Seeds of life: The plants suited to climate change

By Matthew Tucker
Photography by Rob Kesseler

Source – BBC News

 

Experts at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, selected 11 seeds from plants and trees that may be better suited to climate change than other species.

Using a scanning electron microscope, artist Rob Kesseler created striking colourised images of the seeds in extraordinary detail.

The five experts at Kew in London chose the species based on characteristics such as resilience to drought and diseases, and suitability to increased global temperatures.

Eleanor Wilding, a technical officer in the Crop Wild Relatives Project at Kew, chose the Daucus carota, the wild relative of the carrot.

Kesseler produced an image of the seed magnified 30 times to reveal a spiky star-like shape, and coloured it with an orange hue.

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Daucus carota seed, magnification 30X

Daucus carota originated on the Iranian Plateau – which includes Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran – but now grows across much of Asia and Europe.

Seed samples were sourced from Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) in Wakehurst, West Sussex, home to more than two billion seeds from 39,000 species. “We have Daucus carota growing on the edges of fields in Wakehurst at the Millennium Seed Bank,” says Wilding.

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Daucus carota seen in the wild

The species is the wild relative of the carrot we are familiar with from supermarkets. “The best analogy we can use is how a wolf and a dog are related, so the Daucus carota is like the wolf and the carrot you buy in the shops is the dog.”

The Daucus carota is inedible, looks very different to the bright orange commercial carrot, but has the distinctive sweet carrot smell.

 

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The roots of the Daucus carota

It has its original genetic make-up, making it tougher than cultivated strands and able to withstand harsh growing conditions. It may hold genetic traits that are useful in cultivating a new species of edible carrot which can better withstand drought and warmer temperatures.

Scientists predict that we are on course for the global surface temperature to exceed an increase of 1.5C by the end of the 21st Century, relative to the pre-industrial age of 1850.

Some prediction models in a 2014 report by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) say that the temperature increase will actually exceed 2C, unless unprecedented change occurs within human societies.

Wilding also chose the Musa acuminata seed. It is viewed as one of the ‘original bananas’ of the plant world.

 

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Musa acuminata seed, magnification 45X

The wild species has seeds, while the bananas in our food shops don’t. Shop bananas are dependent on vegetative propagation, which is where a new plant grows from a previous plant, making them genetically identical. Their lack of genetic diversity makes them susceptible to pests and diseases.

Kesseler chose to colour the seed with shades of green and yellow to reflect the lifespan of the fruit. He says: “As the banana develops, it metamorphoses through a range of colours, from dark to light green and from yellow to brown.”

When magnified 1,500 times, the surface of the seed reveals an intricate latticed pattern.

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The Cavendish banana is the most common species of banana eaten by humans, but it is vulnerable to something called Panama disease, which killed off the popular Gros Michel banana in the 1950s.

However, the world’s favourite banana has been under threat from the disease since the 1980s. The race is on to develop a new strain.

Genetic characteristics from the Musa acuminata, such as resistance to Fusarium wilt fungal disease and black Sigatoka leaf spot disease, may prove vital for future banana production and global food security.

 

Continue to the full article on the BBC website HERE.  

 

Author: Matthew Tucker

Photographer: Rob Kesseler

Additional Images:

Image of Daucus carota seed from the book ‘Fruit: Edible, inedible and incredible’ by Wolfgang Stuppy and Rob Kesseler, published by Papadakis

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Alamy

Editor: Kathryn Westcott

Publication date: 8 July 2019


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