Two articles I ran across yesterday both concerned seed banks – something I’d never really given much thought to until reading Paolo Bacigalupi’s award-winning science fiction novel, The Windup Girl, earlier this year…
[The Pavlovsk research station] holds the world’s largest fruit collections and was protected by 12 Russian scientists during the second world war who chose to starve to death rather than eat the unique collection of seeds and plants which they were guarding during the 900-day siege of Leningrad.
More than 90% of the plants are found in no other research collection or seed bank. Its seeds and berries are thought to posess traits that could be crucial to maintaining productive fruit harvests in many parts of the world as climate change and a rising tide of disease, pests and drought weaken the varieties farmers now grow. At stake, say campaigners for the station, are more than 5,000 varieties of seeds and berries from dozens of countries, including more than 100 varieties each of gooseberries and raspberries.
Trekking into the wild unknown and scaling sheer cliff faces is probably not in the typical botanist’s job description.
Then again, Cai Jie is not your typical botanist.
As collection coordinator for China’s first national seed bank for wild plants, the 31-year-old spends much of his time searching for endangered plants in some of Southwest China’s most challenging terrain.