The Lieberman Cereal Germplasm Bank was established in the 1970's by the late Prof. I Whall. The collection has been supported for the last 40 years by funds provided annually by the Lieberman/Okinow Endowment Chair at the University of Minnesota. The Germplasm bank is located at the Institute for Cereal Crops Improvement (ICCI), Tel Aviv University.
Israel is located at the southern end of the Fertile Crescent. This region is the center of origin of a number of wild ancestors of major crops such as wheat, barley, oats, legumes, olive, almond and more. These wild species, still growing in this region, serve as a rich gene pool for crop improvement with tolerance to drought and salinity and with resistance to different diseases.
The missions of the the germplasm bank are focused at cereal crops and aim accordingly to conserve the natural biodiversity of cereal crops wild relatives threatened by land development and diminishing natural habitats and to evaluate the breeding value of these wild relatives
These activities are of invaluable importance for successful crop cultivation. An example for this is a gene for resistance to crown rust of oats found by the ICCI team in wild oats in Israel and was transferred to cultivated oats in the U.S. that resulted in a 25-30% yield increase and higher grain protein content. Another example are MLA genes for barley powdery mildew resistance found by ICCI team in wild barley in Israel that are currently included in barley breeding programs in southern Germany. Recently, within a project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, more than 1000 accessions of the Aegilops collection were screened to find accessions resistant to stem rust in general and to Ug99 in particular, many accession were found resistant. Ug99 is a stem rust race that have devastative effect on wheat crops in east Africa.
Seeds of wild relatives of wheat, barley and oats amongst others, are stored in its storage rooms. The collection started in 1970, and continues every year since. The collection activities are being carried out in all the geographical regions throughout Israel, covering areas with different environmental and growth conditions to get most of the genotypic variation of these species.
Special emphasis is given to the collection of two species: Triticum turgidum ssp. dicoccoides wild emmer wheat the direct progenitor of cultivated wheat and Aegilops sharonensis – Sharon goatgrass, which is endemic to Israel, growing along to the Mediterranean seashore, and is in danger of loosing many of its populations.
In the collection there are about 15,000 single-spike origin accessions of 20 species collected from more than 600 collection sites across Israel. The collected seeds are are evaluated for their response to several diseases: leaf rust, yellow rust, stem rust. The estimation of genetic diversity of the collection is on the way using genotyping by sequencing. Genetic diversity of Ae. sharonensis, was estimated using AFLP and SSR markers. Genetic diversity of T. dicoccoides was estimated using SNP markers.