The narrow genetics of most crops is a fundamental vulnerability to food security. This makes wild crop relatives a strategic resource of genetic diversity that can be used for crop improvement and adaptation to new agricultural challenges. Here, we uncover the contribution of one wild species accession, Arachis cardenasii GKP 10017, to the peanut crop (Arachis hypogaea) that was initiated by complex hybridizations in the 1960s and propagated by international seed exchange. However, until this study, the global scale of the dispersal of genetic contributions from this wild accession had been obscured by the multiple germplasm transfers, breeding cycles, and unrecorded genetic mixing between lineages that had occurred over the years. By genetic analysis and pedigree research, we identified A. cardenasii-enhanced, disease-resistant cultivars in Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. These cultivars provide widespread improved food security and environmental and economic benefits. This study emphasizes the importance of wild species and collaborative networks of international expertise for crop improvement. However, it also highlights the consequences of the implementation of a patchwork of restrictive national laws and sea changes in attitudes regarding germplasm that followed in the wake of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Today, the botanical collections and multiple seed exchanges which enable benefits such as those revealed by this study are drastically reduced. The research reported here underscores the vital importance of ready access to germplasm in ensuring long-term world food security.
Keywords: Convention on Biological Diversity; disease resistance; food security; peanut; wild species.
Copyright © 2021 the Author(s). Published by PNAS.