Conservation and documentation of Plant Genetic Resources in Greece
N. Stavropoulos - Curator, Greek Gene Bank
Current situation in Greece as regards ex situ PGR conservation
Collections : holding institutes, size etc.
Specifically planned activities for the conservation of PGR in Greece started
immediately after the establishment of the Greek Gene Bank in 1981. Since then, a number
of collecting missions were undertaken throughout the country to rescue the rapidly eroding
PGR , and safely preserve them Ex-Situ under appropriate storage conditions, or as field
Today the GGB conserves in its Active and Base Collections “Orthodox“ seeds of
approximately 8500 accessions belonging to 66 genera and 169 species of crop plants or
economic plants in general that have "orthodox" seeds. Major collections include Beta,
Brassicas, Allium, Triticum, Hordeum, Aegilops, Nicotiana, Gossypium, Phaseolus, Cicer,
Dactylis, Medicago, Trifolium, Zea, Prunus and Vitis.
Long -Term storage facilities ( Base Collection ) have a capacity of 40 cubic meters and
can hold approx. 10.000 samples. Seed is stored in sealed galvanised tin cans or in aluminium
foil packages placed on fixed shelves under -18 to -21 oC.
Short to Medium-Term storage facilities ( Active or Working collection ) have a
capacity of 40 cubic meters and can hold approx. 10.000 samples also. Seed is stored in non
sealed packaging ( ordinary paper or cloth bags) placed on fixed shelves under 0 to + 5
temperature and 30 % relative air humidity.
Clonal material (Fruit trees, Grapevine) and germplasm of aromatic and medicinal plants
is maintained as field collections in respective institutes. Minor specific collections are
maintained by a number of institutes (Grapevine, Homology, Olive and other institutes,
Aromatic and Medicinal Plants department etc.), university faculties or other relevant
organisations collaborating with the Ministry of Agriculture, NAGREF and the GGB in the
framework of the National Program on Genetic Resources, introduced in 1990 by the
Presidential Decree 80/1990 but not yet fully effective.
Also, a significant number of accessions representing breeders material is maintained in
a number of national research and breeding institutes or Universities.
Organisations : status, funding, etc
The Greek Gene Bank was established in 1981 by the Agricultural Research Service of
the Ministry of Agriculture as a Department of the Agricultural Research Centre of Makedonia
and Thraki, situated in Thessaloniki. This new establishment was assigned the mandate to
protect, evaluate, document and eventually utilise the plant genetic resources of the country. It
has received significant support in its early years of operation by UNDP, FAO, IBPGR and
ECP/GR, for the construction and provision of the necessary facilities and equipment, for the
training of its scientific staff and for carrying urgent germplasm rescue expeditions on priority
Today the Greek Gene Bank (GGB) belongs to the National Agricultural Research
Foundation (N.AG.RE.F.), a legal entity of the private law under the broader public sector.
Besides its normal PGR functions, it serves as the scientific and administrative organ of the
Ministry of Agriculture for the co-ordination and implementation of the national policies in the
sector of Plant Genetic Resources. To this end it collaborates closely with all crop plant
Institutes of NAGREF and develops links with the major relevant University departments in the
country and certain non-governmental organisations recently active in this field or in related
issues. The GGB co-ordinates and implements national policies for Plant Genetic Resources
(Ex-Situ and In-Situ /On Farm conservation, Access to PGR, regulations EU 1467/94, 2078/92
and 1257/99, matters related to the GPA, CBD and IU etc.) and collaborates closely with all
plant institutes, agricultural departments of national universities, and various non-government
conservation organisations to fulfil its mandate.
In the early years funding was sufficient for many activities of the GGB, primarily urgent
rescue collections, regeneration - multiplication. Funds were provided by FAO/IBPGR, UNDP
and the National Programme on PGR. Upon its transfer to NAGREF, funding was significantly
reduced, since public funding accounts for only 60 percent of N.AG.RE.F.'s budget, the
remaining coming from competitive national and international programmes. Therefore
expansion of activities is largely dependent on the capacity of NAGREF and the GGB to receive
additional funding from these sources. However under the newly approved national programme
on PGR it is certain that the problems related to the infrastructure and functioning of the GGB
will soon be resolved.
Documentation of the conserved PGR
Completeness and quality of information
The collected germplasm is normally documented in the initial hand-filled standard
Collection Forms kept in separate files per expedition, and in the Computerised Data Base of the
GGB. At present only collection data have been recorded in that Data Base (Passport data)
containing the information related to the initial collection or provided by the germplasm donor in
case the germplasm has been given to GGB by another gene bank, crop Institute or Collector.
Characterisation and preliminary evaluation data exist only for a small part of the
collection (cotton, cereals, grapevine, certain vegetables, aromatic plants etc), but they have not
been entered in the form of characterisation or evaluating files in the Data Base mainly due to
the lack of specialised personal to undertake this task. Existing and new characterisation and
preliminary evaluation data will eventually be used to create species- specific characterisation
and evaluation databases.
The Greek Gene Bank maintains an inventory of the Base and working collections in the
country. However this information is not updated regularly, but mainly when such information
is requested by relevant international organisations or information networks. There is a need for
continuous updating of this information.
