by Seshata on 12/04/2013 | Cannabis News

The importance of maintaining seed banks

There are thousands of seed banks around the world, and their carefully-stored catalogues are of vital importance to our species and the health of the ecosystems we occupy. As we continue to invade the diminishing wild areas of our planet, we risk biodiversity loss on an unprecedented scale.


There are thousands of seed banks around the world, and their carefully-stored catalogues are of vital importance to our species and the health of the ecosystems we occupy. As we continue to invade the diminishing wild areas of our planet, we risk biodiversity loss on an unprecedented scale.

Therefore, storing and cataloguing viable genetic material in seed banks and gene banks is becoming increasingly important. Many scientists believe we have entered into a mass extinction event, and it is thought that up to 30,000 species become extinct every year. This rate is believed to be increasing rapidly, and the number of new species evolving each year cannot keep up.

Mass extinction threatens innumerable species

23% of mammals, 25% of conifers, 12% of bird species, over 30% of amphibians and over 50% of palm trees may be lost over the next century due to climate change—in total, up to 37% of all living species may face extinction. Estimates of the total number of species on earth currently stand at around 8.7 million (of which just 300,000 are plants), and up to 86% of all land species (and 91% of marine species) remain uncategorised.

Many of this vast number of uncategorised species will inevitably be threatened by our changing climate, and may be lost before we can study them and their importance to the ecosystem they belong to. If they are lost before we are able to categorise and store genetic material, the consequences could be severe.

Cataloguing crop species is also important

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The Millennium Seed Bank is currently the world’s largest repository

As well as endangered species, seed banks are important for mainstream agriculture too. Crops such as wheat, cotton, cannabis and many others are catalogued, and their seed stock kept safe to ensure that should genetic drift or disease affect a population, a varied gene pool is kept safe for use in future breeding programs.

The importance of maintaining seed banks - 2 - The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a major repository
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a major repository

The Millennium Seed Bank is one of the largest international seed repositories in the world, and currently contains 10% of all living plant species—over a billion individual seeds. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is another well-known repository, and at full capacity will hold up to 2.25 billion seeds. More information about the various seed banks in operation today can be found here.

How do Seed Banks keep their seeds safe?

Most seeds can be stored safely for many years without damage to their DNA—these seeds are known as orthodox. Orthodox seeds are dried to below 5% moisture and then frozen to -18°C, and can be stored for several decades. However, they must be replanted after a certain period due to eventual DNA degradation.

Recalcitrant seeds (such as those from rubber and cocoa) cannot be dried and frozen without damage to the DNA, so seeds must be replanted much more frequently, and stored in cool but not frozen temperatures.

Cannabis seeds are orthodox, and can be stored for many decades. As well as the many seed banks storing high-potency medical and narcotic strains of cannabis, there are several major repositories for seed and fibre hemp, such as the Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry (VIR),which currently maintains around 500 cultivars.

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