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millennium seeds

Millennium seeds

Every 1% we reduce a seed’s moisture content doubles its life span. Our initial drying phase increases a seed’s life 40 times over. This can take between two weeks and six months.

This is the most diverse wild plant species genetic resource on Earth – a global insurance policy to store and conserve seeds from common, rare or endangered useful plants.

The Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) is home to over 2.3 billion seeds, representing over 39,000 different species of the world’s storable seeds.

Our seed processing

Seeds are placed in the main drying room, operating at 18°C/15% relative humidity to ensure seeds are dry enough to withstand freezing.

Hidden underground in rural Sussex is the world’s largest collection of seeds from wild plants.

The world’s largest underground seed bank and conservation resource for diverse wild plant species.

Seed collections from wild plant species arrive at the MSB where they are taken to an initial drying room, kept at 15°C with a 15% relative humidity.

A world-class automated state-of-the-art research facility, the MSB is flood, bomb and radiation proof. Deep freeze chambers store seeds at -20°C, using international standards.

But the MSB is not only making a salient contribution to the preservation of endangered plant species, it is also a leading-edge laboratory for research on plant biodiversity, with potential applications of enormous interest in the current climate crisis. Alexandre Antonelli, Science Director at Kew, offers the example of the coffee plant, describing how varieties studied in Kew’s labs have been found to be “more resistant to drought and heat waves, able to tolerate temperatures up to 6 degrees higher.”

A cornerstone of the project, singled out by the jury, is the training of specialized seed storage staff. In its twenty-year existence, the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership has trained more than 2,000 people in a hundred countries to ensure that seeds are stored under the highest standards of efficiency and security.

“The plant biodiversity crisis is huge. Two in five plants are threatened with extinction, and all our lives depend on plants. The problem couldn’t be more serious.” Ecologist Elinor Breman, Senior Research Leader of the Millennium Seed Bank Project, sums up the climate of alarm that catalyzed the setup in the year 2000 of this global seed bank at the Wakehurst site of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (United Kingdom). “The project,” she explains, “started 20 years ago, but in fact evolved out of more than thirty years previous experience in seed physiology and biology at the Kew laboratories,” which employ over 300 scientists.

For the creation of its Millennium Seed Bank, holding 2.5 billion seedssamples of plants from 190 countries, described as an exemplary initiative “that reflects how cooperation without borders can advance nature conservation worldwide”.

CONTRIBUTION

Today, the Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) holds some 2.5 billion seeds from 190 countries, including Spain. Through its global network of partner organizations, the bank has already safeguarded over 46,000 species, equating to 16% of the world’s seed plants. For Breman, the key to its success has been international cooperation: “None of this would have been achievable,” she says, “without working with the fantastic organizations all over the globe who see the need to conserve their native flora and have joined us in the project.”

In deciding which seeds to bank, the normal course is to prioritize the most threatened species. In fact, the MSB holds the seeds of species that are unfortunately now extinct in the wild. “Once a plant is gone, it is gone forever, but the seed bank means we have the opportunity not only to preserve it for now, but also for future generations.”

The MSB is not a single-site operation, but rather a network of interconnected banks located all across the world. These partner seed banks store material in their own countries, and send part of their collections to the MSB, where they are kept in cold storage rooms at 20 below zero. “The seeds we bank at our Kew site,” explains Breman, “are sort of a safety back-up, so if something goes wrong in-country, we can always repatriate material to them.”

The Millennium Seed Bank Project

“Training is central,” Breman affirms. “It is one of the things that keeps the worldwide partnership together, and one of the major things Kew has to offer our partners from its own knowledge base. Some organizations within the network have state-of-the-art facilities, but others have virtually no expertise or resources, so our aim is to progress those with less experience and help them arrive at a place where they can store material to international standards.”