Introduction to Genetic Conservation
The scientific approach that aims to apply genetic methods to deal with the maintenance, sustainability, and restoration of biodiversity is called genetic conservation. Experts or researchers who are involved in genetic conservation belong to different fields such as molecular biology, ecology, population genetics, systematics, and evolutionary biology.
It may include:
- The phylogenetic classification of species, subspecies, geographic races, and populations. Measures of phylogenetic diversity and uniqueness.
- Identifying hybrid species, hybridization in natural populations, and assessing the history and extent of introgression between species.
- Population genetic structure of natural and managed populations, including identification of Evolutionary Significant Units and management units for conservation.
- Assessing genetic variation within a species or population, including small or endangered populations and estimates such as effective population size.
- Measuring the impact of inbreeding and outbreeding depression and the relationship between heterozygosity and measures of fitness.
- Evidence of disrupted mate choice and reproductive strategy in disturbed populations.
- Forensic applications, especially for the control of trade in endangered species.
- Practical methods for monitoring and maximizing genetic diversity during captive breeding programs and re-introduction schemes, including mathematical models and case studies.
- Conservation issues related to the introduction of genetically modified organisms.
- The interaction between environmental contaminants and the biology and health of an organism includes changes in mutation rates and adaptation to local changes in the environment. For example industrial melanism.
- New techniques are used for genotyping of non-invasive species.
Significance of Genetic Conservation
During the first 10,000 years, the greatest contribution to society was actually the first agricultural revolution. There was the domestication of many different plants with different genetic makeups. The applications of plant breeding techniques started the second agricultural revolution.
Modern varieties were bred for high production and uniformity. But these varieties contain only a small portion of the ancient stored genes. The Green revolution has greatly intensified the process in some Asian countries.
At present times, only a few genes of ancient wild plants are left and this is a matter of great concern. The environment of the Earth is changing rapidly. It is possible that these few selected genes in selected varieties may not support the plants in changing environments.
It can destroy all our selected varieties. Therefore, we need a great gene pool of ancient wild plants. The preservation of this gene pool is called genetic conservation.
Strategies of Genetic Conservation
There are different methods to conserve the genetic pool. The genetic resources are assembled, safely stored, and adequately documented. Then these resources become available to the scientific community and through it to society, for the benefit of this and future generations.
Following are the three aspects of genetic Conservation:
- Socially conditioned parameters:
It includes the establishment of botanical and zoological gardens and parks.
- Ecological parameters:
The biological system of conservation.
- Genetic or evolutionary parameters:
Variation and selection.
Strategies for conservation
Following strategies can be adapted for the conservation of the genetic pool.
- Collection in fields and Gardens
Primitive cultivars cannot be preserved in situ. It requires the preservation of farming systems which is impossible. But fortunately, this is not needed since representative samples can be collected in the field and safely preserved for long periods.
A collecting program for any species requires information on the areas where collections are to be made. For this purpose, there is the establishment and development of botanical gardens, research farms, and wind farms.
- Preservation of Seeds
Seeds of most species can now be preserved for decades. This may be extended to centuries once more experience has been gained in storage at sub-zero temperatures. Seed stored in a fully imbibed state or kept at a temperature of liquid nitrogen. This avoids the risk of genetic damage.
- Modern techniques
In plants that reproduce vegetatively, regeneration from tissue culture has an important role in the conservation of genes. So far only meristems culture can be used for long-term conservation.
- Wild plants conservation
Wild varieties of plants are rich sources of the genetic pool. Unfortunately, little attention is paid to the conservation of these plants.
- Conservation of Natural Communities
This one is not an easy task because it involves many social, political, and economical issues. But it is necessary to preserve natural communities from encroachment. The main aim is to provide optimum conditions in these communities.