Joe-Ann McCoy, PhD (CV)
Director, The NC Arboretum Germplasm Repository
(828) 665-5178, ext. 268


Germplasm - The genetic material that forms the physical basis of heredity and is transmitted from one generation to the next by means of seed or other material from which plants are propagated.

The primary focus of North American germplasm collections has traditionally been the long-term conservation of major crop species and their wild relatives in order to develop new varieties. As a result, North American ethnobotanical plants have been under-represented and a comprehensive facility dedicated to their conservation and research does not currently exist. The taxa that are currently represented in international seed banks tend to focus on tropical, Asian, and European species and there subsequently exists a gap in available germplasm representing our native and ethnobotanical flora of North America. The North Carolina Arboretum Germplasm Repository (TNCAGR) will fill this gap, by being a comprehensive seedbank for the long-term conservation of native, medicinal, and traditional food species.

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 NC 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 NC 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 the state an optimal location for the development of a diverse germplasm collection which will not only enable the long-term conservation of our extraordinarily diverse flora but will also provide valuable research materials for scientists exploring alternative and new crops for economic development purposes. In order to meet the needs of natural biotechnology researchers, the development of a germplasm facility is a fundamental requirement. As natural product research methods become more sophisticated, there is an increased demand from peer agencies, such as the NIH, to require the use of plant materials of known genetic origins in order to produce high quality, reproducible results. There is also a significant need for an available source of validated plant samples identified as potential adulterants in commercial products in order to develop screening methods. TNCAGR collaborates with researchers to aid with the supply and long-term storage of these medicinal and nutriceutical plants for research and conservation.

In addition to seed collection and storage TNCAGR is also developing an endophyte germplasm collection. The goals of this project will be to develop methods for the isolation, culture, purification, characterization, and long-term storage of fungi and algae endophytes from both terrestrial and marine environments in NC. Endophytic fungi have developed the biochemical ability to produce compounds similar or identical to those produced by their host plant as a result of gene recombination during the evolutionary process (Zhang et al., 2006). As a result bioactive products hold enormous potential for future product development purposes. The repository will be one of the first endophyte fungal collections for the development of future source material in the U.S. All plants are hosts to endophytes but relatively few have been studied. Endophytic fungi have recently been associated with significant biological activity in many medicinal taxa including but not limited to Hypericum perforatum, Camtotheca acuminate, Taxus sp., Echinacea sp., Gingko biloba, Catharanthus roseus, Podophyllum peltatum, and Artemisia annua (Gunatilaka, 2006). Isolated endophytes have exhibited significant activity as antibiotics, antivirals, anticancer, antioxidant, antidiabetic, immunosuppressive, and anti-insecticidal agents. Collection efforts will be focused on terrestrial and marine plants and algae.