What is WBF Agroscope: Introduction of another project's partner

Swiss research into agriculture, nutrition and the environment

Agroscope is the Swiss public, nonprofit research institution for all sectors of agriculture. Agroscope is associated to the Swiss Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (WBF). Research conducted at Agroscope provides tools and support to enable the production of safe and healthy food for an environmentally respectful agriculture.

Actually, the genebank preserves more than 6000 wheat and >800 barley accessions. A large part of accessions has been phenotypically characterized among which a smaller part has also been genotyped in past projects. The genebank is associated to the research group Crop Plant Breeding and Genetic Resources, assuring the practical and scientific link between the preservation of genetic diversity, and its use in modern variety breeding. Agroscope research covers the entire value chain of the agriculture and the food sector. Its goals are a competitive and multifunctional agricultural sector, high-quality food for a healthy diet, and an intact environment.

With 7 sites over Switzerland, Agroscope boasts a decentralized infrastructure which also allows regional differences in the agro-environmental system to be taken into account. Currently, Agroscope has more than 1111 employees with 944 full-time posts and 170 trainees, PhD and postdocs.

Swiss national genebank

Conservation of genetic resources in Switzerland began around 1900. At that time, researchers collected local varieties of wheat and barley, and selected better-performing varieties from these local populations. All these varieties have been conserved in the gene bank. The oldest wheat variety collected and still available today dates back to 1900. It is the Rouge de Gruyère variety, which was found in a field at Morlon, near Bulle (Martinet 1931). Another variety, Nonette de Lausanne, was described in 1880 in the book “Les meilleurs blés” (Vilmorin-Andrieux). This poulard wheat, widely grown in Europe at the time, is also still available.

The genebank was originally closely linked to the wheat breeding program. Major collections of local varieties were carried out until the 1950s, mainly for wheat, spelt, barley and maize. For wheat, barley and maize, the emphasis was put on varieties of Swiss origin, while for spelt, collections were also made in Germany, Austria, Belgium and Spain, so that today the national genebank at Agroscope hosts probably the largest collection of spelt in the world, with more than 2,200 accessions.

The wheat collection has remained linked to the breeding program and has been expanded with varieties from Europe and elsewhere. It also maintains breeding lines. The wheat collection currently includes 6’500 accessions and continues to be supplied with varieties of interest to the breeding program.

The vegetable variety collection dates back to the early 1980s. Since then, traditional and old varieties of several species have begun to be massively replaced by hybrid varieties. Collections were organized to safeguard Swiss varieties or those grown for a long time in Switzerland. Today, this collection comprises 780 varieties representing 49 different species.

Today, the Swiss national genebank maintains more than 13’000 accessions. This biological wealth is available to the public and all interested persons.

Part of Agroscope in Changins (French part of Switzerland), where the national genebank and the wheat breeding program are housed


In the framework of WP3 Agroscope made a selection of its genebank accessions and provided seed samples for the development of precision collections of wheat and spelt. In addition, Agroscope has supplied accessions for the bridging collection and has provided historical phenotypic data on its accessions for further analysis in AGENT.

In WP 3.4 Agroscope scores biotic stress on the precision collections of wheat and spelt. The respective ‘precision collections’ of wheat and spelt is tested to locally most important races of stripe rust (P. striiformis). Trials were artificially inoculated in the field and repeated across two years.

In WP7-Agroscope is also involved in Task 7.1 on genebank community capacity building. This task promotes and test a new approach to improve the operations of European genebanks through a system of reciprocal visits and support actions. Agroscope is in the fourth cycle (year 4) of reviews together with CREA-CI (Research Centre for Cereal and Industrial crops, Italy) and IHAR (Plant Breeding and Acclimatization Institute, Poland). Reports will offer recommendations for improvement and will be used to approach suitable funding agencies for targeted capacity building.


In our genebank as also in many other genebanks, historic data are often restricted to phenology traits, routinely collected during seed regeneration cycles. The value of data generally remains largely unexploited because of the lack of financial resources, proper, user-friendly analysis and visualization tools. AGENT makes it possible by developing bioinformatics tools for integrating phenotypic and genotypic data. The application of genome-wide predictions has been proposed as a main tool that will be useful for both, the conservation and user community of genetic resources. Therefore, AGENT is an important project that may set methodological standards for genebanks.


Boulos Chalhoub

Boulos Chalhoub obtained his PhD in 1994 at the Polytechnic National Institute of Toulouse, France, in plant genetics and breeding. Following a prolific career in the genetics and genomics of polyploid crops (wheat and Brassica), with more than 100 articles, at the French National Institute for Agronomy, he is actually leading the Crop Breeding and Genetic Resources group at Agroscope, Switzerland. He has expertise in genetics, genomics, polyploidy, plant evolution and plant breeding.

Sarah Serex

Sarah Serex is our PhD student. She is involved in phenotyping the precision collection and bridging collection and collecting and curating the historical phenotypic data. Her thesis work concerns climate’s effects on phenology and grain composition in nutritional compounds in wheat landraces.

Kevin Gauthier

Kevin Gauthier works as a pathologist pre-breeder for wheat and soybean diseases. He worked with more than ten wheat pathogens on both epidemiological and breeding questions, both on field and greenhouse analysis. Kevin is involved in WP 3.4 and studies the precision collection. He is the head of the laboratory of phytopathology/ disease resistance. The aim of his research is the identification of new resistance sources and their introgression into elite wheat material to produce high yielding disease resistant wheat. Such an integrated approach towards sustainable plant protection needs a collaborative understanding and action with all involved actors and focuses in particular on plant genetic resources. In his role as responsible of wheat and soybean resistance breeding activities at Agroscope.

Beate Schierscher

Beate Schierscher is a researcher at Agroscope and the curator of the Swiss national genebank. She is responsible for the implementation of activities that guaranteed safe conservation, maintenance and distribution of plant genetic resources and for the evaluation and characterization of the genebank material. She has been member of the Executive Committee of the European Cooperative Programme for Plant Genetic Resources (ECPGR) for the last 4 years and also the National Coordinator for PGR in Switzerland. She is also involved in the EVA project wheat and maize.