Vital seed health testing continues in ICARDA laboratories

ICARDA scientists performing quantative monitoring procedures in a new seed health laboratory supported by the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD)

ICARDA plays a crucial role in conserving genetic resources and developing high-quality germplasm of its mandated crops - barley, chickpea, faba bean, grass pea, lentil, bread wheat and durum wheat. Following the relocation of the Center’s genetic resources conservation and crop improvement research, it continued to ensure effective seed health testing in 2016.  

Following relocation of the Center’s crop improvement research, continued activities were facilitated by the Moroccan government, Which provided experimental fields at Marchouch station and facilities at Rabat, and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD), whose financial support helped renovate and equip the new facilities. In 2016, genebank facilities were also established in Morocco and Lebanon through the support of the Genebank CRP and the Global Crop Diversity Trust. This allowed the resumption of core genebank activities, including the reconstruction of active and base collections and the distribution of genetic resources to requesters around the world.

Seed health testing is vital to core genebank and crop improvement activities, and ensures the safe movement of incoming and outgoing seed samples. Under best practices, all in-coming and out-going seed samples, from genebanks or breeding programs, are tested for diseases and pests. Any infected seeds are either destroyed or disinfected. The facilities in Lebanon and Morocco therefore inspect seed multiplication fields and test the seed after harvesting for the presence of seed-borne pests, fungal, bacterial and viral diseases.

Seed Health Laboratories (SHLs) collaborate with the quarantine services of host countries where ICARDA has breeding and genetic resource conservation activities, to ensure safe movement of seeds and avoid any breaches of host- and receiving-country quarantine protocols. To safeguard countries from phytosanitary risks associated with the movement of germplasm, ICARDA follows a regulatory and quarantine program working in close collaboration with institutions where ICARDA has platforms for developing germplasm.

There are different methods available for seed health testing, depending on the nature and location of the pathogen in or on the seed. These methods are recommended by the International Seed Testing Association (ISTA) or developed at ICARDA SHLs. These methods have been successfully used at ICARDA for several years for detection of seed-borne fungi, bacteria, viruses, nematodes and parasitic weeds.

During 2015-2017, around 20,000 samples of genebank accessions were tested by SHLs in Morocco and Lebanon before being processed into storage in active and base collections, and for distribution. More than 35,000 seed samples of genebank accessions and breeding germplasm — incoming and outgoing materials — were tested for major quarantine diseases. In addition, about 12,000 plots were inspected at Marchouch, which serves as the quarantine area in Morocco. During the 2016/2017 growing season, 15,160 genebank accessions were tested at SHLs in Morocco and Lebanon, and shipped to Svalbard.