The Queen Coralbead vine was thought to be extinct in Singapore until recently when it was rediscovered on Coney Island. Now, its seeds, along with thousands of other plant species, are amongst those stored the Singapore Botanic Gardens Seed Bank.
The new facility, located close to the Healing Garden in a colonial building opposite the NUS Law Faculty, has been set up to support plant biodiversity conservation efforts and research into seed preservation.
The Singapore Botanic Gardens Seed Bank will also play an educational role with visitors to the two-storey building being able to peer into laboratories and watch researchers going about their work.
Preserving Seed Biodiversity
The work of preservation starts with the collection of seeds in the field.
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These seeds are then returned to the lab to be thoroughly cleaned. They are then sent to a drying room where their moisture content is reduced before transferred to a cold room for storage at -20 degrees Celsius.
The preservation process does not stop there as the seeds must then be periodically tested to check if they can still be germinated.
While the drying process applies to the majority of seeds, there are also “recalcitrant seeds” which cannot germinate if dried out. These include the Singapore’s favourite seed – the durian.
Instead, a different process is required for such plant seeds. This involves freezing them with liquid nitrogen – putting them into “cryogenic stasis”.
Research Work at the Singapore Botanic Gardens Seed Bank
For around 10% of plant species, the suitable storage process is still unknown and continues to an area of research.
While much of the global research into seed biology is focused on plant species from temperate regions, the Singapore Botanic Gardens Seed Bank will conduct its research into seed preservation of tropical plants.
Visitors to the Seed Bank can learn more about the science of seed preservation through information panels and exhibits throughout the centre. During the opening period, there will also be guided tours conducted as part of the Singapore Botanic Gardens Heritage Festival 2019.
With the introduction of the Seed Bank, Singapore Botanic Gardens will now be able to store the seeds of up to 25,000 plant species. This is more than double of the 10,000 plant species in its living collection.
There is also an outdoor Seed Dispersal Garden which highlights the different ways in which seeds can be spread.
The Singapore Botanic Gardens Seed Bank is now open to the public.