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The International Centre of Microbial Resources (CIRM), yeast collection in Grignon. © INRA, MAITRE Christophe

Genetic and biological resources

Updated on 06/04/2018
Published on 06/13/2013

The genetic resources that INRA stores and studies consist of species, varieties and strains from human activity in the fields of agriculture and food, as well as isolated resources in the environment. In order to maintain a wide variety of resources for the future and for research needs, INRA has built up many repositories of genetic resources from plants, microbes, animals, or isolated resources from soils. The Institute is also committed to creating Biological Resource Centres (BRCs) and plays an active role in preserving and exploring biodiversity with a view to tapping into it without exhausting it.

A significant repository of genetic resources, particularly for major agricultural species and varieties, INRA has teamed up with other research bodies, higher education institutes and related ministries since the 2000s to found BRCs.

Preserving, exploring and enhancing biodiversity without exhausting it

Built up over a period of more than 50 years in the name of science, INRA’s shared resources cover a large range of species used in agriculture or present in the environment and related to agricultural activity. The collections consist of plant populations that are the result of domestication and their uncultivated relatives. They reflect the whole of research carried out at INRA and bear witness to the history of agriculture. They illustrate the different values attributed to biodiversity, in terms of research and selection, but also agricultural heritage and history.

As a public research organisation, INRA plays a role in exploring and preserving biological diversity and genetic resources within the framework of French national policies as well as international agreements. The Institute excels in research on the “infra-specific genetic variability” facet of biodiversity, benefiting from rich databases developed independently or with partners.

Part of a broader national strategy

INRA’s activities are in line with French national strategies for biodiversity piloted by the ministry of Ecology, and with national policies governing genetic resources as outlined by the ministry of Agriculture. The Institute’s research on the characterisation and management of genetic resources fall within the scope of national strategy carried out by the ministry of Research. It is conducted in concert with all research bodies concerned, members of the Foundation for Research in Biological Diversity (FRB). The FRB has created a portal for the information systems of French resources - RGScope – within the framework EcoScope which includes the French national Biodiversity Data Centre established in 2018.

Streamlining the management of biological resources

After a very significant inventory stage, INRA has worked hard to boost the efficiency of its systems, with a view to streamlining the management of biological resources within relevant research units. As a result, the vast majority of BRCs received a national label granted by the scientific interest group IBiSA (Infrastructures in Biology, Health and Agronomy), which represents French research bodies working in life sciences.

Where cultivated plants are concerned, priority was given to collections of model species (Arabidopsis thaliana and Medicago truncatula) as well as to several major cultivated species for which INRA develops research projects and often coordinates resource networks at national, European, and even international level: small-grain cereals, vines, Malus, Prunus, citrus plants, Solanaceae and legumes. Recently, INRA partnered with Cirad, IRD, Montpellier Supagro and the Languedoc Roussillon region to support the creation of a national centre for genetic plant resources in Montpellier.

When it comes to biological resources of forests, three research units and three experimental units at INRA have been working since 2015 to put in place an ISO 9001-certified BRC for forests. The biological resources stored there are of particular interest in terms of natural heritage and/or INRA research geared toward helping forests adapt to climate change and maintain their diversity.

For animals, INRA has been a key player in the development of a national cryobank since 1999, and coordinates the network of BRCs for domestic animals (CRB-Anim), a French national infrastructure that is part of the 2012 Investments for the Future Programme.

For microorganisms, INRA has organised its collections in five thematic BRCs within the network international centre for microbial resources (CIRM): yeasts in Jouy-en-Josas; filamentous fungi in Marseille; food bacteria in Rennes; human or animal pathogenic bacteria in Tours; and plant-related bacteria in Angers. This BRC network earned IBiSA certification in 2008, and in 2013 the national Commission of common tools (CNOC) formally recognised it as a strategic national platform. The BRC network also plays a part in the Biobanks project, funded for ten years by the Investments for the Future Programme.

