Sunday, February 13, 2011

Seeds and Scientific Research

Today ...  I came across an excellent article titled 'Seeds of Salvation' in Cosmos Magazine - an Australian science magazine.
current magazine
SEEDS OF SALVATION  The world is facing starvation as climate change disrupts food production and the population booms. Fiona MacDonald travels to Syria where science's last hope may be locked inside forgotten wild plants.
Visiting the website tonight I found that the only way to read this story at the moment is to buy the magazine as I did. I will post again on that story but for now introduce this story below on the Svalbard Global Seed Vault above the Arctic Circle Norway.

I often hear of this project ... many confuse it with the Millennium Seed bank Project which I was connected with during last year's residency. On the right sidebar you can find the link to Kew Garden's MSB project! The Norwegian one I have yet to thoroughly explore. Another magazine I picked up today - the December edition of ICON - an international design, architecture and culture mag actually featured a long article on this Seed Vault that is often referred to as the Doomsday Vault.
online magazine - iconeye 

I'm frequently noticing considerable information circulating on seeds, seed banks and such research ... and given my background is not science ... it begs a fair degree of persistance to decipher the value of individual articles - the politics and hidden implications adding greatly to the confusion.
The recently published book by Peter Thompson: 'Seeds, Sex and Civilisation' - Thames and Hudson, manages to confound me in the last chapter for the fact I am not sure of the position the writer is taking on contemporary aspects of seed research. Its a complex realm ... but the fact that a lot of research and development is tied up with the names of Corporations we've come to see as highly suspect means that doubt surrounds so much of what is occurring. The last chapter was actually written by Stephen Harris and the last line of that chapter;
"It is hoped that we will make our choices rationally and equitably for the benefit of the whole of humankind, rather than for the political, social or economic benefit of the few."
I found this final sentence  disappointing - too understated a reflection on the matter given this book comes after Thopmson's lifetime's experience in Plant physiology... not working for a private company but at Kew Gardens ... Id have welcomed a stronger critique on the situation hinted at in that final statement.

How the Hidden Life of Plants Has Shaped Our World
Peter Thompson and Stephen Harris
Seeds, Sex and Civilization

The history of civilization told through the story of man’s relation to and use of seed
Seeds have influenced evolution, and for millennia they have influenced and sometimes determined where and how we live. This is an epic tale, given added enchantment by the fact that to most of us seeds mean little more than tiny objects in paper packets: who thinks first of rice, wheat, coffee, nuts, peas, beans, or olives? Here, Peter Thompson unfolds the absorbing history of how, after centuries of investigation, we finally discovered what seeds do and how they work.
This is a scientific detective story with heroes and heroines following clues and finding answers. Thompson brings to life the eccentrics, explorers, amateurs, and highly dedicated professionals who have accumulated our knowledge. Some are well known, such as Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel; others, like the Russian geneticist Nikolai Vavilov, are less so. The seeds also have a story and appear to have personalities, ambitions, and “stratagems” of their own.
Seeds, Sex and CivilizationThe book concludes with a chapter by Stephen Harris on current debates about genetically modified crops, seed conservation, and plant ownership in the contemporary world.
Peter Thompson, for many years the Head of Plant Physiology at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and a pioneer in the conservation of threatened plant species, laid the foundations for the Millennium Seed Bank. Stephen Harris is Druce Curator of the Oxford University Herbaria and a Fellow of Green Templeton College.


