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Bee-Proof Greenhouse in Sussex

17 February 2005

A bee-proof greenhouse has been specially constructed at Kew's country garden, in West Sussex, as part of an £80 million international conservation project.

If the experiment is successful, it could have dramatic implications for seed collection world-wide, which is one of the main ex-situ conservation means of protecting vulnerable plants from extinction in the wild.

The chamber is being used to grow a clover, Trifolium ambiguum, for research by plant-scientists working on the ambitious Millennium Seed Bank Project at Wakehurst Place.

Normally gardeners are keen to promote bees, and other insects, to ensure plants are pollinated. But now Kew's boffins have gone to great lengths to keep out the bees in order to keep nature "under control".

The 200-plus plants have grown well and are now producing sweet-smelling flowers. It is time for manual pollination to begin.

By controlling exactly when this takes place, the scientists can minimise the variation in seed development. Thus, all the seeds will start to develop at the same time. This is far from what would happen if natural population was allowed to take-place.

By this control, and through minimizing other external sources such as genetic or environmental variation, the botanists can produce a uniform collection of seeds from this species.

These may then be used in the laboratory by seed researcher Laura Butler who hopes her work will lead to finding markers of seed maturity that can be used by seed collectors in the field. This is crucial if seed-hunters are to collect seeds at the optimum moment.

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