Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Millennium Seed Bank

There will be three sessions of TED University this year. This afternoon, in one and a half hours, we had 16 speakers. There were just so many good ideas, but I'll tell you about the one that was most surprising and exciting to me.

Jonathan Drori told us about the Millennium Seed Bank at Kew Gardens, with a mission to collect and preserve seeds of all the plants in the world. A daunting goal you might say. But they’re well on their way. Started in 1999, MSB already has 3B seeds stored from 24,000 species, representing 10% of the world’s plants and they expect to cover 25% by 2020. The initial focus is on dryland plants because they are the most threatened. The seeds are preserved in a very dry, subzero environment and are removed every 10 years or so, to see if they can still be germinated.

The MSB partners with over 50 countries around the world. All seeds collected are stored in the home country, with duplicates sent to Kew. Ownership of the seeds in Kew remains with the home country, an important factor in gaining co-operation, Jon says. I talked with Jon at one of tonight’s parties and he explained much of MSB’s success arises from this collaborative approach.

Why bother? Simply put, all life depends on plants. The MSB is ensuring biodiversity by protecting plants which are being threatened by habitat reduction and global warming. In addition, the germination tests yield immediate benefits to farmers by demonstrating the best methods of germination.

Aside from being a trustee of the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens, Jon was the architect of the BBC’s wonderful web site, and is currently a consultant on emerging media strategies and a Visiting Industrial Professor at Bristol University, specialising in misconceptions in science and the uses of technology for learning. He is also a director of a company which develops science-based diagnostic tools and interventions for children with autism and dyslexia. You might call him a Renaissance Man.

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