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At a Glance

Historical account of NBPGR

The need for establishment of an organization to undertake activities of plant introduction and germplasm augmentation for use in crop improvement was felt as early as 1935 by the ‘Crops and Soil Wing’ of the then ‘Board of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry’. The need was reiterated in a meeting of the Indian Society of Genetics and Plant Breeding in 1941, which inter alia discussed the subject of economic crops. Dr. B.P. Pal, working at IARI approached the then Imperial (now Indian) Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) to set up a unit for assembly of global germplasm under phytosanitary conditions in India. The ICAR scheme for ‘Plant Introduction’ commenced functioning in 1946 in the then Botany Division of IARI under the leadership of the Late Dr. Harbhajan Singh as the first ‘Operational Scientist’. The unit was further expanded and strengthened as ‘Plant Introduction and Exploration Organization’ in the Botany Division in 1956, and later developed as a separate ‘Division of Plant Introduction’ in IARI in 1961. Subsequently, on the recommendations of the ‘High Level Committee’ constituted by the Government of India in 1970, the ‘Division of Plant Introduction’ was upgraded to an independent institute ‘National Bureau of Plant Introduction’ in August 1976 which was rechristened as ‘National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources’ (NBPGR) in January 1977.


The establishment of the Bureau coincided with the advent of the Green Revolution and was in response to the realization of perceived effects of the Green Revolution on agrobiodiversity. Further, it was in accordance with the international developments in the form of establishment of the International Board for Plant Genetic Resources (IBPGR), Rome, in 1974 (now renamed as International Plant Genetic Resources Institute). The NBPGR played a pivotal role in the improvement of various crop plants and diversification and development of agriculture in India through germplasm introduction from various institutes/organizations located in foreign countries and germplasm collection from within the country and abroad and conservation thereof.

The National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) has its headquarters at New Delhi, located at latitude of 280 35’ N, longitude of 70018’ E and an altitude of 226 m above mean sea level.  The Bureau draws guidelines from the Crop Science Division of ICAR, Institute Management Committee, Research Advisory Committee, Institute Research Council and Germplasm Advisory Committees.

The Bureau has four Divisions, three units, two cells and an experimental farm at its Headquarters in New Delhi and 10 Regional Stations located in different phyto-geographical zones of the country.  Besides, a National Research Centre on DNA Fingerprinting and an All India Coordinated Research Network Project on Under-utilized crops are located in the Bureau.

Regional Stations

1.   Shimla (Himachal Pradesh): Established in 1960 at Phagli, Shimla. The mandate of the station is the collection, evaluation, characterization and maintenance of temperate crops.

2.   Jodhpur (Rajasthan): Established in 1965, in the CAZRI Campus. Undertakes exploration, evaluation and seed increase for agri-horticultural crops of arid, semi-arid zones.

3.   Thrissur (Kerala): Established in 1977. Responsible for collection and evaluation of germplasm of southern peninsular region with particular emphasis on spices and plantation crops.

4.   Akola (Maharashtra): Established in 1977. Responsible for exploring Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa, Daman and Diu for germplasm collections. It also undertakes evaluation and maintenance of crops suited to Central India and Deccan Plateau.

5.   Shillong (Meghalaya): Established in 1978. Involved in collection and evaluation of agri-horticultural germplasm of north-eastern region including Sikkim and parts of northern Bengal.

6.   Bhowali (Uttarakhand): Established in 1985. Responsible for exploration, characterization, evaluation and multiplication of agri-horticultural crops, of sub-tropical and sub-temperate regions.

7.   Cuttack (Orissa): Established in 1985 in CRRI Campus. The mandate is exploration of agri-horticultural crops of eastern peninsular region with main emphasis on rice germplasm.

8.   Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh): Established in 1985. Engaged in speedy repatriation of pest and pathogen-free material as well as quarantine clearance of germplasm. Undertakes exploration, evaluation and seed increase for agri-horticultural crops   of Andhra Pradesh and adjoining areas.

9.   Ranchi (Jharkhand): Established in 1988. A centre for evaluation and maintenance of germplasm of tropical fruits and other field crops of Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

10. Srinagar (Jammu & Kashmir): Established in 1988. Responsible for exploration, collection and maintenance of agri-horticultural germplasm of temperate crops of Jammu and Kashmir region.

