Seeds stored in the Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) vault are collected from wild plants: over 39,000 species and sub-species (known collectively as taxa) from across the globe. Drying and storing these seeds at low temperatures extends their lifespan from tens to hundreds, if not thousands, of years. With one in five plant species currently threatened with extinction, the MSB provides an insurance policy in case extinction in the wild occurs. Frozen in time, seeds are stored in air-tight glass containers stacked in huge -20°C freezers. These time travellers offer future possibilities for both research and conservation, and can be used to grow a new generation of plants.
Seed banking is a key part of Kew’s Science and Collection Strategies, and contributes to Target 8 and 9 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation. We continue to safeguard plant diversity worldwide with a focus on plants most at risk and most useful for the future, addressing global challenges for food security, sustainable energy, loss of biodiversity and climate change.
The seed collection at the MSB is constantly growing. With over 82,000 collections currently stored in the bank, it’s important to know the extent to which plant diversity is represented and how this is contributing to safeguarding our planet and the survival of humankind. It also helps us to target specific ecosystems, habitats and plant communities for future seed collecting trips.
At the MSB, scientists evaluate the value of each collection by assessing:
Placing a monetary value on these collections is difficult. A recent estimate suggested that the potential value of benefits from just the collections of the wild relatives of our favourite crops held at the seed bank, could be worth as much as $120 billion. The entire MSB collection is a successful output of a global ex situ conservation programme, and an extremely valuable biological resource.
The seed bank is the ex situ home for over 82,556 collections of over 39,000 species. There is often more than one collection of each species to represent the genetic and geographic diversity within the species. These collections represent a significant global conservation resource available to organisations across the world. Below are a few facts and figures about the MSB.
Seed collections represent a priceless resource for conservation and research. They also lie at the heart of Kew’s strategic aim to be a global resource for plant and fungal knowledge. Going forward, we will be focussing our efforts on increasing the number of threatened species held in the seed bank, and also sharing our resource for both research and conservation purposes across the world.
If you would like to know more about how to request seeds for research or conservation purposes, visit the Seed List.
- Udi, Elinor and Tiziana -
We thank all the funders, members of the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership, and Kew staff whose support has made the Millennium Seed Bank’s collections possible.
Kew scientist Clare Trivedi describes the journey of the UK National Tree Seed Project from creation to fruition of Phase 1: collecting 10 million seeds from 60 native species.
With over 8.5 million items, Kew houses the largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collections in the world. They represent approximately 95% of vascular plant genera and 60% of fungal genera.
After a Seed Conservation Techniques Training Course by Kew Scientists, the first native seed bank of Colombia was opened in a historic building at the Humboldt Institute, Villa de Leyva.