Saving seeds in the bank for future use
Conserving seeds through Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership provides options for human innovation, adaptation and resilience to cope with current and future environmental threats.
Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank’s global partnership aims to secure the safe storage of 25% of the world’s plants by 2020, targeting species and regions most at risk from climate change and the ever-increasing impact of human activities.
The seeds we conserve are increasingly used for research into food, agriculture, forestry, health and eco-system repair. The reintroduction of locally appropriate wild plant species will become increasingly important as the effects of climate change and other threats become more marked. RBG, Kew, and other botanic gardens worldwide are uniquely placed to enable these efforts.
Discover more about how we process the seeds for storage at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank.
Unpacking seeds at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank
Seeds are sent by courier to Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank in consignments from partner organisations all over the world. They are unpacked and checked. These collections are often still in their original collecting cloth or paper bags.
Identification of species at Kew's Herbarium
Correct naming of the plant species from which seeds have been collected is extremely important. Sometimes it is not possible to accurately name the species when seeds are collected in the field.
Recording data about seeds
For every seed collection held by the MSBP, data is recorded about where it came from, how it was processed, seed viability, where samples have been distributed and for what purpose.
Assessing seed storage needs
Not all seeds can be stored using the standard process.
Cleaning seeds for storage
The diversity of seed dispersal mechanisms pose a challenge for collectors and seed bank processing staff.
Checking seed quality
During the seed cleaning process seeds are checked to assess their overall quality and purity.
Estimating seed quantity
Several methods are used to estimate the number of seeds in a collection.
Drying seeds for conservation
For all orthodox seeds, drying, sealing and freezing increase the storage life of seeds by orders of magnitude.
Packaging seeds for the bank
Seeds need to be stored in a variety of air-tight containers
Keeping seeds in cold storage
After processing and drying seed collections are routinely stored at -20°C.
Checking that seeds will germinate
Soon after the start of storage, and at intervals during storage, collections are taken out of the bank and a sample of seeds germinated, to make sure that they are still alive.
Producing new seeds through growing out
Finally, where seeds are depleted through distribution of samples or when viability has fallen to 85% of the initial viability, collections may be grown out to obtain a new seed collection.
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