 

Staff position

Category

Sanctioned Strength

Filled Positions

Vacant Positions

Scientific

159

110

49

Technical

119

110

9

Administrative

65

57

8

Supporting

126

103

23

 

469

380

89

 

NAGS map with regional stations


 

Plant Genetic Resource Management

The recognition of agrobiodiversity- i.e. the diversity in crops, agro-ecosystems, and approaches- as a concept and as an issue, is a major conceptual breakthrough, reinforced by Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and Global Plan of Action (GPA). It signifies the emergence of a new paradigm for agriculture that embraces not just the most technologically advanced and efficient farming and production systems, dependent on highly bred or engineered crops, with an emphasis on uniformity and standardization, and based on a very restricted set of species, but recognizes that the great diversity of traditional farming systems and practices in many cultures in different parts of the world and the thousands of species that are locally cultivated or semi-domesticated in home gardens or other polycultures, or harvested from the wild in nearby habitats make a major and essential contribution to food security for hundreds of millions of people across the globe. It is therefore inappropriate to promote large-scale abandonment of diversity based agriculture and to marginalize it in intensive production systems. The challenge is to create a new enabling environment that makes returns to the maintenance of agricultural biodiversity more sustainable and more accurately reflect agricultural biodiversity’s true value to the livelihoods of different stakeholders.    

The plant genetic resources (PGR) as components of agrobiodiversity cover not only the whole gamut of genetic resources (from advanced cultivars to primitive landraces, domesticates, semi-domesticates, wild and weedy relatives) but the diversity of ecosystems and agroecosystems within landscapes that are exploited in some way for agriculture and forestry, and the complex set of human interactions. 

The Indian PGR Management system led by the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (ICAR) in partnership with commodity based ICAR institutions and SAUs, collectively known as the National Active Germplasm Sites (NAGS) has been envisioning the challenges of PGR management at national level in the past. Equally important is an attempt to foresee the key challenges and opportunities in PGR management sector in coming decades and accordingly develop strategy and roadmap to articulate the future role of the PGR management in support of Indian agriculture. The present compilation describes the chronological resume of NBPGR, significant accomplishments in genetic and genomic resource management, and future key challenges in PGR and genomic resource management.

The National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources: Time line

Plant Genetic Resources (PGR) activities in India were initiated as early as 1910 by Late Dr. B.P. Pal who was then involved in sporadic collections of wheat germplasm. Later it was Dr. Harbhajan Singh who is credited with giving a distinct identity to the discipline of germplasm exploration, collection and maintenance in India. The PGR introduction and exchange programme, on a systematic manner, started in 1946 with the initiation of the Plant Introduction Scheme in Botany Division of Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), New Delhi. It was further strengthened into a full-fledged Plant Introduction and Exploration Organization in 1956. With the setting up of a number of All India Crop Improvement Projects and State Agriculture Universities (SAUs) in the Country, germplasm activity increased manifold and hence this organization was upgraded to an independent Division of Plant Introduction of the IARI in 1961. The enormous contribution made by this Division under the stewardship of late Dr. Harbhajan Singh led to the proposal for the establishment of an independent institute exclusively dealing with PGR activities in this gene rich country.

1976-1985

In 1976, the Plant Introduction Division functioning as a unit in IARI, was raised to the status of an independent national institute called the National Bureau of Plant Introduction later rechristened as National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) in the year 1977. NBPGR through its various incarnations has played a very distinctive  and significant role in crop improvement and diversification in India through its untiring efforts in augmenting genetic diversity, indigenously and from exotic sources.  Bureau’s key role was to assist the All India Coordinated Crop Improvement Projects (AICRPs), operative at the central ICAR Research Institutes, State Agricultural Universities and other organizations in the country by way of making the germplasm resources of various crop species available to breeders and other researchers.  With enhanced PGR management responsibilities at the national level, the NBPGR was organized into five distinct divisions viz. Germplasm Exploration, Germplasm Exchange, Plant Quarantine, Germplasm Evaluation and Germplasm Conservation. The responsibilities and the mandates of the divisions were fixed in order to streamline and systematize PGR activities of the Bureau. The AICRP on Underutilized and Under Exploited Plants was initiated in 1982 by the ICAR during the VI Plan with the objectives to carry out systematic research on lesser known crops of future. The AICRP on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants functioning from the Bureau was also expanded to 11 centres.  The various quarantine activities previously carried out at the IARI later became operational in the Bureau. The AICRP on Guar (later renamed as AICRP on Arid Legumes) initiated in VI Plan and operated through Bureau during the period.

