Comparative Seed Biology

Examining diversity and adaptations in seeds affecting functional traits, from longevity and stress tolerance to germination.

Seed diversity - image of lots of different seeds on a black background

Knowledge of seed biology is central not only to understanding plant regeneration and ecosystem resilience, but also to conservation, global agriculture and food security. 

The CSB team focuses on key seed functional traits in wild plant species, especially traits related to germination, longevity and stress. We use the latest lab-based techniques and draw on the extraordinary collections of the Millennium Seed Bank to study seeds within and across plant lineages, such as the traits of the micro-seeds of orchids. We test the impacts of environmental variables such as temperature, water and salinity on germination, with significant implications for species distributions and extinction risk.

We also study extreme environments, seeking the most stress-tolerant seeds to inform our understanding of seed lifespan. Our research addresses solutions for today's global challenges, including climate change. 

Since 2012 the team has published 143 papers in international, peer-reviewed journals including: Biological Reviews Biotechnology Advances, Global Change Biology, New Phytologist, The Plant Journal, Plant Cell & Environment, Conservation Letters and the Journal of Experimental Botany. These papers have been co-authored with scientists from 30 countries and have an aggregate (GoogleScholar) h-index of 23.  

In the same period, we have won competitive research grants and held consultancies with an income to Kew of £1,009,000. Sources include: the European Union (x3), Darwin Initiative, NERC-Newton Fund, Science and Technology Facilities Council, British Ecological Society, Technology Crops International, the Mhd bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, the Chinese Academy of Science, the Stanley Smith (UK) Horticultural Trust (x2) and the Crops Trust. Additional income of £588,000 has been secured through the Kew Foundation particularly from the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Helen Hamlyn Trust and Joseph Jones and the Daisy and Graham Rattenbury Charitable Trust. 

We have formally co-supervised 19 PhD students since 2012, hosted many post-doctoral fellows from across the world, and are embarking on many new projects. If you would like to undertake comparative biology studies with us, please contact the head of laboratory (h.pritchard@kew.org). 

Team members

Senior research leader
Professor Hugh Pritchard

Research leaders
Dr Louise Colville 
Dr Charlotte Seal

Early career research fellows
Dr Dani Ballesteros
Dr Anne Visscher

PhD students
Waheed Arshad – University of London Royal Holloway College
Surya Diantina – Massey University, New Zealand 
Sara Gomez – University of Oviedo, Spain 

Projects

Starting in 2019

  • Long-term conservation of the most threatened Malagasy orchids - National Geographic Society (Countries; France, Madagascar, UK) 

  • Evolution of seed traits in orchids of China – Chinese Academy of Sciences (Countries; China, UK) 

Inputs - throughput phase

  • Germination after exposure to natural extremes – Science and Technology Facilities Council (Country: UK) 
  • Towards a mechanistic understanding of thermal resilience in seed germination: is 'sub-optimal' optimal? - British Ecological Society Small Research Grant.  (Country: UK) 
  • Assisted reproduction in Critically Endangered  Encephalartos equatorialis  -  Mhd bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.  (Countries: Uganda, Thailand, UK) 
  • Comparative biology of cycad pollen - The Stanley Smith (UK) Horticultural Trust (Countries: Thailand, UK)   

Outputs phase