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Jonathan Drori: Why we’re storing billions of seeds

Jonathan Drori: Why we’re storing billions of seeds

All human life, all life, depends on plants. Let me try to convince you of that in a few seconds. Just think for a moment. It doesn’t matter whether you live in a small African village, or you live in a big city, everything comes back to plants in the end: whether it’s for the food, the medicine, the fuel, the construction, the clothing, all the obvious things; or whether it’s for the spiritual and recreational things that matter to us so much; or whether it’s soil formation, or the effect on the atmosphere, or primary production. Damn it, even the books here are made out of plants. All these things, they come back to plants. And without them we wouldn’t be here. Now plants are under threat. They’re under threat because of changing climate. And they are also under threat because they are sharing a planet with people like us. And people like us want to do things that destroy plants, and their habitats. And whether that’s because of food production, or because of the introduction of alien plants into places that they really oughtn’t be, or because of habitats being used for other purposes — all these things are meaning that plants have to adapt, or die, or move. And plants sometimes find it rather difficult to move because there might be cities and other things in the way. So if all human life depends on plants, doesn’t it make sense that perhaps we should try to save them? I think it does. And I want to tell you about a project to save plants. And the way that you save plants is by storing seeds. Because seeds, in all their diverse glory, are plants’ futures. All the genetic information for future generations of plants are held in seeds. So here is the building; it looks rather unassuming, really. But it goes down below ground many stories. And it’s the largest seed bank in the world. It exists not only in southern England, but distributed around the world. I’ll come to that. This is a nuclear-proof facility. God forbid that it should have to withstand that. So if you’re going to build a seed bank, you have to decide what you’re going to store in it. Right? And we decided that what we want to store first of all, are the species that are most under threat. And those are the dry land species. So first of all we did deals with 50 different countries. It means negotiating with heads of state, and with secretaries of state in 50 countries to sign treaties. We have 120 partner institutions all over the world, in all those countries colored orange. People come from all over the world to learn, and then they go away and plan exactly how they’re going to collect these seeds. They have thousands of people all over the world tagging places where those plants are said to exist. They search for them. They find them in flower. And they go back when their seeds have arrived. And they collect the seeds. All over the world. The seeds — some of if is very untechnical. You kind of shovel them all in to bags and dry them off. You label them. You do some high-tech things here and there, some low-tech things here and there. And the main thing is that you have to dry them very carefully, at low temperature. And then you have to store them at about minus 20 degrees C — that’s about minus four Fahrenheit, I think — with a very critically low moisture content. And these seeds will be able to germinate, we believe, with many of the species, in thousands of years, and certainly in hundreds of years. It’s no good storing the seeds if you don’t know they’re still viable. So every 10 years we do germination tests on every sample of seeds that we have. And this is a distributed network. So all around the world people are doing the same thing. And that enables us to develop germination protocols. That means that we know the right combination of heat and cold and the cycles that you have to get to make the seed germinate. And that is very useful information. And then we grow these things, and we tell people, back in the countries where these seeds have come from, “Look, actually we’re not just storing this to get the seeds later, but we can give you this information about how to germinate these difficult plants.” And that’s already happening. So where have we got to? I am pleased to unveil that our three billionth seed — that’s three thousand millionth seed — is now stored. Ten percent of all plant species on the planet, 24,000 species are safe; 30,000 species, if we get the funding, by next year. Twenty-five percent of all the world’s plants, by 2020. These are not just crop plants, as you might have seen stored in Svalbard in Norway — fantastic work there. This is at least 100 times bigger. We have thousands of collections that have been sent out all over the world: drought-tolerant forest species sent to Pakistan and Egypt; especially photosynthetic-efficient plants come here to the United States; salt-tolerant pasture species sent to Australia; the list goes on and on. These seeds are used for restoration. So in habitats that have already been damaged, like the tall grass prairie here in the USA, or in mined land in various countries, restoration is already happening because of these species — and because of this collection. Some of these plants, like the ones on the bottom to the left of your screen, they are down to the last few remaining members. The one where the guy is collecting seeds there on the truck, that is down to about 30 last remaining trees. Fantastically useful plant, both for protein and for medicine. We have training going on in China, in the USA, and many other countries. How much does it cost? 2,800 dollars per species is the average. I think that’s cheap, at the price. And that gets you all the scientific data that goes with it. The future research is “How can we find the genetic and molecular markers for the viability of seeds, without having to plant them every 10 years?” And we’re almost there. Thank you very much. (Applause)


Smart fucking idea. All people should have their own personal stock of seeds for growing their own . Don't let Monsanto get any more of a monopoly over seeds then they already have. They're GMing everything.