Plant exploration and collection activities were further systematized after creation of distinct divisions at the Bureau. From 1976-1984, both multicrop/ region specific and crop specific surveys were undertaken. Germplasm evaluation activities, earlier carried out at Plant Introduction Division of IARI, further systematized with the creation of the Germplasm Evaluation Division in 1978. Evaluation of the important crops were carried out at Bureau’s Issapur farm as well as its regional stations. The accessions were maintained as field (active) collections till storage facilities were installed at the NBPGR Headquarters. With the formation of the Bureau, three more regional stations, Akola (1977), Shillong (1978) and Thrissur (1977) were  added for maintenance and evaluation of crops suited to Central, North-east and South-west region, respectively. 

As the collection and exchange of germplasm progressed, the need for a safe repository to conserve the  seeds of crop germplasm and their wild/weedy relatives was strongly felt.  The proposal for the same was incorporated in the VI Plan. As a consequence, an on-site double storied cold storage training module with British Technical Assistance was installed in 1983. All the 30,000 seed accessions of various crops, being maintained in temporary improvised storage facility, were transferred  to this module maintained at 4oC.

1986-1995

This phase is considered to be highly important in the history of NBPGR since it was during this period that the international collaboration and infrastructural facilities at the Bureau were strengthened manifold. NBPGR received greater impetus and attained global recognition during this period. The Bhowali Regional Station of Bureau was established to cater to the PGR activities of sub-tropical and sub-temperate regions and the Base centres at Cuttack, Hyderabad and Ranchi were also established to fulfill the vision of collection, maintenance and evaluation of wide variety of crop plants occurring in other agro-climatic zones of our country as well. The coveted INDO-USAID PGR Project became operational in the year 1988. After developing the repository for conventional seed storage, the need for complementary conservation strategies such as in vitro and cryo-storage for the maintenance  and conservation of clonally propagated  and difficult- to- store recalcitrant seed species was realized. Careful planning and negotiations  resulted in the transformation of this need into a full fledged in vitro and cryo-preservation facility in 1986 with the support of the  Department of  Biotechnology and the Unit was named as the National Facility for Plant Tissue Culture Repository (NFPTCR).

During this period the exchange activities greatly increased and the Bureau entered into several joint protocols/MoUs/bilateral agreements with foreign countries/agencies on the reciprocal exchange basis. Also Bureau’s exchange linkages strengthened several fold. Alongside, the conservation facilities were also enhanced and four cold storage modules were installed and the storage capacity increased  to 0.2 million accessions. Facilities related to germplasm processing were developed and the conservation standards matched international standards and the Indian Genebank was recognized as one of the prominent genebanks globally.  Another project, INDO-UK Project, was also successfully implemented during this period which mainly strengthened the conservation facilities of the regional stations.  The two collaborative projects together carried NBPGR to greater heights and it was during this period that state-of-art laboratories for various PGR management activities got created.

During this period, the concept of identifying some of the crop-based institutes/state agricultural universities mainly for medium- term conservation, regeneration and supply of crop accessions  was developed. The network of 10 regional/base centres covering different phytogeographical regions and the linkages with the national active germplasm sites (NAGS), 30 in number, got constituted collectively forming the Indian National Plant Genetic Resource System (IN-PGRS). The setting up of this system greatly facilitated the conservation and management of PGR and their use through effective collaboration between the NBPGR and various user agencies.

Meanwhile, the convention of biological diversity (CBD), aimed at conservation of biodiversity, sustainable use of its components and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from use of plant genetic resources, came into force on 29th December 1993.  The CBD imposed certain legal bindings which were believed to affect the germplasm exchange programme in the post-CBD era. The instrument of mutually agreed terms and prior informed consent  have been brought in by CBD as well as the international code of conduct for plant germplasm collecting and transfers. These legal requirements of CBD, however, did not affect much the exchange of germplasm.

