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Millennium Seed Bank collects billionth seed


The Millennium Seed Bank Project is one of the largest conservation projects ever conceived. It is housed inside the Wellcome Trust Millennium Building at Kew's Wakehurst Place, Sussex.

Inside the tiny, fertilized ovule (the union of pollen and ovary) of a small, plain seed, an entire tree lies lurking. In the case of alders, the seeds are also equipped with tiny bladders full of air to float them downstream to a damp bit of bank where they can germinate. In the case of poplars and willows, their seeds have miniature sails that can carry them for miles on a good breeze.

To preserve the world’s biological inheritance, the Millennium Seed Bank Project has been collecting seeds. As you may have heard (I'm late to this story), it recently banked its billionth seed. Working with a global seed conservation network, the project is gathering seeds, herbarium specimens and data from 24,200 species worldwide, including all of Britain's seed-bearing flora.

The Seed Bank sends out expeditions, preserves the seeds in sub-zero temperatures, test germinates them, and grows plants to obtain new supplies when viability drops. The so-called "recalcitrant" seeds, such as cocoa and rubber, are replanted and restocked continuously since, like you and me, they respond poorly to cold storage. Seeds are also preserved in the countries of origin. It’s a new expansion on a great tradition – Kew has been collecting seeds and protecting rare and useful plants since it was established in the 18th century.