Plant genetic resources provide a basis for food security, livelihood support and economic development as the major components of biodiversity. The state of Tamil Nadu is endowed with enormous agrobiodiversity, especially in our natively evolved crops such as rice, millets, desi cotton, oilseed crops, vegetables, fruit and forest trees. As a result of introduction of modern high yielding varieties and hybrids in our food and vegetable crops, the conservation and cultivation of our native landraces has come to an abandoned state. Considering the genetic richness and diversity in the traditional varieties of crops, their loss in the farming framework led to a situation of “genetic erosion”. Hence, plant breeders find it difficult for access of valuable genes for breeding crops varieties to cope up with the problems of declining yield due to climate change and other biotic factors.
Although significant progress has been made in the conservation and management of Plant Genetic Resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) globally and in India, certain areas like use of conserved agro biodiversity by breeders and the systematic conservation of crop wild relatives and landrace diversity have to be strengthened in every diversity rich agroecological zones. To accomplish this in our state, a special initiative, first of its kind among the SAUs, has been undertaken by Tamil Nadu Agricultural University by starting a “Department of Plant Genetic Resources” on 1st of August 2009. Subsequently in 2010, a multi-crop seed gene bank called Ramiah Gene Bank has been established to conserve the Plant Genetic Resources of the state of Tamil Nadu. This gene bank now houses about 27,724 germplasm accessions in 46 crop species. This Department functions with the following objectives:
- To plan, organize, conduct and coordinate exploration and collection of indigenous and exotic plant genetic resources.
- To maintain the available plant genetic resources without loss of viability / purity by way of preserving them under controlled conditions.
- To characterize, evaluate, document and conserve crop genetic resources and promote their use, in collaboration with other national organizations.
- To develop information network on plant genetic resources.
- To conduct research, undertake teaching and training, develop guidelines and create public awareness on plant genetic resources.