Researchers from the Department of Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have published details of an exciting new open access resource for plant breeders in PLOS Biology (http://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.1002441).
The Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI, www.osseeds.org), is a non-profit organisation that seeks to maintain fair and open access to plant genetic resources worldwide, to foster innovative plant breeding for the development of productive and resilient cultivars globally.
Increasing restrictions on plant germplasm through intellectual property rights (IPRs) are eroding advances in agriculture. While IPRs can be used to incentivize research and development, proprietary restrictions on crop plants by a small number of entities is consolidating the control of germplasm and restricting access. This threatens the exchange of crop genetic resources necessary for innovation in plant breeding, such as developing novel crop cultivars with improved nutritional value and stress tolerance.
Concerns over the difficulties of accessing genetic resources in the face of increasing use of restrictive IPRs has led a group of plant breeders, farmers, non-profit agencies, seed advocates, and policymakers to create the OSSI and a protected commons of plant germplasm for future generations.
Claire Luby, author of the paper, commented ‘Crop seeds are the foundation of the global food system, yet they are increasingly privatized through the use of patents, licenses, and other forms of intellectual property protection. Patented seeds cannot be saved, bred, replanted, or shared by farmers and gardeners. OSSI was created to free the seed from these proprietary structures'
Plant breeders can submit novel cultivars to the OSSI database; the OSSI then lists OSSI-Pledged cultivars and the seed companies that sell them on its website. OSSI now has over 250 cultivars, contributed by over 28 plant breeders and sold by over 33 different companies.