The North Carolina Arboretum Germplasm Repository (TNCAGR) leads a multifaceted effort to conserve, study and utilize native plants and plant organisms (endophytes).

The mission of the germplasm facility includes:

  • Collecting and conserving more than 2,000 samples of the region’s diverse native germplasm, including seeds and endophytes (organisms that live in plants)
  • Conducting germplasm-related propagation and nutrition research
  • Encouraging the use of seed and endophyte collections and associated information for collaborative projects related to food, health and other applications
  • Encouraging the development of additional seed bank projects in our region.

Joe-Ann McCoy, PhD, has served as the director of the Germplasm Repository since its founding in early 2008. She has established diverse collections of native plant germplasm representing a broad range of diversity and curated those collections through the long-term storage of seed,  voucher specimens and associated passport data. Dr. McCoy works with a variety of individuals, organizations, agencies and companies to utilize these samples for research, conservation and propagation, and has worked within these various aspects for the past 15 years.

Why Western North Carolina?

Western North Carolina contains a large variety of landforms, climate, soils and geology, which coupled with a long evolutionary history, has resulted in one of the most diverse assemblages of plants found in the world’s temperate deciduous forests. In addition, North Carolina has been designated as one of the most biologically important ecoregions of North America and ranked as globally outstanding in diversity. The lower southeast portion of North America, including North Carolina, has consistently remained unglaciated during the last three ice ages and thus, served as a valuable repository source to re-seed the northern portions of the continent as glaciers retreated. All of these factors combined make North Carolina an optimal location for the development of a diverse germplasm collection to enable the long-term conservation of our extraordinarily diverse flora and provide valuable research materials for scientists exploring alternative and new crops for economic development purposes.

The Many Impacts of the Germplasm Repository

Using innovation and regional natural resources, TNCAGR identifies and produces botanical and microbial samples and extracts for researchers to discover, develop and validate natural medicines for human health and wellness. The ultimate goal of these efforts is to translate these research innovations into sustainable economic advantages for our region.

Research that demonstrates the efficacy of Western North Carolina’s botanicals can be used to brand regional grower’s products; support higher raw and finished product price points; establish ancillary processing, manufacturing, marketing and distribution businesses; and launch Western North Carolina as an international location for botanical medicine innovation.

By unlocking the potential of Western North Carolina’s extraordinary biodiversity through documented, peer-reviewed research, the Germplasm lab provides data for use in alternative and complementary medical treatment of human disease, while also tapping into international commerce. International natural product sales have grown significantly for nine consecutive years, with recent annual sales of $347 billion, including $137 billion in the United States. ‘Herbal product’ sales account for $28 billion of the global natural product market with U.S. sales representing $5.6 billion.

In order to meet the needs of natural biotechnology researchers, access to a robust germplasm facility is becoming a fundamental requirement. As natural product research methods become more sophisticated, peer agencies such as the National Institutes of Health are starting to require the use of plant materials of known genetic origins in order to produce high quality, reproducible results. Many researchers and companies also need an available source of validated plant samples identified as potential adulterants in commercial products in order to develop screening methods. TNCAGR collaborates with these researchers to aid with the supply and long-term storage of these medicinal and nutriceutical plants for research and conservation.

Some of the Germplasm Repository’s most intriguing work focuses on its fungal endophyte collections.  Isolated endophytes have exhibited significant activity as antibiotics, antivirals, anticancer, antioxidant, antidiabetic, immunosuppressive, and anti-insecticidal agents. The goals of the lab’s effort include developing methods for the isolation, culture, purification, characterization, and long-term storage of fungi and algae endophytes from both terrestrial and marine environments in North Carolina.