Smithsonian Launches Effort to Capture Plant Genome Diversity Amid Global Biodiversity Crisis

Smithsonian, U.S. Botanic Garden and U.S. National Arboretum Partner To Preserve Samples of Earth’s Plants
July 8, 2015
News Release
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The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History announced that scientists with the museum’s Global Genome Initiative—a component of the Smithsonian Institute for Biodiversity Genomics—will capture the genomic diversity of half the world’s living plant genera in less than two years. The Smithsonian aims to preserve plant genome diversity at time when scientists have recently estimated that the rate of species extinction for all life may be up to 100 times higher than normal. The effort will catapult the Global Genome Initiative closer to achieving its goal of preserving half of the genomic diversity of life on Earth in networked biorepositories, worldwide. To accelerate the rate of collecting and concentrate the diversity of plants to be sampled, Smithsonian scientists and their partners will gather initial samples from gardens within the Washington, D.C., area.

Starting July 8, scientists and field teams from the Museum of Natural History’s Department of Botany will begin sampling plants from half of the world’s living plant genera within the holdings of the U.S. Botanic Garden, the Smithsonian Gardens and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s U.S. National Arboretum.

“Now more than ever, the Smithsonian is dedicated to increasing our knowledge about life on Earth through emerging genomic technologies and capabilities,” said John Kress, the Smithsonian’s interim Under Secretary for Science. “Partnering with botanical gardens around the world is an essential step in opening new doors to the hidden benefits that can emerge from the world’s plant genomes.”

Field teams will collect a diversity of plant samples in partner gardens’ holdings in and around the nation’s capital that originate from across the world, ranging from plants known to live in the rainforests of Hawaii to those in the deserts of Madagascar. The scientists will preserve the plant tissues in cryogenic vials and store them in liquid nitrogen, depositing them in the Smithsonian’s biorepository for indefinite storage. The U.S. National Herbarium at the National Museum of Natural History will house a pressed specimen of each plant.

“This pilot collaborative effort between the Smithsonian, U.S. National Arboretum and the U.S. Botanic Garden comes at an urgent time when the scientific community’s access to the world’s plant genomes—the blueprint of life—is limited due to biodiversity loss and lackluster genomic-research infrastructure,” said Jonathan Coddington, director of the National Museum of Natural History’s Global Genome Initiative. “We are now focused on continuing to strategically grow new collaborations with botanic gardens worldwide that share our mission to preserve and unlock the genomic mysteries of plants.”

“We are excited to participate in the Global Genome Initiative and help preserve the vast genetic diversity of our Earth’s plants,” said Ari Novy, executive director of the U.S. Botanic Garden. “Plants provide so much of what we need to survive and thrive, from the food we eat and the clothing we wear to the beautiful flowers and trees that adorn our landscapes and support wildlife. This initiative is in complete alignment with our work as a botanic garden to care for plants and safeguard them for the future.”

As part of the Global Genome Initiative’s commitment to train the next generation of genomic scientists, a summer field team of young and aspiring scientists will assist the sampling project. The team includes one Washington, D.C.-based high school student enrolled in the natural history museum’s Youth Engagement through Science internship program, two undergraduate students, a graduate student and a Peter Buck Postdoctoral Fellow. The team will follow the Global Genome Initiative’s standardized research-grade genomic sampling protocols to preserve specimens on their way from the gardens to permanent storage in the Smithsonian’s biorepository located at the Museum Support Center in Suitland, Md. Scientists around the globe will gain access to the samples through the Global Genome Biodiversity Network’s data portal.

National Museum of Natural History

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History welcomed more than 7 million visitors in 2014, making it one of the most-visited museums in the world. Opened in 1910, the museum on the National Mall is dedicated to maintaining and preserving the world’s most extensive collection of natural history specimens and human artifacts. It also fosters significant scientific research and educational programs and exhibitions that present the work of its scientists to the public. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For more information, visit the museum on its website and on Facebook and Twitter.

Global Genome Initiative

Species are going extinct at a rate faster than any other period in recorded history while the tools to capture, preserve and understand the genome of living species at a global-scale have become more accessible and affordable than ever before. The National Museum of Natural History’s Global Genome Initiative is a collaborative science-based endeavor to capture the planet’s genomic diversity, preserve it in the world’s biorepositories and make it available to researchers everywhere at this pivotal moment in time.

Global Genome Biodiversity Network

The Global Genome Biodiversity Network is a global consortium of peer organizations supporting the collection, maintenance and sharing of research-quality genomic specimens across the globe. It seeks to bring together the world’s leading collections of specimens representing Earth’s biodiversity to help accelerate and optimize research agendas everywhere. As of June 2014, the Global Genome Biodiversity Network took the final steps to become fully operationalized as an independent organization and is led by a steering committee of its members.

Smithsonian Gardens

Smithsonian Gardens enriches the Smithsonian experience through exceptional gardens, horticultural exhibits, collections and education. As an American Alliance of Museums-accredited museum, Smithsonian Gardens extends the museum experience in a public garden setting, inspiring visitors with innovative displays and educating them about horticulture, plants, the natural environment and artistic design. 

U.S. Botanic Garden

United States Botanic Garden (USBG) is one of the oldest botanic gardens in North America. USBG informs visitors about the importance and fundamental value and diversity of plants, as well as their aesthetic, cultural, economic, therapeutic and ecological significance. With more than a million visitors annually, USBG strives to demonstrate and promote sustainable practices. It is a living plant museum and accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. USBG’s Conservatory is open to the public, free of charge, every day of the year from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

U.S. National Arboretum

The U.S. National Arboretum enhances the economic, environmental and aesthetic value of ornamental and landscape plants through long-term, multidisciplinary research, conservation of genetic resources and interpretive gardens and exhibits. As part of the USDA Agricultural Research Service, the arboretum employs scientists who maintain a large and invaluable inventory of germplasm and herbarium specimens to support research scientists around the world. Visitors learn about the plant world from the cultivated gardens, natural landscapes, exhibits and educational programs.

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Solo Medios 

Randall Kremer


Ryan Lavery


National Museum of Natural History
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