Seed Banks – Preserving Seeds For the Future

Just as you might save money for a rainy day, scientists are saving Hype Seeds from crops in case they need to be planted again. They do so in seed banks, specialized storage containers that allow them to remain viable for decades or even centuries. These facilities, also known as gene banks, are a crucial component of protecting the world’s agrobiodiversity in case natural disaster or climate change wipes out many plants.

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Scientists work at over 1,500 seed banks around the world, including the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which has been dubbed “the vault at the end of the world”. They collect and preserve a wide range of plant species, from grasses to trees to herbs, and store them in subzero environments, where they are protected from environmental stressors, such as drought, flooding and insect pests.

When the time comes for a seed to germinate, it needs a certain trigger—be it chemical signals from phytohormones, physical abrasion or passage through a mammal’s digestive tract. Seed bank studies of these germination triggers are helping to understand how individual seeds transition through a complex series of metabolic states on their way out of dormancy.

In the future, these seeds will be used to create new crop varieties that are more resistant to changes in the climate and other factors, like disease, floods or drought. But first, researchers need to learn how to collect, nurture and test seeds from a broad spectrum of wild species that offer the genetic variation needed to develop these varieties.

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