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Behind-the-scenes of the Jodrell

Jean Helliwell
23 April 2012
Blog team: 
Millennium Seed Bank volunteer Jean Helliwell recounts her recent opportunity to visit the Jodrell Laboratory at Kew.

My name is Jean, and I have been a volunteer for the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership for three years, and a Friend of Kew for many more. I work at the Seed Bank one day a week cleaning seeds and doing germination tests. I thought the chance to tour the Jodrell laboratory was too good to miss.

On hearing of this tour, which was open to Friends of Kew, I immediately booked places for myself and my fellow volunteer Val (who has notched up some seven years’ service).

The Jodrell laboratories at Kew Gardens


The first stop on our tour was the Cytogenetics lab, where research is carried out into the chromosomal makeup of plants. It seems that there is a wide variation in the number of chromosomes in plants. A few plants have just two pairs of chromosomes (humans have 23) whereas others have many more. One plant (a fern) from India is reported to over a thousand chromosomes per cell.

DNA extracts and molecules

Next was the Molecular Lab. All the DNA extracts which Kew has produced are listed on a database available to all. In addition, the extracted samples are available to researchers all over the world, through the DNA Bank.

Another important area of research is in the identification of plant compounds that have medicinal potential. Some 70% of these are plant-derived even now, because they are either impossible or too costly to synthesise. A compound from the Madagascan periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) has increased the survival rate in childhood leukemia from about 20% to more than 90% in little more than a decade, and there are many more beneficial compounds yet to be discovered.

Inside the Jodrell laboratory


Finally, we visited the Fungarium, which used to be called a Mycology Herbarium or Fungus Herbarium. However fungi are not plants - indeed they are more closely related to animals than plants! The oldest specimens date back to 1730, and some were originally collected by Charles Darwin.

All in all I found this a fascinating behind-the-scenes tour, and an insight into the importance to the community as a whole of the work done at Kew.

- Jean -

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