I have immensely enjoyed my year on placement at the Millennium Seed Bank working as a Germination Assistant within the Seed Collections department. It has been very interesting to learn and experience first-hand many of the procedures involved in the conservation of seeds at the MSB, from seed collecting to banking in the -20°C storage vault.
I was lucky to participate in a collecting trip for the UK National Tree Seed Project, collecting within the Devon Wildlife Trust in Holsworthy. Two collections of Crataegus monogyna (Common Hawthorne) were collected from two different habitat types with a difference of 200m in altitude, plus a collection of Ilex aquifolium (Holly) and another of Prunus spinosa (Blackthorn)
Before storage, it is essential that all other plant material and debris is separated and removed from the collection. There are various methods which can be carried out; using sieves, an aspirator, rubber bungs, or by hand. I found cleaning the most challenging task, due to the diversity of collections. Collections are then x-rayed to determine the amount of the empty, poorly-developed, and infested seeds in a collection. I greatly enjoyed learning to use this machine; the problem-solving aspect of analysing the images was very rewarding.
Collections are then counted, and dried further before banking. Seed collections are stored at -20°C and 15% relative humidity. For banking collections are separated into two or three group’s; active, base and cryo-storage. The active group will contain enough seeds to be tested and distributed over the next 40 years. The base group is the remainder of the collection and will remain in storage.
I have enjoyed setting up various germination tests throughout the year from routine initial, re-test as well as germination tests for my seed longevity project work.
I have enjoyed working on many projects which have enabled me to develop skills in many areas of seed science. I believe that my communication skills have improved through team and project work, attending research group meetings and giving presentations of my project work. I greatly appreciate the opportunity I had to work on my own project independently, investigating the effects of germination traits have on seed longevity. I feel I have developed my own research and analytical skills which will be of benefit to me in my final year at university and in the future if I decide to undertake a Masters or PhD. This year truly has been an invaluable experience for me, and I am very keen at some point in the near future, if the opportunity were to arise, to continue with research in the field of seed science and activities in plant and seed conservation around the world.