UK vegetable genebank celebrates 40 years

Photo shows: Dr Charlotte Allender, Head of the UK Vegetable Genebank
UK Vegetable Genebank dr_charlotte_allender__in_-20_seed_store

The UK Vegetable Genebank (UKVGB), part of Warwick Crop Centre on the University of Warwick’s Wellesbourne Campus, is celebrating its 40 anniversary.

The facility, which houses a globally significant collection of around 14,000 seed samples of a range of vegetable crops, was officially opened on 8 October 1980 with a remit to collect and conserve vegetable crops and their wild relatives, and to document and research them.

Over the years the Genebank has supplied seeds to a huge number of projects across the UK and worldwide. Material from the UKVGB has been involved in research into disease resistance to significant agricultural pests and diseases which affect food supply and the financial viability of vegetable growing businesses across the globe. It has also been used in a whole range of studies in plant science from projects aiming to understand the genes underpinning traits such as colour and nutrient composition to those seeking to understand the evolution of plant and crop species.

Farming Minister, Victoria Prentis, said: “The UK Government is committed to ensuring that this country has a resilient and secure food supply chain.

UK Vegetable Genebank radish trial“Genetic diversity in crops is crucially important for delivering this and Defra is proud to fund the UK Vegetable Genebank, which has helped to make sure our plant breeders, researchers and growers have the access they need to new sources of genetic variation.

“This is vital to the development of new crop varieties, which will be more resistant to pests and difficult weather conditions, and ultimately will help our farmers to get more nutritious home grown vegetables onto people’s plates in the future.”

Dr Charlotte Allender, Head of the UK Vegetable Genebank, added: “The genebank is a truly precious resource. It is a library of seeds which keeps alive the history of particular crops, and so preserves the genetic heritage and diversity of plant species.

“As we breed commercial crops like lettuce or carrots, we may choose plants with features like taste and shape which are appealing to consumers at the time, but in choosing those features we may lose certain characteristics which may become more important in the future like tolerance to drought or resistance to a certain kind of pest. By preserving the whole crop genepool, including the wild relatives, we keep the genes which may one day be desired above others.”

“Now, with the advance of climate change, the opening of new markets and the need for Britain to be able to grow safe, reliable and sustainable food crops in the UK, the genebank is more important than ever. Our seed also aids research and plant breeding across the world; vegetables are grown in a huge range of environments.

“Future food developments also mean breeders will begin looking for varieties with different and novel traits as nutrition becomes a major focus.”