Not ALL life depends on plants. Many fungii and most bacteria will happily live without plants. There are even some deep-sea ecosystems with no plants involved.

I don't think they are deliberately rendered infertile, but a lot of plants sold commercially are hybrids or cultivars which can only be propagated through cuttings, tissue culture or grafting.

I didn't realize seed was so important. Maybe I should quit spilling mine wantonly every night.

They're already patenting genes so they can 'own' the food.

Save heirloom seed, it's going to be the only/best option.

That's happened with literally thousands of farmers all over US and Canada and now India as well. Monsanto is sueing out of business and then buying up small farms. Watch 'future of food', google vid or hulu.

The Irish Potato Famine happened because very few kinds of potatoes were grown and all of them were susceptible to the blight.

We're narrowing down the plants we eat every year — corn, rice, wheat; less kinds of each are grown every year because it's easier for BigAg to only do one or two grow-outs. We are more and more susceptible to famines.

Genetic diversity of plants is very, very important. Turn your lawn into a garden and save your seed.

I'm not so sure. I've had a bit of experience propagating plants for a hobby, and there is certainly nothing unusual about creating infertile hybrids. Hybrids often produce higher yields and good quality fruit, but the plants are often infertile.

Dedicated nurseries churn out huge quantities of artificially pollinated seedlings, or growers can produce their own hybrids if they know what they're doing.

what was not mentioned are the many varieties of specie we have already lost, from apples to wheat. Common specie that have evolved properties that could be useful in changing environments.

This kind of stuff really appeals to me. Sorta goes along with talks like Aubrey de Grey's Methuselah Prize and the the Long Now Foundation.

Less than $3000 dollars to save a single species isn't a whole lot honestly. The US alone spends $millions a year to get single animal species alive. Sounds like a fantastic project honestly ^.^

Anyone know where to donate money? The thought that I could actually save a species myself is pretty damn tempting.

I wonder if the have a bank of cannabis/HEMP seeds.

That plant has to be in the top 100 most important plants on the planet.

I encourage ALL people watching this to please watch this segment here called "The Secret Life of Plants".


The documentary is with Cleave Baxter.
He never really got credit for the original work.

There was a book written by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird in 1973.

This is proof that plants utilize a consciousness just like Humans. Either that or they amplify the consciousness of whatever organisms are around them.


Search "Cannabis: The Scientific And Medical Evidence" in google it will bring up the 1998 house of lords science report.

i drink hemp seeds blended with water and i add hemp protein on top of that. its the world's best protein source.

Why is it narrow?
There are more uses for hemp but i kept the list narrowed down for obvious reasons….

Hemp is the soulution to all of our problems….You can all thank DuPont and Hearst family for NO access

Evolution takes much longer than our lives do, so preserving plants that are useful as resources to our civilizations, as well as those that are dying off due to our increasing use of natural resources (including land), is a good thing to do.

A few years ago someone smoked a reefer at a party I was attending. I inhaled some secondary smoke and now I am a criminal with unsavoury habits. Far left liberals claim there is no link, well they should try telling that to the trail of victims I've left over the years.

eh, you don't have much proof of that statement. It may seem nice to want to help out species that are dying out, but we seem extremely keen on killing off the species we deem bad and unnecessary, things like weeds and what have you. They're extremely successful plants, and we do all we can to kill them. To me we're just being ignorant of the path that evolution wants to take, and are trying to completely rewrite nature.

I doubt evolution accounts for industry and inorganic materials being used for anything but landscape.

To destroy my previous statement, and shed light on the subject, here is a phenomenal philosophy:

No one cares what you think.

