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Genetic Resources for Cultivated Products

The maintenance of the genetic vitality of productive cultivars (includes the genes and genetic information used for microbe, plant and animal breeding and biotechnology e.g. cross breeding, new cultivars).

 

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Service Category

Provisioning Services

 

What are genetic resources for cultivated products and how are they derived?

Novel substances produced by plants form unique genetic resources that can be cultivated for agriculture purposes. Genetic diversity brings colour to cultivated products such as chards and carrots.

Novel substances produced by plants, animals and microorganisms form unique genetic resources that can be cultivated for diverse commercial and economic purposes including agriculture, medicine, manufacturing and industrial applications. Genetic resources can also provide enormous scientific and educational opportunities cutting across many industries. Genetic resources play an important role in traditional knowledge concerning, for example, medicinal remedies and agriculture. Examples of industrial applications of productive cultivars include production of biofuels (ethanol) as well as waste management using microorganisms both naturally occurring and genetically modified to breakdown waste, or toxic and hazardous substances (bioremediation). Other industrial applications include enzymes used in the textile and cleaning industries to make high quality bioproducts (e.g. plastics, chemicals, detergents and solvents).

In agriculture, incorporation of desirable genetic characteristics from wild species to traditional crop production (gene technology) has enabled crops to adapt to widespread and changing environmental conditions. This accounts for approximately 50% of annual increases in crop productivity in Australia. The maintenance of the genetic vitality of productive cultivars is important not only for the continuous provision of a diverse and resilient range of important products, but because many possible uses of genetic resources are still unknown and it is important to maintain this service for future options.

Table 1 below presents the magnitude different ecosystem functions contribute to providing genetic resources for productive cultivars (relative to other ecosystem functions). Maintaining supporting habitats such as refugiums, nursery areas, and corridors and natural pollination is critical to ensuring the long term sustainability of genetic resources. Although genetic resources can be stored ex situ, the viability and usefulness of the genetic resource depends on the conditions under which they are preserved. Maintaining natural populations in situ provides a long term and sustainable resource for future generations (a form of genetic bank). The higher the amount of biodiversity the wider the range of genetic resources. A loss of biodiversity leads to a reduction in the range of genetic resources available for potential applications. The regulating functions, climate regulation, soil retention, pollination and biological control will influence the diversity of genetic resources through the maintenance of biodiversity.

 

Table 1:The relative magnitude (to other ecosystem functions) each ecosystem function contributes to Genetic Resources.

Ecosystem Function Category Ecosystem Function 0
1
2
3
4
5
Regulating Functions
Gas Regulation





Climate Regulation





Disturbance Regulation





Water Regulation





Soil Retention





Nutrient Regulation





Waste Treatment and Assimilation





Pollination





Biological Control





Barrier Effect of Vegetation





Supporting Functions
Supporting Habitats





Soil Formation





Provisioning Functions
Food





Raw Materials





Water Supply





Genetic Resources





Provision of Shade and Shelter





Pharmacological Resources





Cultural Functions
Landscape Opportunity





 

ARE HUMAN INPUTS REQUIRED TO FACILITATE genetic resources for cultivated products?

Selective breeding ensures the range and quality of commercial products.

Although the potential of our ecosystems to provide this service is not facilitated by human constructs (i.e. genetic resources are provided by maintaining biodiversity) the identification of important genetic resources for human benefits and the direct use of these resources are facilitated by human-made constructs such as research laboratories, analysis equipment, storage facilities, museums, herbariums, grow-out programs, field trials and green houses. 

There is a need for better scientific information to understand how ecosysem functions impact on biodiversity and how the genetic resources retained within this biodiversity adapts to changing conditions. Understanding how different ecosystem functions affect the provision of genetic resources is fundamental to the use of these resources to benefit people, as genetic resources control how an organism adapts to its environment. Scientists can therefore seek to control and manipulate genetic resources to adapt to certain changes to maintain or improve the potential productivity of the ecosystem (e.g. a crop may be genetically altered to withstand dry conditions). Alternatively, scientists might investigate ways in which the functions can be controlled to create a certain type of growth environment for the organisms (e.g. key nutrients may enhance the taste of a particular crop).

 

Are there any barriers to people receiving this ecosystem service and its benefits?

The use of genetic resources derived from native biological material sourced from State land and Queensland waters are governed by the Biodiscovery Act 2004. Those undertaking biodiscovery activities are restricted to collecting minimal quantities of biological material. This is to ensure that biodiscovery activities are environmentally sustainable. Regulatory frameworks governing genetically modified organisms in Queensland may limit access to these resources. Other limiting factors to receiving the service genetic resources are the costs involved in accessing the resource and/or identifying the particular resource.

This ecosystem service provides many benefits that contribute both directly and indirectly to the well-being of the SEQ community. The Constituents of Well-being this ecosystem service contributes to are presented in Table 2 below. Further information on these constituents and how ecosystem services contribute to them can be obtained by clicking on the links in the table.

 

Table 2:The relative magnitude (to other ecosystem services) Genetic Resources contributes to each constituent of well-being.

Well-being Category Constituent of Well-being 0
1
2
3
4
5
Existence
Breathing            
Drinking            
Nutrition            
Shelter            
Health
Physical Health            
Mental Health            
Security
Secure and Continuous Supply of Services            
Security of Person            
Security of Health            
Secure Access to Services            
Security of Property            
Good Social Relations
Family Cohesion            
Community and Social Cohesion            
Freedom of Choice and Action
Social and Economic Freedom            
Self Actualisation            

 

HOW DO WE KNOW IF WE ARE DEGRADING, MAINTAINING OR IMPROVING genetic resources for cultivated products?

 

Horticultural production depends on genetic resources.

Links to other publications and websites

Status of Aust. Plant Resources
Australian Biotechnology
GM Cotton in Aust
DAFF - Biotechnology Reports
Aust. Govt. - Bioethics Portal

Indicators could include the number of permits issued for the collection of genetic resources, the number of patent applications and products based on genetic resources sourced from SEQ. The difficulty using patent applications as a measure however is that applications do not require disclosure of the source of the natural product.

The number and location of field trials or commercial release of genetically modified organisms could also serve as an indicator. Monitoring natural habitats will disclose whether resources are being collected sustainably. Both human and animal research ethics committees responsible for approval of research projects would also monitor the use of genetic resources in research. 

 

How is this ecosystem service currently managed in SEQ?

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry is the state agency primarily responsible for this ecosystem service. Regulatory frameworks governing genetically modified organisms in Queensland aim to protect the health and safety of Queensland and its environment by identifying risks posed by or as a result of gene technology; and by managing those risks through regulating certain dealings with genetically modified organisms. Regulatory frameworks governing the use of the genetic resources are essential in preserving the sustainability of these resources for future generations.

The Australian Government's Office of the Gene Technology Regulator should be the first contact for people considering activities related to genetically modified organisms. The Gene Technology Act 2001 is Queensland’s legislative component of a national scheme that manages activities related to genetically modified organisms.

The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection should be the first contact for those interested in collecting native biological material from State land or Queensland Waters. The Biodiscovery Act 2004 regulates the collection and use of native biological resources sourced from State Land or Queensland Waters.