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Seed bank

Russian Seed Bank Fights Demolition

Sunday, August 15, 2010 by: M.Thornley
Tags: seed bank, Russia, health news

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(NewsTarget) A Russian seed bank housing more than 5,000 rare fruits and plants may be demolished to make room for homes. Rights to the federally-owned 70 plus hectare estate were granted to a government housing development agency, the Russian Housing Development Foundation.

The seed bank is the Pavlovsk Experiment Station located 20 miles outside St. Petersburg and part of the N. I. Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry in St. Petersburg, Russia. Its 84-year-old collection has more than 5,000 rare fruits and plants, including apples from 35 countries, 1,000 kinds of strawberries from 40 countries, black currants from 30 countries and plums from 12 countries. Plant biologists consider the Pavlovsk Institute to be one of the world's richest and most extensive collections.

The Vavilov Research Institute is appealing the demolition. A final hearing will decide the fate of the seed bank. However, according to Cary Fowler, director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, an international organization based in Rome, efforts to save the seed bank will probably not be successful. The Russian Housing Development Foundation has a legal advantage.

Letters have been sent, in a last ditch effort, to the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin who alone have the power to overrule the decision. But neither has yet responded to the letters.

The seed bank is one of 1,400 facilities worldwide that houses unique plants. Breeders use these collections to develop new strains of plants which can resist disease, drought or other perils. These collections may also be used after a natural disaster to replace lost crop seed. When a plant species dies, this means the loss of a unique genetic heritage of thousands of years of evolution.

During World War II, in the 900 day Siege of Leningrad, 12 scientists at the Pavlovsk facility chose to starve rather than eat the seeds.

Consisting of over 70 hectares, the Institute boasts varieties of plants that exist nowhere else on Earth and were developed over hundreds of years by farmers in Europe, Scandinavia, and Russia. Mike Ambrose, seed bank manager at John Innes Center in the UK, said the Pavlovsk collection had `survived World War II and very difficult times in the intervening years, and for them to bulldozed down by a property developer would be a very sad fate, not just for Russia but for agriculture worldwide.`

Ironically, Russia invented the modern seed bank. The Pavlovsk Station was founded in 1926 by Nikolai Vavilov, who helped create the concept of seed banks.

If the developers win the court case, the irreplaceable biological heritage could be leveled in the following three to four months. The site cannot simply be moved: it consists of many acres of prime land planted in tens of thousands of rare plants. Moving them would require years of relocation efforts.


About the author

M. Thornley enjoys walking, writing and pursuing a raw vegan diet and lifestyle.

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