Crop Wild Relatives provide food security

The relationship between wild and cultivated plants plays a key role in the efforts to secure Norwegian crops against future plant diseases and effects of climate change.

Picture of woman with tall cabbage plants.

Kristina Bjureke, botanist and lecturer at the Natural History Museum, with cabbages that are closer to the wild cabbages than the varieties that we grow today. Wild Cabbage, Brassica oleracea, is the mother of all modern types of cabbage.  Photo: Dag Inge Danielsen, NHM

A new, temporary outdoor exhibition in the Botanical Garden shows how species like crab apple and wild cabbage can protect our crops from new threats.

The exhibition «Crop Wild Relatives» is part of a joint Nordic project. It is shown in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland.

The aim of the Nordic project is to produce new knowledge on how our cultivated plants can cope with the climate challenge and changing environmental conditions.  How can they resist new diseases, and how can we produce enough food for a growing population?

Examples of cultivated plants with close relatives in the wild are apple, caraway, timothy and raspberry.

“Climate change, new diseases and various environmental hazards can influence all cultivated crops,” says botanist Kristina Bjureke at the Natural History Museum of the University of Oslo.

“But we do not know how, and we do not know what genetic traits will be needed in the future. Therefore, we need to be prepared. And that is why we draw attention to Crop Wild Relatives, explains Bjureke,” who is project coordinator in Norway. She has also created the outdoor exhibition in cooperation with NIBIO, Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research, and their Nordic counterparts.

The exhibition introduces the viewer to the story of how wild plants were domesticated and turned into fruit and vegetables, as we know them today.

Image may contain: Plant, Terrestrial plant, Organism, Sharing, Leaf vegetable.
Wild cabbage, Brassica oleracea, grows in coastal areas of Southern and Western Europe. Various plant parts from wild cabbage have been selected to produce cabbage, Brussels sprout, kohlrabi, kale, broccoli and cauliflower.  (Illustration: Truong Pham, Natural History Museum)

Lost traits reintroduced

Through thousands of years, domestication has improved characteristics such as yield and taste. At the same time, some of the plants’ genetic diversity has been lost. Crop wild relatives can therefore contribute to food security, adaption to climate change, conservation of cultural heritage and biodiversity, and ensure sustainable agriculture.

New plant diseases can put our food security at risk, says Kjersti Bakkebø Fjellstad at the Norwegian Genetic Resource Centre, part of the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research.

"The crop wild relatives provide our best insurance. By transferring some of their traits to their domesticated relatives, we can fight future diseases and other threats.  Other capabilities that can be transferred from wild to cultivated plants can be climate adaption, draught resistance and nutritional content. It is our mission at the Norwegian Genetic Resource Centre both to make the public aware of the importance of crop wild relatives, and also to help preserve them," says Fjellstad.

Image may contain: Plant, Tree, Sky, Gas, Landmark.
The exhibiton is on display outside Lid's hus in the Botanical Garden. 

Preservation in the wild

This year and next year, researchers in all Nordic countries will collect seeds from “relatives” growing in the wild. The Nordic Genetic Resource Center, based in Sweden, will preserve them in their seed bank and forward half of them to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The project also includes a scheme to establish protected areas for crop wild relatives in the Nordic region.

There are several real life examples of how wild plants have come to the rescue.

In many places, the cultivation of sugar beets has been seriously disrupted by rhizomania, a virus diseasee. Then, in Denmark, scientists discovered a population of sea beets that are naturally resistant to rhizomania. Individuals of wild sea beets were crossed with cultivated beets, and the trait was incorporated into a new and disease-resistant variety of sugar beet.


Tags: Crop Wild Relatives
Published May 6, 2021 1:24 PM - Last modified May 7, 2021 8:08 AM