Friday, July 25, 2014
PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Rock doc: A different and very useful kind of bank

By
July 3, 2012 |

I work just a couple of blocks from a special kind of bank. It doesn’t accept money for deposit, it won’t finance a new car, and it wasn’t part of the housing bubble. This unusual kind of bank deals mostly in seeds that it preserves, sometimes propagates, and often disperses without charge to anyone who has a research use for unusual strains of crop plants.

Seed genebanks are part of the unseen work that helps increase the chance more people will have enough to eat for supper tonight. The seed vaults are part of a federal-state partnership that preserves a vast number of crop strains, keeping alive genetic diversity that can be quite useful.

“We have over 91,000 samples in our USDA/ARS-SAES genebank,” Dr. Jinguo Hu said to me recently at Washington State University. Hu is the research leader of the Western Regional Plant Introduction Station (WRPIS).

The seeds at WRPIS are kept in what’s called “short term” storage – but that’s a relative term. Depending on the plant species, the stored seeds may last up to 50 years.

The temperature of the main storage vault at WSU is just above freezing and has a relative humidity of 30 percent. It feels like a cool tomb, good for preserving the many drawers of seed samples it contains.

There are other seed genebanks around the nation, each specializing in certain types of crops. Some of them came into existence just after World War II.

“The facility at WSU was started in 1947,” Hu said.

Among other things, the WSU seed repository holds 16,000 kinds of peas, chickpeas and lentils and 13,000 types of temperate forage legumes like alfalfa.

The goal is to preserve and make available plants that are genetically diverse and can contribute to disease resistance and adaptations to climate change. That’s where the rubber meets the road – helping researchers and then farmers continue to bring in good harvests despite changing physical or biological conditions.

“Having seeds in storage also helps prevent a natural catastrophe from wiping out a particular crop plant,” Hu said. “The effort is international, with seed banks in Africa and samples we have from them helping to preserve plants that Africa needs for its agricultural conditions, just as our crop plants are preserved for our conditions.”

But even in the quiet and cool storage vault, seed samples age as the years go by. Because they won’t last forever, from time to time samples are taken out of the WSU vault and planted. In the fall fresh seeds are harvested and they go back into storage. The WSU facility has two farms that have about 100 acres total under cultivation in this regeneration effort.

There’s a USDA/ARS seed storage facility in Fort Collins in which seeds are kept in a vault near zero degrees Fahrenheit or in a frigid bath of liquid nitrogen for the much longer term. Most of WSU’s samples are backed up there. There’s also now a long term facility in Svalbard, Norway. It’s a tunnel and underground storage chambers that were blasted out of the permafrost. The Norwegians simply hold samples as insurance against loss of repositories like the one at WSU.

“Our system here at WSU is quite different from what the Norwegians do,” Hu said. “We are designed for ready access and quick dispersal to researchers who want our seeds. Last year we sent out over 30,000 samples to scientific investigators who asked for them.”

Some nations no longer permit scientists to collect samples of diverse plants within their borders for research. The ARS Plant Exchange Office has worked hard with these nations to facilitate plant exploration and germplasm exchange to bring in needed genetic resources for crop improvement.

Keeping diverse crop plants alive in the world of industrial agriculture has its complexities. Like other parts of agricultural research and development, the job isn’t simple – but the rewards have great potential for all of us who like to eat.

Agricultural research pays dividends each day on what we invest in complex efforts like the one Hu overseas.

You can bank on that.

Dr. E. Kirsten Peters, a native of the rural Northwest, was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. Planet Rock Doc, a collection of Peters’ columns, is available at bookstores or from the publisher at wsupress.wsu.edu or 1-800-354-7360. This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. 

Comments

comments

E. Kirsten Peters

.

