Kew's Millennium Seed Bank - Orchid Seed Stores Network
Orchid Seed Science and Sustainable Use (OSSSU) is a global network designed to establish orchid seed banking internationally using conventional seed banking techniques.
Cattleya quadricolor, an endemic flagship species from Colombia (Image: Phil Seaton)
Orchid species are under threat
Under current circumstances it is predicted that large numbers of species, including many orchids, will become extinct in the wild within the next 50 years, making conservation an ever more urgent task. With around 25,000 species currently known to science, the orchid family is perhaps the largest and most diverse. As well as trying to save precious orchid habitats, we can use ex situ conservation techniques that take place away from the natural habitat.
Saving seeds for the future of numerous species of orchid
Orchid Seed Stores for Sustainable Use (OSSSU) originated as a Darwin Initiative project to establish orchid seed banking in regions of high biodiversity: Central and South America and South East Asia.
It was feared that the micro-seeds from orchids would not preserve well in seed banks. Luckily, after tests, we now know that they can survive the drying process and be stored in seed banks at refrigerator, freezer or liquid nitrogen temperatures, potentially for many decades.
OSSSU initially aimed to collect and store seed of at least 250 species, focusing on orchid hot spots and representing the orchid floras of 16 participating countries: China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam; Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala and Mexico.
Two regional workshops were held in China and Ecuador, with a final meeting in Costa Rica, that brought people together with a wide range of biotechnology experience in the laboratory, and experience in horticulture and natural history. They were provided with opportunities to exchange knowledge and expertise in seed storage and in vitro germination techniques, to develop common protocols and to set annual targets for species stored in each individual country.
OSSSU is continuing to develop. We are now in the process of recruiting more institutions, not only in the Americas and Asia, but also in European countries and in Africa. We have been able to set a much more ambitious target of seeds representing 1,000 orchid species in storage by 2015 with over 30 countries involved, and have had further meetings in China and Cuba
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