What is the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)?
Q: How do I use the portal?
A: The portal can be used to search web sites and databases containing information on UK genetic resources for food and agriculture (GRFA). To find out more and to see a step by step guide on how to search the portal visit the guide page.back to top
Q: What are genetic resources?
A: Genetic resources are genetic material of current or potential use. In technical terms "genetic material" means any material of plant, microbial or animal origin, including reproductive and vegetative propagating material, containing functional units of heredity; In everyday terms genetic resources range from, for example, fully mature plants, animals and microbes to seeds, cuttings, conserved embryos, eggs, and semen.back to top
Q: Why are GRFA important?
A: Diverse genetic resources are important for maintaining an efficient and sustainable farming industry, as they allow the development of varieties and breeds to cope with new demands. Genetic selection also has important consequences for animal health and welfare, and has an important role to play in landscape value and reducing environmental pollution from livestock.back to top
Q: Who is responsible for GRFA policy in the UK?
A: The UK government is recognised globally as the competent authority by international agreements (the CBD) for genetic resources in the UK. The responsibility for genetic resources for food and agriculture within the UK lays with the devolved administrations: Defra for England and Wales; DARDNI for Northern Ireland and SEERAD for Scotland.
The conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources contribute directly to the Government's objectives concerning a sustainable, competitive food supply chain, sustainable, diverse and adaptable farming and sustainable management of natural resources. Indigenous livestock breeds have a particular role to play in managing the rural environment and assisting in maintaining wild biological diversity. A review of GRFA policy was carried out by Claire Wilding for Defra and a copy of the report can be located here on the Defra website.back to top
Q: What are the origins of the inventories that are searchable on this web portal?
A: The inventories which can be searched within each of the three kingdoms or domains on this web portal (plant, animal and microbial), are databases set up during a previous Defra-funded project, to develop an inventory of Genetic Resources r Food and Agriculture. The output of this research was reported by Dr Nigel Maxted, University of Birmingham (for Crop Wild Relatives and Landraces), Dr David Smith of CABI (for Microbial GRFA) and Prof John Woolliams of the Roslin Instutute (for Animal GRFA), and copies of the relevant documents can be found in the publications sections, within each domain.
The animal inventory was based upon that prepared for the UK Country Report contributing to the FAO's First Report on the State of the World's Farm Animal Genetic Resources. In turn, the inventory had been developed as part of the UK's participation in the FAO's Global Strategy for the Management of Farm Animal Genetic Resources initiated under the auspices of the Convention of Biological Diversity [insert link to FAQ: What is the Convention on Biodiversity ?]. It is maintained with support and active participation by a large number of Breed Societies and NGOs who freely contribute their data.
The plant inventory has been supplemented by the UK National Plant Inventory, which contains details of the ex. situ collections held by various publicly funded research institutes or centres - the John Innes Centre, the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research, Warwick HRI, the Arabidopsis Stock Centre at the University of Nottingham and Imperial College.back to top
Q: What is an in situ collection?
In situ conservation relates to preservation of organisms in their natural environment rather than in genebanks (see ‘what is an ex situ collection ?'). A typical examples of an in situ collection in the context of GRFA would be live animals in a breeding herd. In situ collection also relates to the inventories of unimproved species such as Crop Wild Relatives growing either in farmed or wild environments, protected areas, or sites of special scientific interest, and Landraces growing in farmed environments.back to top
Q: What is an ex situ collection?
Ex situ conservation is the practice of protecting organisms outside of their native habitat, typically through the collection and storage of germplasm in a genebank. This often takes the form of a seedbank in the case of plants. Techniques such as cryopreservation can also be used for specimens such as fruit stocks, and are also applied to microbes and to animal conservation, where the genetic material may take the form of semen or embryos. Such genebanks are held by a range of individuals, public and private institutions and are also known as ex situ collections.back to top
Q: What is meant by 'access' to genetic resources?
A: Acquisition of genetic resources means the act of actually physically obtaining the material. It does not imply permission to use it. By contrast, 'access to genetic resources' means the permission to physically obtain and subsequently to use the genetic resources, and under what conditions. This implies a positive and physical action to the genetic resources, going beyond, for instance, simply observing them (e.g. the passive, aesthetic, pleasure derived from looking at cut flowers or ecotourists visiting rainforests). 'Access to genetic resources' is not defined in the CBD.
Certain provisions of some other international environmental treaties address access to genetic resources. For example, CITES covers the import and export of genetic resources of 'listed' species.
More information on access can be found on the Defra web site here.back to top
Q: What is meant by 'benefit-sharing'?
A: Benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources can be direct, such as knowledge produced by research on genetic resources, or indirect, such as the incentive for conservation provided by profits arising from commercialisation of genetic resources. They can be either monetary benefits, such as collection fees, royalties and research grants, or non-monetary benefits of an environmental, social or economic nature. Non-monetary benefits might include research on host-country diseases; conservation projects; technology transfer of hardware, software and know-how; training in various disciplines of science, in information management, or in legal, administrative and management matters; joint research through participation in product development and joint ventures; institutional capacity building through developing partnerships to support groups such as communities, universities, botanic gardens, and small businesses; and the creation of employment opportunities.
Sharing the benefits is a key component of the CBD. For example it embodies the principle that all stakeholders should be seen to benefit from utilization of genetic resources. Furthermore, the CBD recognises the sovereignty of a country over its genetic resources, hence the UK has sovereignty on its own resources.
More information on benefit sharing can be found on the Defra web site here.back to top
Q: How can I contribute data to the portal search?
A: If you have any data on UK genetic resources, which you would like to make public and which could be displayed through the GRFA portal, you are encouraged to contribute as a stakeholder. If you are interested in contributing, please visit the feedback section of the website to express your interest. Please be sure to select the correct option from the feedback type list.back to top
Q: What is the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)?
A: The Convention on Biological Diversity is both an international treaty, now ratified by 181 Parties, and an institutional framework for the continual development of legal, policy and scientific initiatives on biological diversity. The objectives of the CBD are described in Article 1 as follows:
"The conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources, including by appropriate access to genetic resources and by appropriate transfer of relevant technologies, taking into account all rights over those resources and to technologies, and by appropriate funding." Article 1
More information on the CBD can be found at the following Defra web site here.back to top