News

 
Scaffolding issue makes for contentious meeting

By Wendy Schultz | From Page: A1, 2 Comments | Gallery

 
District 2: Candidates debate jobs versus lifestyle

By Dawn Hodson | From Page: A1, 2 Comments | Gallery

Accident: 1 bullet hits 2

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A1

 
Help available for breastfeeding mothers

By Health and Human Services Agency | From Page: A3

 
El Dorado County School Board vacancy

By El Dorado County Office of Education | From Page: A8

 
.

Opinion

Popular science

By Mountain Democrat | From Page: A4

 
The weekly Daley: A good time to be there…

By Chris Daley | From Page: A4

Something to think about: More than what you see

By Wendy Schultz | From Page: A4

 
.

Letters

Support of Director Prada

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

 
Uphold the Third Amendment

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

Bureaucracy

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

 
Imagination Theater’s play

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

Watch whom you’re calling ‘conservative’

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5Comments are off for this post

 
Fake ‘small farms’ steal from residential EID customers

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5Comments are off for this post

People of Placerville

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

 
Computer scam phone calls

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

.

Sports

Sports Scene: July 24, 2014

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6

 
Quarter century later, Rypien wins ACCG again

By Andrew Hazard | From Page: A6 | Gallery

Outside with Charlie: Paddle time

By Charlie Ferris | From Page: A6

 
Midget Lites join tomorrow’s action

By Bill Sullivan | From Page: A6

El Dorado rallies for last-inning victory

By Mike Bush | From Page: A6

 
Rush sit a win from Series

By Jerry Heinzer | From Page: A7

Tasmanian Devils go undefeated

By Patty Pope | From Page: A7

 
.

Prospecting

El Dorado wines win in Amador

By Democrat Staff | From Page: B1

 
Things to do: July 25, 2014

By Democrat Calendar | From Page: B2

Suds entice the taste buds

By Krysten Kellum | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Rhythm and Views goes bluesy

By | From Page: B3

Have an Hawaiian vacation at Carson Road wineries

By Carson Road Winery Asociation | From Page: B3Comments are off for this post | Gallery

 
Summer fun is happening in Twain Harte

By Fire On | From Page: B4Comments are off for this post

Manzanita doubles the music

By Table Nectar And Manzanita | From Page: B5

 
Recording artist at Busby Cellars

By News Release | From Page: B6

Hands4Hope hosts school supply drive

By News Release | From Page: B6

 
Supergroup plays Harris Center

By Carrera Productions | From Page: B6

Artists invited to go western

By Art On The Divide | From Page: B7

 
Visit Tahoe artists during tour

By Special to the Democrat | From Page: B7

Reggae on the River celebrates 30 years

By Reggae On | From Page: B7Comments are off for this post

 
.

Essentials

Lake levels 7-24-14

By Michael Raffety | From Page: A2

 
Crime Log: July 11-13

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A2

Building permits 7/7-11/2014

By Michael Raffety | From Page: A2

 
.

Obituaries

Wallace Murrel Thomas

By Contributor | From Page: A2

 
.

Real Estate

How to have a garden party, minus the whining

By Marni Jameson | From Page: HS3

 
Most common mistakes homebuyers make

By Ken Calhoon | From Page: HS4

.

Comics

Speed Bump

By Contributor | From Page: A9

 
Tundra

By Contributor | From Page: A9

Working It Out

By Contributor | From Page: A9

 
Shoe

By Contributor | From Page: A9

Sudoku

By Contributor | From Page: A9

 
Rubes

By Contributor | From Page: A9

TV Listings

By Contributor | From Page: A9

 
New York Times Crossword

By Contributor | From Page: A10

Horoscope, Sunday, July 27, 2014

By Contributor | From Page: A10

 
Horoscope, Saturday, July 26, 2014

By Contributor | From Page: A10

Horoscope, Friday, July 25, 2014

By Contributor | From Page: A10

 
.

Home Source

How to have a garden party, minus the whining

By Marni Jameson | From Page: HS3

Most common mistakes homebuyers make

By Ken Calhoon | From Page: HS4