The aim of ARCAD (Agropolis Resource Centre for Crop Conservation, Adaptation and Diversity) is to set up a new open multi-function platform devoted to the assessment and improved use of plant agrobiodiversity in Mediterranean and tropical regions.
Supported by Agropolis Fondation, the French foundation for Agricultural Sciences and Sustainable Development, the Région Languedoc-Roussillon (France), and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), it is being jointly developed by CIRAD, INRA, IRD and Montpellier SupAgro, which are four French leading agricultural science establishments, in partnership with other national and international institutions.
Crop biodiversity: one of the developing world’s greatest agricultural challenges
By 2050, it is estimated that the world population will reach nine billion. Much of this growth is predicted to occur in regions with tropical and Mediterranean climates. Ensuring sustainable food supplies for a population of this size while meeting biodiversity, environmental and energy requirements in these regions is clearly one of the major challenges facing agriculture in the 21st century. Over 10,000 years ago, our ancestors began domesticating wild plants to create crops capable of producing a more regular, predictable source of food. Taking advantage of existing plant biodiversity, they selected useful plant characteristics, such as disease and drought resistance, as well as grain or fruit traits.
Crop biodiversity is vital to our societies. But the effects that humans and nature exert on crops can have unintended consequences for their biodiversity. And without sufficient biodiversity, crops are unable to adapt or be adapted by farmers and breeders to environmental or climate changes, hence putting the world’s food supply at risk.
To nourish the future, it is therefore important to conserve crop biodiversity today and ensure it is sustainable by examining it at every level ― from genes to populations ― to understand how domesticated plants have adapted to human and environmental pressures over time.
Creating a center for innovation in agrobiodiversity
In this context, ARCAD aims to be an innovative open multi-function (biological, technological, scientific, educational) resource center for agrobiodiversity in Montpellier, France, which is home to many of the world’s leading research teams specializing in plant biotechnology, evolutionary biology, crop genomics and genetic resources in Mediterranean and African regions. The construction of a new building to host new technological platforms, conservation facilities and training activities is planned by 2017.
ARCAD has three main complementary and interdependent components:
1. Research projects: This first component focuses on the harmonization, consolidation and animation of regional scientific community to develop ambitious research work on plant genetics and genomics. ARCAD’s primary scientific work focuses on the relationship between crop biodiversity, crop domestication and adaptation to agricultural environments. By studying the history and patterns of crop domestication and adaptation, it will show how genes, genomes and populations of cultivated plants have been shaped by centuries of farming as well as environmental and societal changes. ARCAD’s research examine urgent questions, such as those pertaining to crop adaptation to climate change and management of crop biodiversity by farmers in various farming systems in the Southern hemisphere. More about Scientific projects
2. Biological and technological resources: The second component focuses on the acquisition, the development, and the connection of technological platforms and biological resources, to increase the efficiency and attractiveness of research work for conservation and analysis of genetic resources. It is be based on : (1) the reinforcing of existing Biological Resources Centers and genome analysis platform (2) the creation of new platforms equipped by high technologies for seed conservation, seed phenotyping, cryopreservation, DNA extraction and banking, genotyping/sequencing as well as systems and web portal to access information on collections. More about biological and technological resources
3. Training: Another major component of the program is to answer a demand-oriented capacity-building for members of the scientific and agricultural communities in tropical and Mediterranean regions, based on the educational facilities provided by different universities in Montpellier, along with the development of specific training modules More about training
Working together to preserve, explore and use agrobiodiversity
Partnership: ARCAD was born out of a partnership between several research teams in Montpellier. Its scientific endeavours will be conducted in collaboration with other international research teams. Once built, the ARCAD facility will also boost the region’s capacity to host researchers and students from around the world. More about ARCAD's partners
Knowledge sharing: The Montpellier scientific community is one of the world’s leading centers for crop sciences. ARCAD is expected not only to contribute to reinforcing this expertise but also to facilitating knowledge sharing on agrobiodiversity.All information and tools developed by ARCAD will be in English or French and will be made available either free-of-charge or at a reasonable cost. All data will comply with international standards. All software will be developed under some form of open source license, such as GPL (General Public License).
Other partnerships: ARCAD aims to contribute to a better use of diversity by traditional breeders, farmers' organizations, or green industries seeking for functional and compositional diversity, contributing to create niche markets with added values.
Finally the outputs of ARCAD's work will help find new and better ways to preserve the genetic resources of crops and use them to develop sustainable agriculture.