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, medicinal plants have been under-represented and a comprehensive facility dedicated to their conservation and research does not currently exist. The medicinal taxa that are currently represented in international genebanks tend to focus on tropical, Asian, and European species and there subsequently exists a gap in available germplasm representing the medicinal flora of North America. The Germplasm Repository at The North Carolina Arboretum will fill this gap, by being be the first comprehensive North American genebank for medicinal flora and serve as an important component in the application of natural biotechnology processes to medicinal species resulting in knowledge accumulation and potential for commercial development.
The establishment of a permanent germplasm repository is an important tool for both long-term conservation of medicinal species and natural product biotechnology development. As biotechnology 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 very significant need for an available source of plant material samples identified as potential adulterants in commercial phytopharmaceutical products in order to develop screening methods. A plant germplasm facility focusing primarily on the supply and long-term storage of a source for these medicinal and nutriceutical plants for research does not currently exist.
In order to meet the needs of emerging biotechnology researchers, the development of a germplasm facility is a fundamental requirement. Due to the extraordinary botanical diversity of the southern Appalachians along with a long history of medicinal plant trade and supply, WNC is the ideal location for a medicinal plant germplasm facility.
The mission of this facility is to the long-term conservation of a diverse collection of native medicinal taxa. Objectives include the acquisition, maintenance, storage, characterization, evaluation, and distribution of medicinal plant germplasm of known genetic origin and taxonomic identity. After a base collection is established and stored following standardized protocols, accessions and/or plant samples from these collections will be distributed to area scientists for collaborative research purposes. Potential research resulting from a well-developed germplasm collection may include botanical and conservation research, molecular, chemical and genetic analysis, agricultural research, medical efficacy studies, and product development. Examples of potential projects include: animal and human efficacy studies, analyses of metabolites of interest to the phytopharmaceutical industry, identification and synthesis of new compounds, native population studies, and ornamental breeding studies. Commercial applications include development of both nutriceuticals and pharmaceuticals using germplasm material.