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[nafex] UK saving seed

Thought this was a meaningful project that could well become cooperative
worldwide. ...............vic

August 19, 2000

        Noah's Ark for Plants Sets Sail

                   The seed bank is a repository for future generations

        By environment correspondent Alex Kirby
        A visionary attempt to save many of the world's endangered
plants is to
        open in the United Kingdom at the end of August.

        It is the Millennium Seed Bank (MSB), one of the largest
        conservation projects ever undertaken.

        It aims to have saved the seeds of more than 24,000 species by
2010, a
        tenth of the global seed-bearing flora.

        The bank has already collected seeds from almost all the 1,400
or so British
        species suitable for inclusion.

        Extinction threatens more than 300 UK wild plants, and a quarter
of the
        world's plants could be condemned to vanish by 2050.

        Cold and dry

        The MSB is an initiative of the UK's Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
But it is
        housed, not at Kew Gardens in London, but at its rural
        Wakehurst Place in southern England.

        Seeds arriving at the MSB - it already has more than 250
million, from
        almost 5,000 species - are first dried in conditions of low

        Hugh Pritchard takes extinction seriously

        After several weeks their moisture level has fallen to 5%,
        which means they will last much longer - for about 200
        years, the Bank's designers hope.

        They are then cleaned and checked, with a sample of
        about 50 of each species being X-rayed for quality.

        Each batch is tested for germination in dishes of agar
        jelly. The test will be repeated every decade.

        Finally, they are placed in ordinary glass jars and stored in
        underground vaults at temperatures of -20 degrees C. The number
of seeds
        kept in a single jar is as great as the number of people in many

        As a precaution, a back-up seed collection is to be stored in

        Securing food

        Most of the seeds from abroad are from dryland species. The
project leaders
        say "off-site" conservation like seed banking can contribute
more "where
        land degradation is brought about by climatic effects overlaying

        unsustainable land use by indigenous people".

        They estimate that more than 60,000 sq kms are lost to deserts
every year.
        Dr Hugh Pritchard, head of research at the MSB, told BBC News
Online: "The
        drylands are fundamentally important to the sustenance of
something like
        20% of the world's population."

                            Collecting seeds in Burkina Faso

                            The MSB, which is costing more than 80 m,
is planned to
                            be a centre of expertise, collaborating with
the countries
                            from which the seeds originate.

                            The project aims to help other countries to
set up their
                            own seed banks, and plans to keep "a
                            proportion" of all the seeds collected in
their countries of

        Dr Pritchard says the prospect of extinction is real enough for
many plants.
        "I think the threat is probably worse than we imagine.

        Untapped potential

        "If we think about population expansion and the pressure that
will put on
        natural areas, those areas will decrease. That has to mean we're
going to
        lose species. Most of the models do predict tremendous risk to

        "Many of the species that we currently conserve we perhaps don't
have an
        immediate use for. But something like 30% of the medicines we
        currently are based on products or chemicals which have been
        from plants.

        "In the future, if we are to find new remedies, we need to have
access to
        this cornucopia of plants worldwide."

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