Q. What is the role of a Seed Bank?
A seed bank plays number of important roles:
- A reservoir of seeds of rare, endangered, and extinct species, as well as heirloom and proven man-made cultivars for future generations.
- A source of seeds of unadulterated, non-hybridized true-crop plant species for seed propagation programs.
- A preventative “seed buffer” against the genetic materials contamination of GMO.
- A source of seeds destined for the seed-exchange with private and institutional seed-banks globally.
- A living database of seed reference standards/examples, against which seeds will be compared and judged in the future.
- As biodiversity “vaults” for the future.
Q. How are True Species seeds being preserved?
World-wide, there is increasing evidence that human activities degrade the environment, cause species decline and extinction, interfere with the planet ecological balance and biodiversity, and much more …
The acceleration of the hybridization and genetic modification of plant species also contributes to the negative impact of human activities. This represents a serious threat to the natural biodiversity of “true plant species” or unadulterated, non-hybridized plant species found in their natural form.
Man-made interspecies and genetically modified organisms (GMO) hybridization represent a great risk to true plant species. Canada’s natural health products industry is concerned about these developments, and an industry leader has taken proactive steps to preserve true plant species for the future generations by:
- Maintaining a comprehensive seed-bank, designed as a long-term viable seeds depository.
- Actively searching for the seeds of rare, endangered and extinct plant species worldwide.
- Propagating true plant species for seed harvest.
- Encouraging and participating in seed-exchange programs among seed collectors and seed-banks worldwide.
Q. How many Seed Banks are there world-wide?
In 2010, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation reported that there are some 1,750 gene banks worldwide, with about 130 of them each holding more than 10,000 additions. Of the total 7.4 million samples conserved worldwide, national government gene banks conserve about 6.6 million, 45% of which is held in only seven countries, down from 12 countries in 1996. This increasing concentration of collected and preserved genetic diversity in fewer countries and research centres highlights the importance to ensure access in all countries. There are a number of global initiatives supporting seed preservation including:
- The Global Crop Diversity Trust’s Svalbard Global Seed Vault, built inside a sandstone mountain in a man-made tunnel in the permafrost of the frozen Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, part of the Svalbard archipelago. It is designed to survive catastrophes such as nuclear war and has almost a million seed samples received from contributing seed banks, typically as “copies” of existing seeds.
The Millennium Seed Bank is an initiative of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew and housed at the Wellcome Trust Millennium near London, United Kingdom. This global project is the largest seed bank in the world with space for the storage of billions of seed samples in a nuclear bomb proof multi-story underground vault. Its aim is to have in storage every plant species possible with its next major goal to have 25% of the species in the bank by 2020.
- Navdanya, located in Uttrakhand, India, is an agricultural research centre that seeks to protect seed biodiversity and the livelihoods of small farmers. This seed bank conserves only unpatented seeds as a key element of Navdanya is the belief that people should have a right to save and share seeds. More than 5,000 crop varieties have been preserved, with a particular focus on grain species. More than 50 community seed banks are associated with Navdanya and together they have preserved nearly 3,000 species of rice.
- Located on the campus of Colorado State University, USA, the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation (NCGR) is home to one of the world’s largest gene banks. The centre is unique in that it hosts germplasms, or collections of genetic information, of plants, animals, insects, and microorganisms. In its plant division, the centre contains pollen, meristem tissue, and cell cultures. The NCGR works to ensure that its germplasms maintain the same genetic properties over time, so that traits do not change as reproduction occurs. In addition to hosting over 8,000 species of seeds, the NCGR supports genetic research and agricultural development.
- The Vavilov Research Institute (VRI) in St Petersburg, Russia was established in 1921 and now has 12 research stations throughout the country. The stations’ seed banks house a combined total of some 60,000 seed varieties, and their herbariums contain 250,000 plant specimens. The VRI has a strong focus on fruit species, particularly berries, with more than 1,000 types of strawberries in its collection.
Q. What Can We Do to Preserve Plants and Other Species?
We can all contribute and play an active personal role in reversing these negative trends.
We can support our local seed-preserving organizations by donating seeds from our own gardens, visiting botanical gardens and perhaps making donations to support their work. Some of the most unique seeds of rare species in our professional seed bank came from small private gardens. We can also collect seeds in nature and start our own seed collection (mini seed bank) in our own gardens, and exchange seeds with our neighbours and other like-minded individuals. Above all, each of us can contribute to the well-being of our planet by adopting responsible personal lifestyles, including planet-friendly diet, recycling, composting our food scraps and organic waste, and doing our best to conserve energy at home and work.
It all takes effort, but it is well worthwhile for our own well-being and that of planet earth, as well as future generations.
About the author: Jan V. Slama is a research scientist and educator with ISURA. He manages an active seed preservation program with a focus on herbal botanical species. He is also recognized for his work in api-pharmacological and apitherapeutical studies, with an emphasis on researching bee propolis.
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