Britain's wild seed bank hits 10 percent target

Thu Oct 15, 2009 2:14am EDT
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By Georgina Cooper

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Britain's seed bank, the only one in the world aiming to collect all of the planet's wild plant species, has reached its goal of banking 10 percent by 2010.

The Millennium Seed Bank Project, run by Kew Gardens -- one of the oldest botanical gardens -- will officially deposit the 24,200th species on Thursday, a pink, wild banana from China.

"We've brought it in under budget and on time," Director Paul Smith told Reuters.

"At times during the past nine years it looked like we wouldn't be able to do that, but actually the momentum we've got now is tremendous," he said.

More than 50 countries are now on board with Kew's mammoth task but vast swathes of the globe, including India and Brazil, still need to join in and donate seeds, Smith said.

"Ten percent is just the beginning. We have room here to store approximately two-thirds of the world's plant species so we need to get on with it. Species will become extinct if we don't get some of them," Smith said.

The wild banana seed, or musa itinerans, is under threat of extinction in southwest China from agricultural development. It is a vital food source for Asian elephants and important for growing bananas for human consumption.

The banking ceremony at the facility in Ardingly, 35 miles south of London, will see the musa itinerans seeds join more than a billion others held in the cavernous vaults built to withstand a nuclear explosion.   Continued...