The end of a life dedicated to making bean diversity available for humanity

29 January, 2015 by (comments)

CIAT mourns the loss of research assistant Orlando Toro-Chica, whose death on 22 January has deprived the Center’s Genetic Resources Program of a friend and a highly dedicated professional. He spent 40 years documenting the diversity of Phaseolus beans conserved in the Center’s genebank.

orlando_toroAn internationally recognized expert on bean genetic resources, Orlando was always willing to dedicate time to help colleagues better understand the background and significance of different bean accessions. Upon first joining the CIAT Bean Program in 1974, he quickly realized the importance of appropriately documenting genetic resources. Then, in 1977, when the Center established its Genetic Resources Unit, he took responsibility for safely introducing into the genebank many large collections of Phaseolus beans. Since then, these have proved essential for identifying resistance to diseases and pests, and for the success and lasting impact of many elite varieties developed by the Bean Program.

Thanks to Orlando’s efforts, the number of bean accessions in the genebank has climbed steadily from just a couple of thousands in 1977 to 37,810 accessions today. The increase resulted in part from his germplasm collections in Colombia and Ecuador during the 1980s and early 1990s. Naturally, he was especially curious about his own country’s bean diversity, and he correctly recognized early on that the Colombian materials rightly deserved collection and study. Fascinated by diversity, he was always particularly fond of rare variants – which are precisely the resources that make CIAT’s bean collection so unique.

Mainly as a result of Orlando’s efforts, CIAT has been able to distribute thousands of bean samples to more than 100 countries, to send safety backup collections to the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico as well as the Global Seed Vault at Svalbard, Norway, and to restore various collections that were lost over the years.

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Orlando authored or co-authored more than 30 widely cited publications, covering the taxonomy of new Phaseolus species, the distribution and ecology of wild bean species, genetic diversity, gene flow, and protein quality. Highly esteemed by bean researchers around the world, he was a constant and reliable source of information and data. The bean database available on CIAT’s website is one of his most important and lasting contributions.

CIAT has made available a special website where friends and colleagues can share thoughts, memories, and photos as well as condolences for the Toro family.

By Dr. Daniel Debouck,
Genetic Resources Program Leader.

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Filed Under: Crop diversity, Inside CIAT