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Demonstrable benefits of seed banks: forty years and still going strong – University of Reading

Release Date : 06 October 2009

Well-managed facilities can keep seeds alive for at least 40 years, according to new research. Maintaining the world's plant biodiversity is essential to sustain crop improvement and maintain ecosystems. One way to protect and conserve species and varieties of crop and wild plants threatened by withdrawal from cultivation, loss of habitat, or climate change is to store their seed.

A paper in the Journal Seed Science and Technology by the Department of Plant Sciences at Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM), Spain, and the Department of Agriculture, University of Reading, UK, reports high seed survival in a gene bank for samples stored from 1966 to 2006.

Seed of 15 species of Brassicaceae (cabbage family) were stored hermetically in the UPM gene bank at -5°C to -10°C with about 3% moisture content for 40 years: most samples provided no evidence of loss in seed viability, the poorest result being a decline of just 7% in ability to germinate. Moreover, comparison with seeds of nine samples collected anew in 2006 from the original sampling sites showed few differences, other than a tendency for the new samples to show more dormancy.

Professor Richard Ellis of the University of Reading, said: "These results for hermetic storage at sub-zero temperatures and low moisture contents confirm both the validity and the utility of recommendations from earlier, shorter-term research. If managed well, this seed storage provides a successful technology for plant biodiversity conservation.

"The research supports the case for well-managed seed banks and the benefits they can bring to future crop plant breeding work or protecting endangered plant species. Moreover, it provides an excellent example of achievement in biodiversity conservation at comparatively low cost. The key to success is the collection of high-quality seed, and then maintaining the samples at low moisture content in hermetic containers at low temperature. All of this can be provided comparatively cheaply in modest facilities."


Further information from Alex Brannen, Media Relations Manager, University of Reading, on 0118 378 7388

Notes to editors:

The research is published in a paper in October's Seed Science and Technology (Volume 37, pages 640-649)

Successful long-term ultra dry storage of seed of 15 species of Brassicaceae in a genebank: variation in ability to germinate over 40 years and dormancy


(1) Departamento de Biología Vegetal, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Spin

(2) Department of Agriculture, University of Reading, UK

Professor César Gómez-Campo established the UPM seed bank in 1966, thus providing what was probably the first seed bank specializing in the preservation of wild flora. He died on 5 September 2009 shortly before publication of the above paper.


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