Millennium Seed Bank Partnership

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Millennium Seed Bank building Millennium Seed Bank Project, Wakehurst Place, UK - Diliff.jpg
Millennium Seed Bank building
The central visitor hall Millennium Seed Bank visitor hall - - 502417.jpg
The central visitor hall
Bixa orellana seeds Bixa orellana seeds.jpg
Bixa orellana seeds
Ravenala madagascariensis seeds Ravenala madagascariensis2.jpg
Ravenala madagascariensis seeds

The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP or MSB), formerly known as the Millennium Seed Bank Project, is the largest ex situ plant conservation programme in the world [1] coordinated by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. After being awarded a Millennium Commission grant in 1995, the project commenced in 1996, and is now housed in the Wellcome Trust Millennium Building situated in the grounds of Wakehurst Place, West Sussex. Its purpose is to provide an "insurance policy" against the extinction of plants in the wild by storing seeds for future use. The storage facilities consist of large underground frozen vaults preserving the world's largest wild-plant seedbank or collection of seeds from wild species. The project had been started by Dr Peter Thompson and run by Paul Smith after the departure of Roger Smith. [2] Roger Smith was awarded the OBE in 2000 in the Queen's New Year Honours for services to the Project. [3]


In collaboration with other biodiversity projects around the world, expeditions are sent to collect seeds from dryland plants. Where possible, collections are kept in the country of origin with duplicates being sent to the Millennium Seed Bank Project for storage. Major partnerships exist on all the continents, enabling the countries involved to meet international objectives such as the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation and the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations Environment Programme.

The seed bank at Kew has gone through many iterations. The Kew Seed Bank facility, set up by Peter Thompson in 1980, preceded the MSBP and was headed by Roger Smith from 1980 to 2005. From 2005, Paul Smith took over as head of the MSBP. The Wellcome Trust Millennium Seed Bank building was designed by the firm Stanton Williams and opened by Prince Charles in 2000. [4] The laboratories and offices are in two wings flanking a wide space open to visitors housing an exhibition, and also allowing them to watch the work of cleaning and preparing seeds for storage through the large windows of the work areas. There is also a view down to the entrance to the underground vaults where the seeds are stored at −20 °C (−4 °F). [5] In 2001, the international programme of the MSBP was launched.

In April 2007, it banked its billionth seed, [6] the Oxytenanthera abyssinica, a type of African bamboo. In October 2009, it reached its 10% goal of banking all the world's wild plant species by adding Musa itinerans , a wild banana, to its seed vault. As estimates for the number of seed bearing plant species have increased, 34,088 wild plant species and 1,980,405,036 seeds in storage as of June 2015 represent over 13% of the world's wild plant species. [7]

Project aims

The main aims of the project [8] are to:

International partnerships

There are over 100 partnerships worldwide, [1] including Australia, Mexico, Chile, Kenya, China, United States, Jordan, Mali, Malawi, Madagascar, Burkina Faso, Botswana, Tanzania, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and South Africa. Australia is particularly significant as its flora constitutes 15% of the world's total of species, with 22% of them identified as under threat of extinction. [10]

Preservation of seeds

A placement student cleaning Pilosella officinarum at the Millennium Seed Bank. The procedure is being carried out in a dust hood. Pilosella officinarum cleaning.JPG
A placement student cleaning Pilosella officinarum at the Millennium Seed Bank. The procedure is being carried out in a dust hood.

Seed collections arrive at the MSBP in varying states, sometimes attached to fruits, sometimes clean. The collections usually also include a voucher specimen that can be used to identify the plant. The collections are immediately moved to a dry room until processing can be conducted where the seeds are cleaned of debris and other plant material, X-rayed, counted, and banked at −20 °C (−4 °F). Seeds are banked in hermetically sealed glass containers along with silica gel packets impregnated with indicator compounds that change colour if moisture seeps into the collection. Seeds are tested for viability with a germination test shortly after banking and then at regular 10 year intervals. If seed collections are low, re-harvesting from the wild is always the preferred option.

Seed distribution

When seeds are required for research purposes, they can be requested from the MSBP's seedlist. If it has the legal permission to do so, the MSB can then provide up to 60 seeds for free, to bona fide, non-commercial organisations for the purposes of research, restoration, and reintroduction. [11] All seeds provided to institutions are on a non-profit mutual benefit basis. The MSB also operates the UK Native Seed Hub which aims to improve the resilience of the UK's ecological networks by providing high-quality UK native seeds to conservation and restoration groups.

