#12 – Denise Costich – Germplasm banks and global food security


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The Role of Germplasm Banks in Global Food Security

Dr. Denise E. Costich, Retired Senior Scientist and Head of the Maize Germplasm Bank at The International Center for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT)

Profile article The goal is to have fully secure and accessible Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture where there is the potential for a multi-lateral flow of germplasm and knowledge among the participants, basically, all human beings on Earth.


Crop germplasm banks the world over provide a formal security back up system for the plant genetic resources upon which our future food security relies. At the same time, smallholder, mostly indigenous, farmers, also conserve the seed of their crop plants. For the most part, these communities do not act as partners, even though they are collectively the guardians of the genetic diversity that all humans depend upon to survive. This seminar will focus on the case of maize, a critical component of the diets of millions of people globally. Research projects in maize seed conservation in smallholder farming communities in Mexico and Guatemala illustrate how to create stronger links, via seed and technology transfer. Seed longevity research in the germplasm collection at the headquarters of the International Center for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT) in Mexico enables the maintenance of a secure source of high quality seed for the future.

Related links:

  • Genetic diversity and selection signatures in maize landraces compared across 50 years of in situ and ex situ conservation McLean-Rodríguez, F.D., Costich, D.E., Camacho-Villa, T.C. et al. Heredity 126, 913–928 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41437-021-00423-y. PDF

  • Enhancing seed conservation in rural communities of Guatemala by implementing the dry chain concept Guzzon, F., Bello, P., Bradford, K.J., Costich, D.E., et al. Biodivers Conserv 29, 3997–4017 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-020-02059-6. PDF

  • The abandonment of maize landraces over the last 50 years in Morelos, Mexico: a tracing study using a multi-level perspective McLean-Rodríguez, F.D., Camacho-Villa, T.C., Almekinders, C.J.M., Costich, D.E. et al. Agric Hum Values 36, 651–668 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-019-09932-3. PDF

  • Seed longevity of maize conserved under germplasm bank conditions for up to 60 years Guzzon, F., Gianella, M., Velazquez Juarez, J.A., Sanchez Cano, C., Costich, D.E. Annals of Botany, Volume 127, Issue 6, 7 May 2021, Pages 775–785, https://doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcab009. PDF

  • Crop genetic erosion: understanding and responding to loss of crop diversity Khoury, C.K., Brush, S., Costich, D.E., Curry, H.A., et al. (2021). New Phytol. https://doi.org/10.1111/nph.17733. PDF

Speaker Bio

Dr. Denise E. Costich is a passionate defender of maize genetic resources, devoting the past two decades to research topics related to its taxonomy, evolution and conservation. She received her B.S. in Biology with a Concentration in Ecology and Systematics from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences of Cornell University. In the middle of her undergraduate studies, she went to Kenya with Friends World College and ended up as a field assistant on a baboon research project. She eventually went on to graduate school at the University of Iowa, after another field research assistant gig in another exotic location—the Brazilian Amazon. In pursuit of a better understanding of plant breeding systems, she did her Ph.D. thesis research as a Fulbright Scholar in Spain on the ecology and evolution of dioecy in a wild cucurbit. Through a series of postdoctoral positions, Denise’s research interests became more genetically oriented, and she landed in her first maize lab in 2000, at the Boyce Thompson Institute, back on the campus of her alma mater. Interest in crop evolution and plant population biology lead her to join the USDA-ARS lab of Dr. Ed Buckler, where she spent six fascinating and productive years. In 2012, the opportunity to apply her diverse knowledge and skills in an international agricultural research-for-development setting presented itself, and she became the fourth Head of the Maize Collection of the Germplasm Bank at the International Center for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT) near Mexico City. In October 2020, she retired from that position, and returned to Ithaca, where she continues to pursue her interests in seed conservation and maize wild relatives.

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