Cryopreservation – the storage of plant material in liquid nitrogen at -196° – is essential for the long-term conservation of crops that cannot be conserved in seed form, such as apple, citrus, garlic, grape, mint, hops, potato and strawberry.
This conservation method offers additional advantages: it is low cost in the medium term, and the materials stored in liquid nitrogen are genetically stable and in disease- and pest-free conditions.
Since the early 2000s, Europe has played an important role in developing and promoting cryopreservation for plants. According to the independent expert Feasibility Study for a Safety Back-Up Cryopreservation Facility commissioned to investigate and provide recommendations for the long-term secure conservation of recalcitrant seed and clonal crops, eight research institutes in seven European countries apply cryopreservation as a routine method to conserve their crop genetic resources. These include crops grown in Europe such as apple, citrus, garlic, grape, mint, hops, potato and strawberry, as well as tropical crops important for the European markets such as coffee and banana. Currently, about 4,500 accessions are cryopreserved in Europe, almost half of the world’s cryopreserved accessions. Nevertheless, many thousands of accessions, remain at risk.
In February 2022, ECPGR established a Cryopreservation Working Group with the objective to:
- Document the status of cryopreservation and the presence of long-term storage facilities as well as of experienced cryopreservation researchers in Europe
- Ensure that plant cryopreservation research in Europe is maintained at a critical mass to enable continuing advances in the science
- Ensure that European crop collections conserving species with non-orthodox seeds have access to cryopreservation technologies in order to store their germplasm safely for future generations
- Investigate the possibility for cryopreserving orthodox seed collections with a focus on species with short-lived seeds including many vegetables such as leeks, onions and parsley
- Explore the application of cryopreservation to crop wild relatives or wild species and trees
- Increase collaboration between European scientists and institutes holding crop collections to establish a European Cryo Hub
- Create one or more cryopreservation backup facilities
- Develop new biobank technologies and data management systems for cryopreserved collections.
Visit the Cryopreservation Working Group web page