Singapore seed bank to protect plant species

Some of the seeds from plant species that will be conserved: Clerodendrum villosum (tapak kerbau), Gynotroches axillaris (mata keli) and Fibraurea tinctoria (akar kuning).
Some of the seeds from plant species that will be conserved: Clerodendrum villosum (tapak kerbau, above), Gynotroches axillaris (mata keli) and Fibraurea tinctoria (akar kuning). PHOTO: NPARKS
Some of the seeds from plant species that will be conserved: Clerodendrum villosum (tapak kerbau), Gynotroches axillaris (mata keli) and Fibraurea tinctoria (akar kuning).
Some of the seeds from plant species that will be conserved: Clerodendrum villosum (tapak kerbau), Gynotroches axillaris (mata keli, above) and Fibraurea tinctoria (akar kuning). PHOTO: NPARKS
Some of the seeds from plant species that will be conserved: Clerodendrum villosum (tapak kerbau), Gynotroches axillaris (mata keli) and Fibraurea tinctoria (akar kuning).
Some of the seeds from plant species that will be conserved: Clerodendrum villosum (tapak kerbau), Gynotroches axillaris (mata keli) and Fibraurea tinctoria (akar kuning, above). PHOTO: NPARKS

Seeds meant for habitat restoration, species conservation projects here and in the region

Much has been said about endangered animal species, but Singapore is now also doing its part for threatened plant species in South-east Asia with the opening of the country's first seed bank.

The bank - where seeds are stored and conserved - is located at Botanic Gardens and was launched by the National Parks Board (NParks) yesterday.

The plan is to use the seeds for habitat restoration and species conservation projects in Singapore and the region.

The facility can store the seeds of up to 25,000 plant species - about half the total number of species in the region.

One such seed species that will be stored is the Intsia palembanica, or merbau. The lowland forest tree, which produces good-quality timber, is considered critically endangered in Singapore.

The seed bank will also support research into the optimisation of seed storage methods, in particular those of tropical plants, since seed banks elsewhere generally focus on the seeds of temperate plants and crops.

Over $1.17 million was raised to initiate the research and development of the seed bank. The Gardens aims to raise another $5 million over the next 10 years for conservation, research and education efforts.

At the opening, Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee said: "With increasing threats from diseases, natural disasters and climate change, the natural dispersal mechanisms of seeds may not be enough.

 

"It is thus timely for NParks to establish a seed bank as a form of insurance against such threats.

"This enhances the Gardens' role in botanical conservation, research and education. It will also complement existing seed banking efforts for agriculture and forestry by research institutions globally, and ensure that we can conserve our natural heritage for the benefit of future generations."

The new seed bank supplements the Gardens' existing living collection of 10,000 plant species.

The seed conservation process at the new facility involves cleaning the seeds at a laboratory to remove debris and excess plant bulk.

The seeds are then dried and stored in freezing conditions to ensure their longevity.

Some seed embryos, such as the Singapore durian seed which does not do well in dry and frozen conditions, are stored in liquid nitrogen at minus 196 deg C in a cryogenic laboratory.

NParks said the stored seeds will be regularly tested for their viability to eventually germinate and grow into mature plants in the future.

The public can visit the seed bank for free and participate in NParks' organised guided tours and public talks.

Seed bank centre director Ang Wee Foong said: "In Singapore, many of our plant species are known to be critically endangered. In recent years, we have discovered new species that were even thought to be extinct here. The seeds we conserve can be planted back here in the future."

The Gardens also launched its annual heritage festival and a book of poetry about nature, edited by local poets Edwin Thumboo and Eric Tinsay Valles, in conjunction with the seed bank's opening.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 14, 2019, with the headline 'S'pore seed bank to protect plant species'. Print Edition | Subscribe