See also

Related Research Articles

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Government botanical research institute in the UK

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, is a non-departmental public body in the United Kingdom sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. An internationally important botanical research and education institution, it employs 1,100 staff. Its board of trustees is chaired by Dame Amelia Fawcett.

Seed bank Backup seed storage

A seed bank stores seeds to preserve genetic diversity; hence it is a type of gene bank. There are many reasons to store seeds. One is to preserve the genes that plant breeders need to increase yield, disease resistance, drought tolerance, nutritional quality, taste, etc. of crops. Another is to forestall loss of genetic diversity in rare or imperiled plant species in an effort to conserve biodiversity ex situ. Many plants that were used centuries ago by humans are used less frequently now; seed banks offer a way to preserve that historical and cultural value. Collections of seeds stored at constant low temperature and low moisture are guarded against loss of genetic resources that are otherwise maintained in situ or in field collections. These alternative "living" collections can be damaged by natural disasters, outbreaks of disease, or war. Seed banks are considered seed libraries, containing valuable information about evolved strategies to combat plant stress, and can be used to create genetically modified versions of existing seeds. The work of seed banks spans decades and even centuries. Most seed banks are publicly funded and seeds are usually available for research that benefits the public.

<i>Ex situ</i> conservation

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Wakehurst Place

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Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute

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Cary Fowler

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Australian Seed Conservation and Research (AuSCaR) is an Australian network of agencies involved in the collection, storage, research and sustainable use of seeds for native plant conservation. It is a member of the Kew-based Millennium Seed Bank Partnership. It was established in 2007 to assist with seed-banking and ex-situ plant conservation of the Australian flora. The aim of the network is focused particularly on achieving Target 8 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation by 2010: "60% of threatened plant species in assessable ex-situ collections, preferably in the country of origin, and 10% of them included in recovery and restoration programs".

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Australian PlantBank

The Australian PlantBank is a seed bank located in the Australian Botanic Gardens, Mount Annan. The seedbank is part of the Millennium Seed Bank Project. The SeedBank replaced the former NSW Seedbank as part of an upgrade.

UK Native Seed Hub UK native plant conservation project

The UK Native Seed Hub (UKNSH) is a project of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership growing and distributing seeds of UK native plant species. It is in part a response to the 2010 report Making Space for Nature by Sir John Lawton. The project, located at Wakehurst Place, in West Sussex, in the High Weald of southern England, is dedicated to enhancing the resilience and coherence of the UK's ecological networks by improving the quality, quantity, and diversity of UK seed species available for use in conservation, rehabilitation, and restoration projects.

Australian Grains Genebank Plant gene bank in Horsham, Victoria, Australia

The Australian Grains Genebank (AGG) is a national center for storing genetic material for plant breeding and research. The Genebank is in a collaboration with the Australian Seed Bank Partnership on an Australian Crop Wild Relatives project. It is located at Grains Innovation Park, in Horsham, Victoria, Australia.

World Flora Online Encyclopedic list of scientific plant names

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The European Native Seeds Conservation Network (ENSCONET) is a conservation group for the preservation of wild species by maintaining a germplasm bank. It is made up of 24 institutions from 17 member states of the European Union, as well as five associate members. The network is coordinated by the "Millennium Seed Bank" of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom and is founded under the auspices of the 6th "Research Framework Program" of the EU, and covers 5 of the 6 European biogeographic regions.


  1. 1 2 "Banking the world's seeds | Kew".
  2. "Science and Conservation - Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew". Archived from the original on 17 February 2016. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  3. "NEW YEAR HONOURS". The Independent. Archived from the original on August 1, 2009. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  4. Millennium Seed Bank Building Archived 2014-07-19 at the Wayback Machine page on website
  5. Millennium Seed Bank Exhibition Archived 2014-08-26 at the Wayback Machine page on website
  6. Black, Richard BBC News 2007-04-26 Plant vault passes billion mark , accessed 2007-06-09
  7. "About | Millennium Seed Bank Partnership At Kew". Archived from the original on 26 June 2015. Retrieved 25 June 2015.
  8. "A Year at Kew – the Millennium Seed Bank" "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-05-26. Retrieved 2007-05-26.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) accessed 2007-06-09
  9. "BBC NEWS - Science & Environment - Banana marks seed bank milestone". 15 October 2009. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  10. Australian partnership project "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. Retrieved 2007-06-09.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) accessed 2007-06-09
  11. "MSB Seed List — Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew" . Retrieved 21 September 2015.

Coordinates: 51°04′07″N0°05′25″W / 51.068578°N 0.090209°W / 51.068578; -0.090209