When it comes to environmental resources, since 2015 INRA has been giving the scientific community access to a network of collections of microbial consortia (present in natural environments such as soils and freshwater), invertebrates (notably parasitic nematodes that feed on plants and vertebrates, entomopathogens, insects and mites) and vertebrates (small mammals and fish tissue).

In parallel, two centres specialise in genomic resources: CNRGV (the national centre for plant genomic resources) in Toulouse and the BRC @BRIDGe (Animal Biological Resources for Integrative and Digital Genomics) for animals, in Jouy-en-Josas. Both are IBiSA-labeled (multi-organisational scientific interest group).

Scientific contact(s):

  • Michèle Tixier-Boichard, deputy scientific director for Environment, in charge of biodiversity and genetic resources
  • Anne-Françoise Adam-Blondon, in charge of the Plant Pillar of RARe
  • Michel Verger, in charge of the Forest Pillar of RARe
  • Serge Casaregola and Sophie Roussel, in charge of the Microorganism Pillar of RARe
  • Christian Mougin, in charge of the Environment Pillar of RARe

What is a biological resource centre?

Biological Resource Centres (BRCs) came about as the result of global research carried out by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). They are specialised centres that collect, validate, study, secure and distribute collections of living organisms (seeds, grafts, strains, etc.) and the parts of them that can be replicated (DNA banks, plasmids, etc.), under stringent quality-control and traceability conditions. The centres are responsible for maintaining the databases associated with the collections. All BRCs therefore have the same vocation: collect, conserve, characterise and distribute genetic resources. BRCs play a key role in international research, particularly in biotechnologies, biocontrol, and health (research for developing medicines).

INRA manages or co-manages 28 Biological Resource Centres (BRCs)
of which 15 for plants, one for forests, three for animals (within CRB-Anim in Jouy-en-Josas), five for microorganisms (within CIRM), and four for the environment including the umbrella BRC BRC4Env in Versailles.

Genetic resources: location of 28 Biological Resource Centres (BRCs) managed or co-managed by INRA. © INRA, INRA, Véronique Gavalda
Genetic resources: location of 28 Biological Resource Centres (BRCs) managed or co-managed by INRA © INRA, INRA, Véronique Gavalda


RARe is the French national infrastructure that groups together BRCs related to agricultural research

INRA is aware of the asset that BRCs represent for research and the future of agriculture, livestock rearing, forests and food. That is why the Institute, with the support of Cirad, IRD, CNRS, and higher education establishments in agriculture and veterinary sciences, set out to establish a new national infrastructure that would bring together all BRCs for agricultural resources. Dubbed “RARe”, this infrastructure was officially inscribed in the French national roadmap MESRI in 2016, resulting in significant funding mounting to some 22 million euros. For better international visibility, its English acronym is AgroBRC-RARe.

RARe boosts collaboration at national and international level and improves the visibility of resources, thus putting them to greater use. It enhances the scientific value of resources, harmonises practices throughout the scientific community, and creates synergies between BRCs through knowledge- and tools-sharing.

The infrastructure is organised into five multi-partner pillars, backed by INRA:

  • Plant BRCs: 17 BRCs of which 15 managed or co-managed by INRA; 500 plant species; 217 826 samples (seeds, pollen, etc.); and 22 million DNA fragments
  • Forest BRCs: one BRC managed by INRA; 12 species; 10 000 samples
  • CRB Anim (animals): five BRCs of which three manged or co-managed by INRA; 21 animal species; 550 000 samples (sperm, embryos, tissues, etc.); and 1.8 million DNA fragments
  • CIRM Microbial Resources: five BRCs managed by INRA; 22 000 microbial isolates (yeasts, bacteria, filamentous fungi)
  • BRC4Env Environmental Resources: four BRCs manged or co-managed by INRA; 13 000 samples from soils; 200 000 tissues or scales from 26 freshwater fish species;130 live strains of parasitoid insects from 15 species