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In Vitro Methods for the Conservation of Endemic Species

Developing micropropagation and cryopreservation protocols for the conservation of threatened plants


Anogramma ascensionis and cryopreservation
Stedson Stroud and Viswambharan Sarasan
Left: Ascension Island parsley fern (Anogramma ascensionis); photo Stedson Stroud
Right: Lowering specimens into liquid nitrogen for cryopreservation; photo Viswambharan Sarasan

This is a collection of small projects that include protocol development, training and capacity building for the conservation of some of the rarest plants that are endemic to biodiversity hotspots and islands. We study the requirements for initiating cultures, multiplication, rooting, weaning, re-introduction and cryopreservation. The species mainly originate from the UKOT islands (particularly Ascension, St Helena and Montserrat), Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands, Cape Floristic Region and Indo-Burma in addition to most of the other Biodiversity Hotspots. Parsley fern (Anogramma ascensionis), endemic to Ascension Island, was thought to be extinct for more than 50 years. During a routine conservation assessment staff from Kew and Ascension Island Conservation team found four specimens of this species growing on a cliff side in 2009. The species has been rescued from extinction by combining in situ and ex situ conservation efforts. In vitro methods are being developed inKew’s Conservation Biotechnology Sectionto help make the long-term conservation of this species a reality. Cryopreservation of A. ascensionis in liquid nitrogen is in progress to develop a long–term storage method.

Genetic diversity conservation of other endemic ferns from Ascension Island is another project started recently. Island floras are more susceptible to threats from climate change, invasive species and other factors. Some fern species are restricted to only a few locations and not many individuals are left in the wild. The primary aim of this project is to collect spores from different populations of selected ferns and freeze the spores directly in liquid nitrogen at -196 °C. Other projects include protocol development for the propagation of critically endangered species such as Epidendrum montserratense (Montserrat), Cylindrocline sp (Mauritius), Roussea simplex (Mauritius) etc.


Project partners and collaborators


Conservation Department, Ascension Island Government

Project funders


Ascension Island Conservation Fund


Bentham Moxon Trust

Threatened Plants Appeal (Kew Friends)

Annex material

Published papers

Reed, B. M., Sarasan, V., Kane, M., Bunn, E., Pence, V. C. (2011). Biodiversity conservation and conservation biotechnology tools In Vitro Cell Dev Biol-Plant 47: 1-4.

Barnicoat, H., Cripps, R., Kendon, J., Sarasan, V. (2011). Conservation in vitro of rare and threatened ferns - case studies of biodiversity hotspot and island species In Vitro Cell Dev Biol-Plant 47: 37-45.

Sarasan, V., Kite, G. C, Sileshi, G. W. & Stevenson, P. C. (2011). Applications of phytochemical and in vitro techniques for reducing over-harvesting of medicinal and pesticidal plants and generating income for the rural poor. Plant Cell Rep 30:1163–1172.

Sarasan, V. (2010). Importance of in vitro technology to future conservation programmes worldwide. Kew Bulletin 65: 549–554.

Marriott, P. & Sarasan, V. (2010). Novel micropropagation and weaning methods for the integrated conservation of a critically endangered tree species, Medusagyne oppositifolia. In Vitro Cell Dev Biol-Plant 46:516-523.

Other material

UKOTs blog post (December 2010): Extinct to secure: how we saved Ascension’s endemic parsley fern

UKOTs blog post (February 2011):  Rare plants from Montserrat on display at Kew Gardens