Why Do We Have Seed Banks?
The storage of material in the form of seeds is one of the most widespread and valuable ex situ approaches to conservation. Extensive expertise has been developed in this field by agencies and institutions involved with plant genetic resources over the past 30 years. Seed banking has considerable advantages over other methods of ex situ conservation such as ease of storage, economy of space, relatively low labour demands and consequently, the capacity to maintain large samples at an economically viable cost.
Why Store Seeds and Not Whole Plants?
Seeds are a convenient means of long term storage of genetic diversity, as the samples are small in size, are easily handled, require low maintenance and frequently remain viable for long periods. In general, conditions of low temperature and desiccation allow seeds to maintain viability, in many cases indefinitely. Seed banks take up little space, but can be expensive to run, both because of the need to maintain low temperatures and the necessity for germination tests, growth trials and regeneration. They are not suitable for species with recalcitrant seeds.
How are Botanic Gardens Involved?
Botanic gardens in many countries have developed seed banks for the storage of seeds, mainly of wild species. BGCI figures (2012) indicate that there are currently 235 botanic gardens that have seed banks maintaining seeds in long term and medium-term storage.
Several botanic gardens have developed the capacity to store isolated embryos, minute seeds and tissues under conditions of cryopreservation, maintaining samples in liquid nitrogen at temperatures of –196°C. Such techniques offer great potential for the maintenance and conservation of biodiversity, particularly plant species that cannot be stored by conventional means.
Botanic gardens should be aware of the vulnerability of stored material to external factors such as power cuts, civil disturbance, adverse weather conditions and natural disasters.
For more information please read the article by Laliberté, B. (1997), in BGCNews 2 (9):18-23, Botanic garden seed banks/genebanks worldwide, their facilities, collections and networks. You can also read about Setting Up Your Own Seed Bank here.
Seed banks are developed to conserve germplasm at geographical (international, regional, national and local) and taxonomic levels.
1) International Seed Banks
Millennium Seed Bank Project International Programme
2) Regional Seed Banks
Ensconet co-ordinates seed conservation activities of wild plants in Europe.
3) Examples of National Seed Banks
The Millennium Seed Bank Project stores UK flora
Seed Conservation at the National Botanic Garden of Belgium
4) Examples of Local Seed Banks
Saving Seeds for the Future - the Seed Bank at Berry Botanic Garden, U.S.A.
The Seed Program at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden
The Desert Legume Program: Legumes from the World's Dry Lands
The Sóller Botanic Garden Seed Bank, Balearic Islands, Spain
The UPM Seed Bank in Madrid (Spain)
5) Example of Taxonomic Seed Banks
4 December 2006
Seed Development and Germination
This text is intended for plant physiologists, molecular biologists, biochemists, biotechnologists, geneticists, horticulturalists, agronomists and botanists. It integrates advances in the diverse and rapidly-expanding field of seed science, covering both theoretical and applied knowledge.
The Ex Situ Conservation of Plant Genetic Resources (Hawkes et al, 2000)
Valuable reading for professional plant conservationists and postgraduate students of plant genetics, conservation and cell biology.
The Ultimate Guide to Growing Successfully from Seed
Jekka McVicar shows you how to grow seeds successfully. Suitable for gardeners at all levels.