Wednesday, October 20, 2010

100 Year Old Seeds

Well, they aren't actually 100 years old yet, but that is the plan...

During a recent trip to Denver, Colorado, I had the opportunity to visit the National Center for Genetic Resource Preservation.  They are routinely preserving plant germplasm of both agricultural and wild plants as well as animal samples that could be used to reproduce our agricultural crops and livestock if needed and to ensure that genetic diversity is maintained.  They store samples in cold storage (-18 degrees Celsius cooler), in liquid nitrogen (-196 degrees Celsius), and in tissue culture.  The plant germplasm is stored as seeds, vegetative growth, or as dormant buds.  They are currently storing over 850,000 accessions and they get between 20,000 and 100,000 new specimens each year.  The public is permitted to submit seed for storage and institutions around the world are able to request samples of the seed for research.

As we walked around the (chilly) building, I felt like I was witnessing history in the making.  Most of the seeds preserved today will not be used for 100+ years.   The USDA is saving them for an unknown disaster in the future.  Already, they saved apple diversity in the North East when an apple blight threatened most of the US apple production.  They were able to thaw out some of their dormant apple buds and provide them to growers to increase the diversity of their crops, which will help the apples fight off diseases better.
Seeds and dormant buds are stored in tanks of liquid nitrogen
Storage tubes inside of the liquid nitrogen tanks- these will be filled with seeds and buds in plastic containers
Wheat seed stored in tubes that will be placed in liquid nitrogen tanks
Dormant apple buds in tubes that will be placed in liquid nitrogen tanks
Seeds are stored in a -18 degree Celsius room
Animal tissue is stored in stems (straws) and placed in tanks of liquid nitrogen

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