The objective of this project is to create, characterise and exploit a germplasm collection (bank) in Crocus species, including saffron crocus (C. sativus Linn.) . This collection is an urgent need for saffron breeders and farmers. as pointed out in the 1st International Symposium on Saffron Biology and Biotechnology, carried out in the University of Castilla-La Mancha (Albacete, Spain) on October, 2003, under the auspices of the International Society of Horticultural Science.

The collection has two main goals: First, to collect and reproduce saffron bulbs, coming from all the countries that cultivate saffron, for direct use of this plant material in selection programmes all over the world; and second, to create a collection of saffron allies for conservation, since they are endangered and threatened taxa and populations in Crocus, and for research in taxonomy and evolution, genetics, physiology, ecology and agronomy. This Crocus species are exploitable sources of resistances and other agronomical interesting traits to be transferred to saffron, through appropriate breeding programmes and technological tools.

Actions and means involved

1. Collection, multiplication, conservation and documentation of Crocus genetic resources:

a) Exploration and collection of germplasm of saffron and related species. The collection of Crocus material will be carried out by means of requests to different regional centres growing the plants and visiting specific locations at appropriate date to collect both cultivated saffron and wild species. The taxa included in this project shape a proposal of maximum achievements. The reality of the field work is taken into account regarding the number of Crocus species and subspecies that we are able to collect.

b) Elaboration of a list of descriptors for the characterisation of the genus Crocus and primary characterisation of the collected material.

c) Multiplication of the collected plant material for its conservation in the Bank of Plant Germplasm of Cuenca, ( Spain ). Conservation methods based on tissue culture techniques will be used when required.

e) Elaboration of an effective documentation system, with the passport and characterisation data of the accessions, in order to guaranty an appropriate management of the Crocus germplasm collection, and

f) To make available this material to potential users by distribution of corms, tissue culture and DNA samples.

2. Characterisation and evaluation of Crocus genetic resources:

We will elaborate a list of descriptors for the characterisation of the genus Crocus and primary characterisation of the collected material. For the characterisation/evaluation of the material we will take into consideration phenotypic characters with good heritability at different structural and physiological levels and include both simple, single-gene autoapomorphic characters and complex quantitative traits : Morphological (floral features, corm size) ; Phenological (flowering); Cytological (chromosomes, genome size, ploidy level ); Phytochemical (saffron chemical composition, metabolic profiling); Molecular (DNA analysis); and Physiological ( abiotic stresses and pathogen responses ).

3. Application of the Crocus germplasm information and banked accessions:

a) Rationalization of the collections.

b) Definition of valuable germplasm for saffron breeding.

c) Identification of ecologically rare and important species/genotypes in the natural environment.

d) Identification of valuable species, cultivars and hybrids for the horticultural industry.

e) Comparative genomics with model and crop species to identify universal features and valuable genes for agronomy.

Relevance to the objectives:

Saffron is the highest valuable food product and one of the oldest crops and alleged medicinal plants, also a significant part of the European legacy. This crop is well integrated into the EU agriculture policy, because its added-value from processing, sustainable and ecologically friendly cultivation methods, perennial nature making optimum use of water resources and minimizing erosion, and its character of niche crop for poorer rural communities . No EU or non-EU institution has taken the responsibility of the creation and maintenance of a collection representative of the genetic variability of the crop and its allies. In the Directory of European Institutions only is quoted a bank that preserves a single Crocus accession. At a world scale level there is not a Crocus collection institutionally protected and at the disposal of potential users. No descriptor list has been published in saffron . The elaboration and publication through the IPGRI of a complete list of descriptors for characterisation of Crocus becomes a duty. Data generated will be the first ones to be available, together with the plant material itself. We will create a database following the international standards for the management of germplasm collections.