Supporting in situ conservation of the genetic diversity of crop wild relatives using genomic technologies

Wambugu PW and Henry RJ

Molecular Ecology


The last decade has witnessed huge technological advances in genomics, particularly in DNA sequencing. Here, we review the actual and potential application of genomics in supporting in situ conservation of crop wild relatives (CWRs). In addition to helping in prioritization of protection of CWR taxa and in situ conservation sites, genome analysis is allowing the identification of novel alleles that need to be prioritized for conservation. Genomics is enabling the identification of potential sources of important adaptive traits that can guide the establishment or enrichment of in situ genetic reserves. Genomic tools also have the potential for developing a robust framework for monitoring and reporting genome-based indicators of genetic diversity changes associated with factors such as land use or climate change. These tools have been demonstrated to have an important role in managing the conservation of populations, supporting sustainable access and utilization of CWR diversity, enhancing accelerated domestication of new crops and forensic genomics thus preventing misappropriation of genetic resources. Despite this great potential, many policy makers and conservation managers have failed to recognize and appreciate the need to accelerate the application of genomics to support the conservation and management of biodiversity in CWRs to underpin global food security. Funding and inadequate genomic expertise among conservation practitioners also remain major hindrances to the widespread application of genomics in conservation.