[ASC-media] Seedbankers announce bumper dividends

Kerry Brown Kerry.Brown at rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au
Thu Oct 15 07:34:00 CEST 2009

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Embargo until 4 pm (AEST+1) Thursday 15 October 2009

Seedbankers announce bumper dividends

A new technique for storing Australian orchid seeds and their fungal mates could save more than 60 endangered orchid species from extinction in NSW alone.

The conservation breakthrough was made possible by the partnership of the New South Wales Seedbank with the Millennium Seed Bank founded by the UK's Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

The Millennium Seed Bank announced today that it was celebrating collecting, banking and conserving 10 per cent of the world's wild plant species by banking its 24,200th species. A target of 25 per cent of the world's plant species has been set for 2020.

Since becoming one of the Millennium Seed Bank global partners in 2003, the NSW Seedbank has banked over 37 per cent of NSW plant species. Duplicate seeds have been deposited with the Millennium Seed Bank and documented on its database available to scientists worldwide.

Originally established in 1986 to collect seeds for the native plantings at Mount Annan Botanic Garden in Sydney's Southwest, the NSW Seedbank is now one of Australia's leading scientific centres for conservation of our unique and diverse flora.

Ten per cent of New South Wales' plant species are threatened by extinction, a percentage that is reflected nationally and globally.

Executive Director of the Botanic Gardens Trust Dr Tim Entwisle said, "Funding and technical expertise from the Millennium Seed Bank has supported our work collecting from the wild as well as the development of technology to hold seeds in suspended animation for centuries ready for a variety of conservation initiatives, later and now."

Dr Entwisle said the Nielsen Park She-Oak, once extinct in the wild, was reintroduced to its Sydney harbourside location using seeds from the NSW Seedbank.

With the backing of Millennium Seed Bank, HSBC Bank Australia and other sponsors, the NSW Seedbank aims to collect seeds of all NSW's dryland flora. To date, it holds seeds of 4419 Australian species, including 2149 of almost 6000 species that are native to NSW.

It is the first time many of the species have been collected and - equally important -- the conditions under which they will survive, germinate and grow have been researched and documented.

Dr Entwisle said, "It's horses for courses. Australian seeds have very specific evolutionary mechanisms for surviving one of the toughest environments on Earth. The fire-germination strategies of eucalypt and banksia seeds are well-known. Other ecological niche strategies are also being researched at the NSW Seedbank.

"Identifying the particular fungus that each Australian orchid species requires for its seeds to germinate, and storing the seeds and their fungal partners in a seaweed-based gel developed by the Millennium Seed Bank has transformed our capacity to conserve endangered orchid species."

For the first time, scientists are also investigating the seed storage biology of Australian rainforest species, most of which do not survive the drying methods of traditional seedbanking. The Eastern Australia Rainforest Seed Project established at the NSW Seedbank last year is researching and trialling solutions such as cryo-preservation - storage at ultra low temperatures of minus 196*C in liquid nitrogen - that will be applicable globally in the conservation of threatened rainforest species.

Covering only 0.3 percent of the continent, Australian rainforest species are home to over 10 per cent of our plant species and up to 50 per cent of our animal species. They produce an extraordinary natural bounty, including fruit with health-promoting antioxidants in greater concentrations than current crop sources of these compounds. Some have shown cancer-fighting properties.

The NSW Seedbank collections also support a range of horticultural research projects from plant breeding and horticultural development of flannel flowers and waratahs to critical conservation projects such as the dinosaur-age Wollemi Pine which has less than 100 trees surviving in the wild in a Blue Mountains Gorge.

Dr Entwisle said, "Seedbanking is the most cost effective means available to us for conserving our irreplaceable plant diversity. Further funding is being sought for the work of the NSW Seedbank."


Botanic Gardens Trust
Acting PR  Manager Kerry Brown, ph 02 9231 8004, mob 0427 482 477  or email kerry.brown at rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au

For further information about the NSW Seedbank please visit: www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/science/current_research/nsw_seedbank

High resolution images of the Seedbank facility and seed collecting in the field are available. Please contact the Public Relations department.

Millennium Seed Bank
RBG Kew press office: ph 44 20 8332 5607 or email pr at kew.org<mailto:pr at kew.org>.

Please visit www.kew.org/msbp<http://www.kew.org/msbp> for further information about the Millennium Seed Bank partnership, including more information about international partner projects.

High resolution images of the Millennium Seed Bank facility and seed collecting in the field are available to download from http://www.kew.org/press/images. Please contact the RBG Kew press office for a username and password.

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