Seed Banks and Gene Banks


The doomsday seed vault buried deep in the side of a frozen mountain‐side on the Island of Svalbard situated within the Arctic Circle has come to encapsulate the global imperative of conserving the biodiversity relating to the world's major food crops against the growing challenges resulting from rising human population, lost of agricultural land and climate change. Extending seed longevity in seed and gene banks is regarded as complementary to conserving plant genotypes in situ in their natural environment. Elucidating the basis and variation in seed physiology with respect to seed storage as well as other in vitro storage techniques such as cryopreservation are essential to success in this mission and in enabling ready access to these resources for future generations.

Key Concepts:

  • Crop wild relatives are wild plant taxa that are closely related to a crop such as a wild ancestor, from which it might be possible to find and transfer beneficial traits for crop improvement.

  • The classification of survival of species on the basis of the response of seeds to combinations of temperature and desiccation.

  • Genetic resources is the term that refers to any material that contains functional units of heredity.

  • Seeds with intermediate storage behaviour can tolerate moderate desiccation (8–12% moisture) but are sensitive to dry storage at temperatures at or below freezing.

  • Serotiny is an ecological adaptation whereby some plant species release their seeds in response to environmental cues such as wetting, burning or warmth rather than the time when the seed reaches maturity.

  • Seeds can be subjected to accelerated aging by storing seeds for short periods under stressed conditions of high humidity and high temperatures. This results in a fall in percentage germination that mimics the effect observed under long‐term storage.

Keywords: seed; longevity; cryopreservation; desiccation; dormancy; conservation; germplasm; biodiversity

Figure 1.

The effect of storage temperature and seed moisture content on the time in days required for wheat grains (Triticum aestivum L.) to show a 50% loss of viability. Values calculated from the viability nomograph of Roberts and Roberts .

Figure 2.

The effect of seed moisture content on the viability of jute seeds (Corchorus olitorius L.) during storage in sealed containers at 32°C. Seed samples were initially adjusted to moisture contents of 4.9% (unfilled circle), 6.7% (filled circle), 9.0% (unfilled square), 11.0% (filled square), 12.2% (unfilled triangle) and 14.3% (filled triangle). After Khandakar and Bradbeer .



Abdalla FH and Roberts EH (1968) Effects of temperature, moisture, and oxygen on the induction of chromosome damage in seeds of barley, broad beans, and peas during storage. Annals of Botany (N.S.) 2: 119–136.

Ashton T (1956) Genetical aspects of seed storage. In: Owen EB (ed.) The Storage of Seeds for Maintenance of Viability, Bulletin 43, pp. 34–38. Farnham Royal, UK: CAB.

Baskin CC and Baskin JM (1998) Seeds: Ecology, Biogeography, and Evolution of Dormancy and Germination. San Diego: Academic Press.

Benson EE (1990) Free Radical Damage in Stored Plant Germplasm. Rome: International Board for Plant Genetic Resources.

Collin HA and Edwards S (1998) Plant Cell Culture. Oxford, UK: Bios Scientific.

Cyr DA (2000) Seed substitutes from the laboratory. In: Black M and Bewley JD (eds) Seed Technology and Its Biological Basis, pp. 326–372. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press.

Delouche JC and Baskin CC (1973) Accelerated aging techniques for predicting the relative storability of seed lots. Seed Science and Technology 1: 427–452.

Ellis RH, Hong TD and Roberts EH (1990) An intermediate category of seed storage behaviour? I. Coffee. Journal of Experimental Botany 41: 1167–1174.

Engels J and Engelman F (1998) Ultra‐dry seed storage: introductory statement. Seed Science Research 8(suppl. 1): 1–2.

FAO (2009) Draft Second Report on the State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. FAO, Rome. CGRFA/WG‐PGR‐4/09/Inf.1.

Hebblethwaite PD (1980) Seed Production. London: Butterworth.

Hong D, Linington SH and Ellis RH (1998) Compendium of Information on Seed Storage Behaviour. Kew, UK: Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. 901 pp. (Two volumes, families A–H and I–Z).

Hong TD and Ellis RH (1996) A Protocol to Determine Seed Storage Behaviour. IPGRI Technical bulletin No. 1. International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, Rome, Italy.

International Seed Testing Association (1993) International rules for seed testing. Seed Science and Technology 21(suppl.): 1–288.

Khandakar AL and Bradbeer JW (1983) Jute Seed Quality. Dhaka, Bangladesh: Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council.

Kivilaan A and Bandurski RS (1981) The one hundred‐year period for Dr. Beal's seed viability experiment. American Journal of Botany 68: 1290–1292.

Pritchard HW (2004) Classification of seed storage types for ex situ conservation in relation to temperature and moisture. In: Guerrant EO Jr, Havens K and Maunder M (eds) Ex Situ Plant Conservation: Supporting Species Survival in the Wild, pp. 139–161. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Roberts EH and Roberts DL (1972) Viability nomographs. In: Roberts EH (ed.) Viability of Seeds, pp. 417–423. London: Chapman and Hall.

Walters C, Kameswara Rao N and Hu X (1998) Optimizing seed water content to improve longevity in ex situ gene banks. Seed Science Research 8(suppl. 1): 15–22.

Further Reading

Bewley JD and Black M (1994) Seeds: Physiology of Development and Germination, 2nd edn. New York: Plenum Press.

Bewley JD, Black M and Halmer M (2006) The Encyclopedia of Seeds: Science, Technology and Uses. Wallingford, CT: CABI Publishing.

Bradbeer JW (1988) Seed Dormancy and Germination. Glasgow: Blackie.

Dickie JB and Pritchard HW (2002) Systematic and evolutionary aspects of desiccation tolerance in seeds. In: Black M and Pritchard HW (eds) Desiccation and Survival in Plants: Drying without Dying, pp. 239–258. Wallingford, CT: CABI Publishing.

Hawkes J, Maxted N and Ford‐Lloyd BV (2000) The Ex Situ Conservation of Plant Genetic Resources, pp. 1–250. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer.

Pritchard HW (2007) Cryoperservation of desiccation‐tolerant seeds. In: Day JG and Stacey G (eds) Cryoperservation and Freeze‐drying Protocols, Methods in Molecular Biology, No. 368, 2nd edn, pp. 185–202. Totowa, NJ: Humana Press.

Probert RJ and Hay FR (2000) Keeping seeds alive. In: Black M and Bewley JD (eds) Seed Technology and Its Biological Basis, pp. 375–410. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press.

Smith RD, Dickie JB, Linington SH, Pritchard HW and Probert RJ (2003) Seed Conservation: Turning Science into Practise, pp. 1–1064. London: Kew Publishing.

Thormann I, Metz T and Engels JMM (2004) The Species Compendium (release 1.0; December) Rome: Bioversity International.

Contact Editor close
Submit a note to the editor about this article by filling in the form below.

* Required Field

How to Cite close
Ambrose, Michael J(Sep 2010) Seed Banks and Gene Banks. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0002025.pub2]