This applies to myself, as my statement was an opinion. We are all entitled to them, but the title means nothing. Unless we can back up our opinions with corroborating evidence, it means nothing.

So, everyone: Do research on this to make informed statements.

humorously enough, I dont care that possibly no one cares what I think. Im going to state my mind anyway for the simple reasoning that it either might be important to one person, which would make it worthwhile, or that what I'm saying strikes a chord with someone, and in an attempt to show me wrong someone does go out and corroborate evidence to figure out whether or not what I say is true. I don't really care, all I care about is being as accurate as possible

Good vid, not very exciting but good to see some folks are taking a proactive stance in planning for the future. Currently people do not care what lives and what dies. "ohh it's just a weed, Ohh it's just one tree, I like this kind of corn Vs all these others," Thre was a previous TeD vidieo where a shashed and Burned forest was regrown. The people who were showcased in that Talk learned first hand how wrong they are. Untill we all think like this, We need seed banks.

I don't understand how someone could be so enthusiastic about a textile crop. Your overstatement caught my eye because it was an absolute.

Absolutes are clear signs of deception, ignorance, or zeal.


why are TED talks becoming more and more boring and bullshit? TED used to be so good to me!

yeah man

unfortunately this guy isn't as charismatic as other that do TED talks. But nonetheless – as you kinda said – this is much more important and honorable work than most scientific stuff.

This project is ingenious. I am shocked by some of the rude comments about this.

Projects like this make the world a better place (not trying to be sentimental). It's definitely more important than 100 new Porsches or a 100 yard yacht…

They store billions of seeds so that kooks and conspiracy theorists of the world can use it as another argument in any idiotic rants the spew. "They're trying to poison us all and save the good seeds for themselves, they're preparing for 2012, Jesus is coming soon!!!"…

It does in psyche of a conspiracy theorist 🙂 You would be surprised how many superficial connections they can make up out of random events and topics. You should listen to their rants from time to time, it's sad and funny at the same time. Just wanted to make a joke about it, people didn't like it judging from thumbs down.

Why go into extensive detail when a Google search is so easy and the Wikipedia page contains more info about gorse than you could hope to explain in a tiny YouTube comment?

cos lukn for all that information myself is inefficient use of my time, why shld i spend 2-3mins lukn 2 undastand something that some1 already knows/undastands and can synthesize into simple a 2-3line sentence 4 me? Besides, my earlier comment had two purposes, 1. to make conversation and 2. to help me undastand where mrgtr2 is coming from i.e. his answer reveals more abt hw he thinks…

that is not an inefficient use for your time, unless you're content to be an ignorant cretin.

hmmm, why think for yourself when someone else can do it for you?

your answer reveals more about how you think (or rather… don't think).

wow, uve clearly got some issues dude, in wat part of my reply did i say i didnt want to think 4 myself?

Ur just one of those sad sad people always trying to get a rise out of others 🙁

wow, ur 30 years old, on youtube, no discernible career path (all taken from your youtube page btw) and u call me an ignorant cretin?

I wish u all the best life has to offer dude. Lets just leave it at that

i wasn't aware there was an age limit or particular demographic that restricts me from youtube/TEDtalks.

i actually own a small business and also realize that my self worth is not tied to my net worth.

and you are an ignorant cretin if you're going to wait for someone to tell you something rather than do a little of your own homework. "Please think for me, I don't have the time."

please, why don't you go back to your hip-hop fantasy world (judging from your youtube page btw)


Store the natural, release the modified and destroy the biosphere killing of all those that eat it while the super rich don't eat it then once the undesirable are dead, re-release the natural seeds. It's not for the masses, it's to rid the world of the masses. The Monsanto people work in with the seed storing people.

Why is Philippines not part if this? The country's plants needs conservation. If there will be one in the futurem I VOLUNTEER TO BE ONE OF THE SEED COLLECTORS.

"25% by 2020" when i first heard that 6 eyars ago i KNEW that they would run out of funding and it woult take longer than by 2020, 6 years down the line, and it seems they made sensible goals, and they might actually get 25% by then

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