The United Kingdom builds a seed bank that will be the largest in the world. A sort of Noah’s Ark for plants and seeds from all over the planet. The chambers where these treasures of nature are kept are bomb-proof, radiation-proof, flood-proof and other man-made catastrophes.
The Millennium Seed Bank or MSB.
Although there is already another global Seed Bank, which is located near the North Pole, the one in the UK almost doubles its storage capacity.
They are vaults that were built underground. The seeds are kept at a temperature of 20 degrees below zero. Those plants that are in danger of disappearing were given priority for storage. The total number of plant species whose seeds are stored there amounts to 40020. According to scientists, two out of five plant species in the world are in danger of extinction. For this reason, the Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) was created in Wakehurst, a site located south of London belonging to the Kew Gardens Botanic Gardens.
The MSB was opened in 2000 as part of the new millennium celebrations. Today, 2.5 billion seeds from 190 countries are stored there. That is almost 20% of the flora of the entire planet.
Why did they create the MSB?
According to the scientists involved, climate change put many existing plant species at risk of extinction. For that reason, priority was given to plants that may become extinct in the medium term. Also those plant species threatened for other reasons, such as loss of habitat, intensive use of land for livestock or agriculture. Many species can adapt and others cannot, but the seeds are saved so that they do not disappear.
Every week the MSB receives new seeds. All of them undergo a special treatment. They are dried, cleaned and frozen for sorting and subsequent storage. The frozen seeds can be stored for decades, even centuries, depending on the species.
The public can visit the MSB
The seed bank has a glass-walled laboratory for the visiting public to see how work is done. It has a specialized staff of 20 people. All of them are researchers and volunteers who are interested in nature and its conservation.
Many seeds received are in poor condition, diseased or contaminated by insects. The selection process is very exhaustive. After a first selection, the seeds are subjected to an X-ray process to discard the diseased ones.
Then they classify them including, their natural name, region of the world where they come from and the date the MSB received them.
They keep them in glass jars, until they reach the freezing and storage stage. To store them they use subway chambers at 20 degrees below zero.