Biological diversity is the variation present in each species of plants and animals, its genetic material, as well as the ecosystem. You must understand that through diversity, sustainability and progression on the social and economic systems is possible since it allows people to meet their food and nutritional needs. Without reputable seed banks and field gene banks, good genes and genotypes of plants from early years might have extinct long ago, the same goes with the animals.
As mentioned by Saad and Rao (2001), the cause of concern why there’s a need to give full attention on the situations of the biodiversity is that the plants hold a great wealth of genetic diversity that bears enormous potential for the current and future use. Yet, these genetic resources are non-renewable so it is vital that people should start conserving while it is still available.
And when it comes to conservation and preservation of the genetic diversity of the plants, what comes in mind are the gene banks that are present in various parts of the world. A gene bank is a biorepository that preserves the genetic material of plants and animals. If zoological freezers were used to freeze the sperm and egg cell until needed, in plants, the methods used are by in vitro storage, freezing the cut parts of the plants, and storing the seeds.
Approaches in Conservation of Plant Genetic Resources
Aside from these methods, there are also approaches in the conservation of plant genetic resources. These are ex-situ (off-site conservation) and in situ (in site conservation). Ex situ conservation includes the following methods, such as field genebanks, seed storage, pollen storage, in vitro storage, DNA storage as well as botanical gardens. The in situ conservation preserves plant genetic diversity through reserves or protected areas, home gardens, and on-farm.
However, due to increasing population and few environmental factors, most environmentalists rely on field genebanks and seed banks.
What is a Field Gene Bank?
A field gene bank is an ex-situ method of plant genetic conservation. It maintains the genetic variation from its original location and other samples of species, subspecies or another variety that is transferred and conserved as living collections.
Field genebank is considered an essential technique in the preservation of biodiversity in plants because some species are recalcitrant in nature, such as coconut, rubber, cocoa, oil palm and other tropical fruits including jackfruit, durian, mango, rambutan, and mangosteen. Other recalcitrant seeds can be stored without desiccation for a few days, weeks or months.
Though there are technologies which were used in conserving the recalcitrant seeds, the problems lie with the long regeneration cycle of perennial plants. That’s why most of the seeds that can be found on gene banks are from plants with short regeneration cycle which are transported before harvested in the nurseries.
How are Seeds Stored in Field Gene Banks
When storing seeds in field gene banks, the genotypes from the environment are brought and are adapted where natural selection occurs, which increases the opportunities for natural hybridization with the new material brought from the outside.
Certain factors that can affect the population of new hybrids are soil, climate, biotic components, breeding system, length of the life cycle, degree of care as well as competition.
What is a Reputable Seed Bank?
Reputable seed banks are considered as seed libraries that bear vital information about plants’ diversity and the evolution in the strategies used in handling plant stress. It is imperative to identify the plant stress in each and every plant as it can affect the plant growth, crop yields, and damages once the stress had reached the tolerance limit of the plants in the future.
It is also a type of gene bank that is used to preserve the genetic diversity of the plants. , the genes in the seeds that are kept are those that can increase yield, are tolerant to drought, can resist diseases and have nutritional quality as well as good taste.
How Seeds are Stored in Seed Banks
The seed bank is also useful in storing seeds that are impending to extinct or are of a rare kind for historical and cultural preservation purposes. The seeds in the seed bank are stored in a low temperature in sealed hermetic containers to avoid moisture build-up that will result in germination.
For instance, Crop King Seeds, MJ Seeds Canada, Sonoma Seeds, Sunwest Genetics and Rocket Seeds are some of the reliable seed banks in the US and Canada which store high-quality marijuana seeds of different breeds. These seed banks store marijuana seeds that contain genetic materials that allow breeders to increase their yield and produce marijuana plants that have high THC levels.
The Difference of Field Gene Banks from Seed Banks
Although both banks have one goal, which is to conserve and preserve the genetic material of the plants for future breeding and cultivation purposes, the two still have differences in general.
Field gene banks or FGB preserve the genetic resources of the plants by keeping the plant source alive. The plants subjected to FGB preservation undergo constant growth and maintenance. Compared to storing seeds in the bank, the methods of FGB require more labor, support from chemical inputs and land spacing. If tree crops are for preservation, it requires big spacing in between crops to ensure that the plants are not competing for the nutrients coming from the soil.
Advantages of Field Gene Banks
According to Imke Thormann of Biodiversity International, field gene banks have their advantages and disadvantages. FGB is known to be favorable for plants species that grows from recalcitrant and intermediate seeds. This method of ex situ conservation is convenient in characterization and evaluation of the plants, allows the conservation of one particular genotype, and is applicable for conservation and research observation purposes.
Disadvantages of Field Gene Banks
The disadvantage of FGB why it is not always the recommended method of conserving and preserving the genetic material of the plants is that the practice is vulnerable to changes in management practices.
In terms of susceptibility to drought, pest, diseases and other natural or human-driven hazards, the FGB is in high risk. When it comes to storage capability, it is only applicable to a particular set of genotypes. Thus, there’ll be a limited amount of plant genetic diversity that can be stored.
Aside from this, FGB requires a lot of spacing for each crop. So, this means it will require a large chunk of money for the construction of the FGB site. From these pros and cons of field gene banks, it simply describes its big difference from seed banks from gene banks’ ability to store, safety and security, and cost.
Hence, when it comes to a practical way but guaranteed safe preservation of genetic materials of plants, the seed banks are often the recommended method.
Advantages of Seed Banks
What sets seed banks apart from field gene bank is that compared to field gene banks where the genetic materials stored can only be kept for a short period of time, seed banks can maintain the genetic material for decades or even centuries as long as the banks are well maintained.
Before storing the seeds, these are dried to the optimum level of dryness which will not dry up the genetic material that each seed contain. The seeds are, then, stored in hermetic containers under <5% humidity and -20 degrees Celsius to ensure that there’ll be no moisture that will constitute to germination. And duplicate seed stocks can be maintained.
Disadvantages of Seed Banks
Of course, just like any method of PGD conservation and preservation, seed banks also have its setbacks. The first one is that it is not applicable to all plant species, some seeds need to be germinated to restock and that it is vulnerable to power failures, natural disasters, and destructive wars.
But when it comes to practicality, the seed banks are way cheaper than field gene banks because you have lots of options on how you’re going to store your seeds (e.g. lacquered cans, vial glass or aluminum sealed packets).
Wrapping it up
News of endangered plant and animal species are becoming headlines on televisions and newspapers recently, and this is not just a reminder on how people should manage the availability of people’s source of food. It is also a wakeup call that tells people to start conserving and preserving what is still available for future use.
With the growing population of each and every country, scarcity of food is possible. That’s why many environmentalists are urging people to start conserving and preserving seeds through community seed banks and field gene bank.
For instance, people who are interested to breed marijuana plants for medicinal use can also gain access to high-quality seeds from reputable seed banks and field gene banks. You can breed new strains out of the genetic material available in the seeds you got from reputable seed banks.
All you need to do is to decide as to what method of preservation you should adapt to ensure that all your hard work in preserving the genetic diversity of plants that you breed will not go to waste. Besides, it’s not only for the people of today but also for the children of tomorrow.