Unlocking maize diversity: a new study on European landraces by the EVA Network

Unlocking maize diversity: a new study on European landraces by the EVA Network

|   ECPGR News and Events | Maize

Published in Biology, the study showcases the genetic and phenotypic diversity of 626 maize landraces preserved in European genebanks.

The ECPGR European Evaluation Network (EVA) for Maize, a collaborative effort between public and private entities from nine countries, has released a new study published in Biology showcasing the extensive genetic and phenotypic diversity of a collection of 626 maize landraces preserved in European genebanks.

Maize, a staple crop for feed, food and industrial applications worldwide, traces its origins to Central America and was introduced to Europe in the late 15th century. Over the centuries, European farmers and breeders have cultivated a diverse array of local maize varieties, many of which are now conserved in genebanks. However, the specific characteristics of these landraces have remained largely unexplored – until now.

The EVA Maize Network, formed as a public–private partnership with genebanks, research institutes and breeding companies in nine European countries, has, for the first time, performed a systematic evaluation of these landraces in different environments, providing new insights into their genetic and phenotypic traits. The studied collection of 626 landraces captured a large proportion of European maize diversity and offers valuable resources for breeding programmes that tackle climate change-related challenges, sustainable agriculture, food security and food quality.

High-throughput genotyping grouped the collection into nine genetic clusters, with results aligning well with their geographic origins and historical introductions.

Based on seed availability and field capacity for phenotypic evaluation, 588 out of the 626 landraces were evaluated in field trials in 11 locations in Europe over three years. Five commercial hybrids were included in the trials as checks to find out which landraces were best suited to specific environments.

The evaluation showed a large variability among landraces for all traits studied, which included flowering time, and plant end ear height, among others. However, phenotypic clusters only partially matched genetic groupings.

The study underscores the vital importance of conserving crop diversity in the face of global challenges such as climate change and rising food prices. By promoting the sustainable use of maize genetic resources, the EVA approach aims to enhance breeding programmes, leading to the development of maize varieties that are better adapted to specific environments and more resilient to various stresses.

This initiative builds on previous efforts, such as the European programme RESGEN88, and represents a significant advancement in the collective generation of knowledge on plant genetic resources. Working collaboratively with breeding companies, genebanks and research institutes, the EVA Maize Network aims to further explore and evaluate genebank holdings in more European countries to unlock their potential for the benefit of agriculture and sustainability.

Read the paper:

Balconi C, Galaretto A, Malvar RA, Nicolas SD, Redaelli R, Andjelkovic V, Revilla P, Bauland C, Gouesnard B, Butron A, et al. Genetic and Phenotypic Evaluation of European Maize Landraces as a Tool for Conservation and Valorization of AgrobiodiversityBiology. 2024; 13(6):454. https://doi.org/10.3390/biology13060454


The European Evaluation Network  (EVA) is an international project aimed at increasing the use of crop genetic diversity and the diversity of stakeholders in plant breeding. Through crop-specific public–private partnerships, EVA generates standardized evaluation data (both phenotypic and genotypic) for numerous crop accessions and landraces available in European genebanks.

EVA is an initiative of the European Cooperative Programme for Plant Genetic Resources (ECPGR) and is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture through project GenR 2019-2.



EVA Maize Network partners

  • Agroscope, Nyon, Switzerland
  • Banca de Resurse Genetice Vegetale Suceava, Suceava, Romania
  • Bayer Seeds SAS, Lyon, France
  • Consiglio per la ricerca in agricoltura e l’analisi dell’economia agraria - Centro di Ricerca Cerealicoltura e Colture Industriali, Bergamo, Italy
  • Delley Semences et Plantes SA, Delley, Switzerland
  • Departamento de Ciência Agronómicas Politécnico de Coimbra – Escola Superior Agrária de Coimbra, Portugal
  • INRAE - Centre de Montpellier, France
  • INRAE GQÉ le Moulon, Gif sur Yvette, France
  • Instituto Nacional de Investigação Agrária e Veterinária, I.P. (INIAV, I.P.), Banco Português de Germoplasma Vegetal, Braga, Portugal
  • KWS SAAT SE & Co. KG, Einbeck, Germany
  • Leibniz-Institut für Pflanzengenetik und Kulturpflanzenforschung, Seeland, OT Gatersleben, Germany
  • Lidea/Euralis, Lescar, France
  • Limagrain, Saint Beauzire, France
  • Maize Research Institute Zemun Polje, Belgrade - Zemun Polje, Serbia
  • MAS Seeds, Haut-Marco, France
  • Misión Biológica de Galicia (Consejo Superior de Investitaciones Científicas), Pontevedra, Spain
  • RAGT R2N, Rodez, France
  • University of Zagreb Faculty of Agriculture, Croatia

Latest News