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World’s first green gene bank in Hyderabad

Spread across 4,500 sq metres, the gene bank is powered by a 500 kW solar power plant generating 60,000 units per month. A gene bank is a type of bio-repository that preserves genetic material of plants and animals.

india Updated: Feb 27, 2019 15:52 IST
Sibi Arasu
Sibi Arasu
Hyderabad
world,greem gene bank,hyderabad
The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Hyderabad has set up the world’s first gene bank that is powered entirely by solar energy.(HT Photo)

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Hyderabad has set up the world’s first gene bank that is powered entirely by solar energy.

Spread across 4,500 sq metres, the gene bank is powered by a 500 kW solar power plant generating 60,000 units per month. A gene bank is a type of bio-repository that preserves genetic material of plants and animals.

The ‘greening’ of the gene bank was funded by the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ) and is expected to reduce power-related expenses by up to 75%, which will amount to huge savings over the next few decades.

Gene banks need constant cooling systems which sometimes need to be at temperatures of minus 20 degrees. They are home to in vitro storage of plants, freezing cuttings from a plant or stocking of seeds.

Such banks are critical to global food security as they conserve genetic resources of major crop plants. The facility in Hyderabad is the largest in the world for ICRISAT’s mandate crops or those which can address food security issues in the semi-arid and tropics of Africa and Asia.

These areas which are collectively known as tropical drylands are home to two billion people out of which 600 million are considered to be poor. Their geographical focus area spreads across 55 countries and 6.5 million sq km.

“Gene diversity of crops is being lost in situ and on the farm. Gene banks such as ours guarantee the conservation of agrobiodiversity, which aids farmers in protecting crops from diseases, insect-pests and climate change,” ICRISAT gene bank’s head Vania Azevedo said.

Established in 1979, the institute has one of the oldest and biggest gene banks in the world for crops such as groundnut, millets, chickpea, and sorghum.

It is currently in possession of 1,22, 522 accessions. An accession is a single, collected variety or varieties of a wild plant, a landrace or a plant variety that has been produced by selective breeding, more commonly known as a cultivar.

ICRISAT is also home to 4,278 accessions of five small millets as well as 7,44,177 samples of plants distributed across 148 countries. Several plants now conserved in the ICRISAT gene banks have disappeared from their natural habitats in Africa and Asia.

It has also deposited more than 1,11,000 accessions at Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV), Norway as a safety backup. The Norwegian facility is considered a final refuge to protect earth’s seed varieties from impending catastrophes and climate change.

“We have managed to release more than 150 commercial cultivars that were conserved only in our gene banks over the years for the benefit of farmers in different parts of the world. Also, scientific researches on the crops we conserve are particularly significant in the context of changing climatic patterns,” Azevedo said.

There are a total of 16 gene banks, including one at the ICRISAT, located in different cities across India.

First Published: Feb 27, 2019 15:52 IST