Floods send Aussie seeds to doomsday vault

Friday, 11 February 2011
Cosmos Online
Nicknamed the ‘doomsday vault’, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is part of Australia's first insurance policy for its seeds.
Credit: Global Crop Diversity Trust
SYDNEY: After battling weeks of natural disasters, Australia has sent its first seeds to the frozen ‘doomsday’ vault on the Norwegian Island of Svalbard, as an insurance policy against further threats to our food security.
This is the first time that Australia has created a protected back up collection of seeds that can be accessed immediately if the country’s crops are damaged - an important step for a country that has no native food sources.
“Some would say that having seeds in Svalbard is the key to our future food security. We’re ensuring the genetic diversity of our crops is protected for the foreseeable future - and for crops to adapt to change they need as much genetic diversity as possible,” said Tony Gregson, the Australian farmer and Crawford Fund board member who will deliver the seeds to the vault.
Duplicate seeds in case of failure
Currently, when crops face a new stress, for example climate change or a new pest species, scientists look to local and international seed banks to find a relative of the crop that has genetic resistance to the problem.
But these seed banks are vulnerable to natural disasters, war and - particularly in Australia - lack of funding, and can’t be depended on in the worst-case scenario, said Gregson.
“Svalbard is built into solid rock, it’s 60 m above sea level and it’s in permanent permafrost. It’s probably the most secure place in the world for seeds. If one of our genebanks fails, at least we’ll have our duplicate seeds stored in a safe place where we can access them when we require.”
Queensland floods revealed vulnerability
The sealed Australian seed samples will arrive on Svalbard on 16 February 2011 and will able to survive at least 50-100 years in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault – often nicknamed the ‘doomsday vault’ – which is 1,300 km from the North Pole and was initially funded by a collection of countries, including Australia.
Sending seeds to Svalbard is particularly significant at this time, said Gregson, as three of the countries six seed banks have gone into crisis due to lack of funding over the past two years, and natural disasters such as the recent Queensland floods have demonstrated how vulnerable the country can be.
“We hope we will never need the seeds from the Svalbard vault, but the way the world is going, we probably will at some stage in the next 50-100 years,” he added.
A global resource
Australia is sending 343 seed samples from the Horsham seed bank in Victoria to the vault, including field peas collected in China and chickpeas from Lebanon. The majority of the seed samples don’t exist anywhere else in the world and so if lost, all of their useful genes will be gone forever.
By contributing these seeds, Australia is not only protecting its own food security, but for the first time it’s undertaking its obligations of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, said Gregson.
“Australia is now playing a global part in food security - other countries cannot take the seeds out of the vault, but part of the deal is that other countries can have access to the remnants of the seeds that are left in Horsham,” he added.
We are not immune
Richard Richards, chief research scientists at the CSIRO Plant Industry in Canberra, believes this is an important step in showing Australia’s support for the global effort to protect food security.
“The fact that Australia is contributing reminds us that we are not immune to something happening to our own collections, which certainly still need to be coordinated much better than what they are at the moment. But I think having this global collection does draw attention to the fact that genetic resources are for the whole world; they’re not just for Australia. We're all in this together,” said Richards.
“There's no question we're going to have to dip into this important resource if we're going to protect our crops against pests and diseases. So it's a very important move,” he added.

More information


COSMOS is Australia’s #1 science media brand, reaching 400,000 people every month. We publish a print magazine, a daily online news site and a weekly email newsletter. Our Cosmos Teacher's Notes reach 60% of Australian high schools, and we produce a wide range of quality editorial products (such as websites, booklets, posters and DVDs) for a range of clients.
An Australian brand with a global outlook, COSMOS internationally respected for its literary writing, excellence in design and engaging breadth of content. It's the winner of 41 awards, including the 2009 Magazine of the Year and twice Editor of the Year at the annual Bell Awards for Publishing Excellence. COSMOS has also won the American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award, the Reuters/IUCN Award for Excellence in Environmental Journalism, the City of Sydney Lord Mayor's Sustainability Award and an Earth Journalism Award.
COSMOS is the brainchild of Wilson da Silva, a former ABC TV science reporter and past president of the World Federation of Science Journalists. It is backed by an Editorial Advisory Board that includes Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, ABC Radio’s Robyn Williams, and is chaired by Dr Alan Finkel, the neuroscientist and philanthropist who is the Chancellor of Monash University in Melbourne.
 See  MEDIA ROOM for news clippings, interviews, and press releases about COSMOS.


Maggie Neale said...

Oh my goodness, Sophie, there is so much information collected here. You are creating a seed bank yourself and I am enjoying what you gather.

Sophie Munns said...

So glad you visited Maggie...
the information almost seems to keep finding me... and with so much confusion out there...& much that is repetitive ...I have a desire to add something to the debate when I find gritty material worth sharing!
Hope you are keeping warm up there in Vermont!

Elaine said...

I am also thankful that you are gathering this information for us. There is so much and it is difficult to absorb and decipher it all. These publications and book you have found sound interesting and certainly worth a closer study.

Sophie Munns said...

Glad you got to see this Elaine.
Im finding the complexity of the contemporary situation with seeds demands wide and very thorough engagement to make sense of it all... its such a contested subject... abundant misinformation makes it all the harder to discern ... blogging therefore gives me a chance to focus and ponder the inconsistencies... ask more questions... look deeper for answers.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...