Technical infrastructure used for the documentation
Upon its establishment in 1981 the GGB has been supported by FAO and IBPGR in
initiating its national PGR information system. The first computer used for this purpose was an
APPLE II Euro-plus of an 7,500 $ USA worth, with a main memory of 48 KB, and the
documentation package then used was the DOS - based VISIFILE / VISICALC. The computer
was upgraded in 1986 with an additional 16 KB memory card , a Z80 card, a CP/M card, a soft
term card, and with Dbase II as the documentation platform.
Due to the limitations of the 7-bit records (128 characters) of that time, the width of each
field was as short as possible to accommodate information on the 15 fields of each record within
an overall 128 characters space. For example Genus and species were recorded with 4 characters
(TRIT for Triticum, AEST for Aestivum etc. ), Collector’s Numbers to 8 characters
The rapid evolution of software and hardware in the 90’s allowed the GGB to upgrade
periodically its documentation capacity. Today its documentation system consists of a
PENTIUM 200 MMX, a 3.5 MB hard disk and a Windows 95 operating system platform. The
germlasm is documented as an Access and an Excel -7 file. Since however it contains only
passport data recorded in a single table, Excel is mostly used due to its simplicity and its various
advantages in the further processing of the data. Characterisation and evaluation data available
for certain crops are maintained as separate files.
The GGB participates in networks of information exchange with other gene banks in the
framework of collaboration schemes initiated and supported by IBPGR (now IPGRI) and
ECP/GR. Thus, it exchanges data with certain gene banks or research institutes which have
undertaken the responsibility to act as centralised data bases for Europe or on a global basis,
such as the German Gene Bank in Braunschweig acting as a Central Data Bank for Beta
germplasm, the Dutch Gene Bank at Wageningen being responsible for the European Brassica
land races, the British Gene Bank at Wellesbourne being responsible for Allium and Daucus
There are no data bases available to enter data related to in situ protection. There is need
for the elaboration and approval of international standards which can be subsequently used by
all gene banks. Such data banks should contain information related to the geography of the
protected area, a register of the species they contain, an assessment of their genetic constitution,
stability, possible antagonisms and the threat of genetic erosion etc. It is a complex and difficult
task, which however has to be soon undertaken to meet the need and the pressure for
implementing, monitoring and documenting in situ protection.
Regarding nomenclature issues, GGB tries to avoid confusion using the classical
nomenclature. New names are used when they have received broad recognition.
Establishment of a National Inventory
Major national priorities for Greece are the inventorying of PGR, the establishment of a
network for monitoring agricultural biodiversity to prevent further genetic erosion, the adoption
of Indicators to monitor the effectiveness of the new EU policies in protecting biodiversity,
wildlife habitats and agricultural landscapes, the implementation of In Situ and On Farm
conservation schemes, particularly in marginal productivity agricultural areas of the Greek
islands and mainland mountains, the rescue of the germplasm of various crops currently facing
the danger of extinction and their utilisation in breeding programmes, using conventional
breeding or, in the near future, advanced genetic engineering tools, and finally, the initiation of
breeding programs for adaptation to low input farming systems using traditional landraces as
Material to be included in the national Inventory
As regards particularly the national inventory, today exists only for the ex situ collections of
the GGB and the breeding institutes of NAGREF and is limited to a large extend to Collection
or Passport data. It has to be expanded soon to cover Characterisation, Evaluation,
Storage/regeneration and distribution. To this end, in order to be compatible with existing
international databases, it has to follow certain internationally agreed standards, as regards the
titles and other characteristics of the fields, characters' scoring etc. At the current stage, this
poses no problem, since data registered using IBPGR's Standard Collection form are easily
exchanged and processed by the Information systems of IPGRI, FAO, CBD, OECD and Crop
Database systems where these data have been mad available. However if we move to more
complex interactive databases, uniformity is an absolute must.
The plans of the GGB for the next 5 years regarding the national information system include
a) establishment of a database for In Situ conservation sites, projects and research
programs in selected areas rich in wild relatives of the crop plants.
b) establishment of a database for On Farm conservation sites, projects and research
programs in selected areas rich in traditional landraces.
The establishment of a database for registering and monitoring the agricultural plants'
biodiversity in the country, although it seems to receive high priority under the new agri-
environmental policy of the EU, is a more distant task.
Role and future of EURISCO
The development of a European Search Catalogue containing and providing access to the
information relevant to all Ex-Situ PGR collections of the region is the first necessary major
step in promoting and integrating PGR co-operation in the region. The choice of the ECP/GR as
the responsible organisation for its development, maintainance and management is very
successful, taking into account its catalytic role for promoting co-operation on PGR in Europe
over the past 20 years and the recognition of its ever increasing strategic role in the PGR domain
in the region.
Therefore it is very important to agree on common standards for developing EPGRIS and
placing this collective European information at EURISCO, and for harmonising it to existing
similar international database platforms like GRIN, SINGER and others, in order to establish an
effective and broadly acknowledged search tool. At a further step, one may explore the
possibility to expand EURISCO's coverage to information related to Characterisation,
Evaluation, Regeneration and Exchange, so that it can raise even more its future contribution to
the PGR community.