Agricultural crop databases describing accessions in CGIAR gene banks are valuable sources of information for breeders. These databases provide comparative phenotypic (describing an organism's observable characteristics or traits) and genotypic (describing an organism’s inherited genetic instructions) information that can help explain how plants function.
Scientists designed the Crop Ontology (CO) database to share data within and between the CGIAR databases. To help researchers retrieve information, the CO database provides definitive vocabularies for economically important plant species.
“We want to put informatics tools in the hands of breeders, be they in the public or private sector including small and medium-scale enterprises, because we know they can make a huge difference”. Graham McLaren, Generation Challenge Programme (GCP) Bioinformatics and Crop Information Leader
Eight CGIAR Centres and their national partners, working in the Generation Challenge Programme (GCP), developed the CO database, which currently includes breeders’ trait descriptions for 15 crops – cassava, banana, barley, chickpea, common bean, cowpea, groundnut, maize, pearl millet, pigeon pea, potato, rice, sorghum, wheat and yam.
The database standardizes the terminology used to describe crop phenotypes across disciplines, allowing breeders to harness the growing volume of information. This helps them to better understand genotype–environment interactions, and to identify the genetic basis and heritability of adaptive traits for climate adaptation.
For example, one of the areas GCP focuses on is assisting developing-world researchers access a broader pool of plant genetic diversity and technologies to improve crops for drought-prone environments. CO, as an open source system, is an invaluable tool in this process.