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From All Corners of the World

Researchers are scouring the globe to sample the wild relatives of modern crops in a bid to protect genetic diversity, NPR reports.

So far, the Crop Trust — which includes about a hundred scientists from more than two dozen countries — has gathered some 4,600 seed samples from 371 wild relatives of key crops, according to NPR. These crops include lentils, potatoes, chickpeas, and rice, it adds. NPR also notes that collecting these samples can be treacherous, as many of these plants are found in remote regions, including spots that are also home to leeches or tigers.

But the researchers note that these wild relatives could help domesticated crops survive. For instance, the University of Costa Rica's Griselda Arrieta Espinoza, who was part of the team that collected samples of the wild rice Oryza glumaepatula from a river where crocodiles live, tells NPR that O. glumaepatula is resistant to a fungus that has plagued domesticated rice and could be crossed with those crop breeds. 

This "natural reservoir of diversity ... has allowed plant breeding to attempt to keep pace with the demands of the growing human population," Steven Tanksley, a professor emeritus of plant breeding at Cornell University who is not part of the project, tells NPR. But he notes that this took millions of years to evolve and "when you lose it, you really can't repeat that process."