1996-2005

This phase marked the period of some most important events in the history of NBPGR. Realising the need to characterize the indigenous diversity and to protect the country’s genetic resources, the ICAR established the National Research Centre on DNA Fingerprinting at NBPGR in December 1995. The INDO-USAID project came to completion in  Sept. 1997, but prior to this in Nov. 1996, the new genebank building along with its  most  modern  facilities   was inaugurated and was notified as the National Genebank.  It also includes the cryobank facility with a storage capacity of quarter million samples of seed, pollen, or in vitro cultured germplasm. The  National Genebank now consists of one medium-term and 12 long-term storage modules with an enhanced storage capacity of 1 million seed accessions. In the wake of the recent developments on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) under the provisions of World Trade Organisation (WTO), it has become essential to document the potentially valuable germplasm. Realising this need, registration of plant germplasm has been considered as an activity of utmost priority in the national interest and hence the ICAR constituted a Plant Germplasm Registration Committee at NBPGR for the registration of potentially valuable plant germplasm which came into force since 1996.

Medium-term germplasm storage modules were installed and made operational at NBPGR regional stations located at Hyderabad, Jodhpur, Shimla, Bhowali, Akola, Thrissur and Shillong and some NAGS. A new centre for Plant Genetic Resources was established at GBPUAT&T, Pantnagar. In keeping pace with the rapidly advancing system of information technology, NBPGR  has taken a stride by developing efficient information management system. Since academic session 1997-98, Bureau is undertaking teaching in Plant Genetic Resources leading to M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees (since 2004-05) linked with PG. School, IARI, New Delhi. Some minor changes in the organizational structure of the Bureau were made which were necessary in view of its expanding nature of work as well as its crucial role in planning policies for exchange of germplasm, access and sharing of benefits. Four major divisions, Plant Exploration and Collection, Germplasm Evaluation, Germplasm Conservation and Plant Quarantine with regular Head of Divisions, through direct recruitment since 1999, are in operation. The NFPTCR was renamed as Tissue Culture and Cryopreservation Unit (TC&CU) and a new unit on PGR Policy was created to tackle the post CBD issues and work out with other concerned agencies the modalities of PGR exchange and a feasible Material Transfer Agreement. A new project on ‘National Containment/Quarantine Facility for testing of Transgenic planting material funded by the Department of Biotechnology was made operational which resulted in development of a CL-4 level containment facility for quarantine of transgenic planting material. A prestigious National Agricultural Technological Project on Plant Biodiversity which was a mission mode project with more than 130 stakeholders from different agro-ecological zones. Hand in hand with the gradual expansion of Bureau’s activities and formation of new ICAR crop based institutes, the NAGS have gone up to 59 now. The National Research Centre on DNA Fingerprinting was made fully functional during this period and more than 2200 varieties of 33 important national crops were fingerprinted, beside undertaking molecular characterization and molecular systamatics studies. The Research Advisory Committee and Germplasm Advisory Committee for different crops advised the Bureau regarding improving the capability, efficiency and effectiveness of its services. 

2006 to date

Several new initiatives have been taken up during this period. The significant ones include the initiation of National Genomic Resource Centre; implementation of new projects under NAIP support addressing several national priorities viz. information management and dissemination, biodiversity conservation and sustainable community development, molecular biosystematics etc., with NBPGR as the lead consortium. Capacity building of national and regional partners for effective management of PGR including biosafety and biosecurity issues has also been in forefront.    

With the signing of CBD and WTO and the emergence of new implications of IPRs, the future scenario demands more focused and targeted introductions of germplasm in harmony with various international agreements. For crops not covered under ITPGRFA, appropriate national programs needs to be identified followed with the needful germplasm requirements to overcome yield barriers or for value additions and development of bilateral agreements to facilitate the import of desired germplasm accessions. A blend of modern science and indigenous knowledge is required to face the challenges of increasing agricultural production in decades ahead. We should be especially concerned with incorporating greater biodiversity within agricultural production systems. Although many institutions are already actively involved, more coordination work is therefore needed at all levels to ensure effective reforms and agricultural biodiversity conservation policies that benefit the public, especially the poor. Building complementarities between agriculture and biodiversity may require changes in agricultural research and development, and land use.

Last Updated : 10/09/2013