Advertisement

Critical plant bank in danger

Plant scientists around the world are warning that hundreds of years of accumulated agricultural heritage are in danger of being plowed under after a Russian court ruled today (August 11) that the land occupied by a world-renowned plant bank on the outskirts of Saint Petersburg may be transferred to the linkurl:Russian Housing Development Foundation,;http://www.fondrgs.ru/en/ which plans to build houses on the site. Image: Isue via WikimediaThe fate of the collection at the linkurl:Pavlovsk Exp

By | August 11, 2010

Plant scientists around the world are warning that hundreds of years of accumulated agricultural heritage are in danger of being plowed under after a Russian court ruled today (August 11) that the land occupied by a world-renowned plant bank on the outskirts of Saint Petersburg may be transferred to the linkurl:Russian Housing Development Foundation,;http://www.fondrgs.ru/en/ which plans to build houses on the site.
Image: Isue via Wikimedia
The fate of the collection at the linkurl:Pavlovsk Experimental Station,;http://www.vir.nw.ru/structure.htm#pavlovsk which includes more than 70 hectares planted with 5,500 different varieties of apples, pears, cherries, and numerous berry species -- most of which occur nowhere else on Earth and were developed over hundreds of years by farmers in northern Europe, Scandinavia and Russia -- was decided in Russia's Supreme Arbitration Court at 10:30 AM, Moscow time. "It's a bad day for biodiversity," said linkurl:Cary Fowler,;http://www.croptrust.org/main/staff.php director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which has for months been trying to raise awareness of the dire situation at the decades-old collection. The collection of plants was started in 1926 by the father of seed banking, revered Russian geneticist linkurl:Nikolai Vavilov.;http://www.vir.nw.ru/history/vavilov.htm "Unless somebody intervenes, we're going to stand there at the gates and watch the bulldozers destroy thousands of varieties that are growing in a collection that dates back to 1926," Fowler told __The Scientist__. __The Scientist__'s emails to both the Russian Ministry of Economic Development and the housing development foundation were not answered before publication. Sergei Alexanian, vice director for foreign relations at the linkurl:Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry,;http://www.vir.nw.ru/ which maintains the collection at Pavlovsk, told__The Scientist__ that the institute immediately appealed the decision, which buys about one month while the court addresses the appeal. In that time, researchers at the Vavilov Institute and around the world will appeal to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin -- the only two people who have the authority to overturn the ruling -- to save the collection. "It's crazy to destroy the collection," Alexanian said. "This collection belonged not only to the institute and the Russian people, but also to the world community. That's why we want to appeal to their reason." "It's a valuable and unique collection of strains, and its loss would be a serious blow to agriculture," agreed linkurl:Peter Raven,;http://www.mobot.org/mobot/research/curators/raven.shtml director of the Missouri Botanical Garden. linkurl:Mike Ambrose,;http://www.jic.ac.uk/staff/mike-ambrose/ seed bank manager at John Innes Center in the UK, told __The Scientist__ that the genetic diversity held in the Pavlovsk collection is irreplaceable. "These collections have survived World War II and very difficult times in the intervening years, and for them to be bulldozed down by a property developer would be a very sad fate, not just for Russia but for agriculture worldwide," said Ambrose, who works frequently with scientists at the Vavilov Institute. Alexanian was not sure how much money is devoted to maintaining the collection, but did say that the developer, the Housing Development Foundation, would pay 92 million rubles (more than USD $3 million) to acquire a special, five-year leasing license on the 70 hectares. After that five-year period, they'd have the opportunity to own the land outright. The genetic wealth harbored in thousands of plants growing at Pavlovsk lies in untold numbers of mutations for drought tolerance, unique taste and growth characteristics, and propagation abilities that could help to improve crops on a global scale, according to linkurl:Emile Frison,;http://www.bioversityinternational.org/about_us/board/biographies.html director general of the charity Bioversity International, devoted to agricultural biodiversity. Simply banking seeds from the collection's plants is not an option: Most of the unique fruit plant strains do not reproduce asexually, and are pollinated by other strains, so their seeds do not necessarily yield adult plants that mirror the characteristics of the parent plant. For this reason, the only way to preserve the vast genetic diversity contained in the Pavlovsk is to keep the plants growing in the ground or to move them to a new site -- a dicey and time-consuming proposition, as the perfect site would have to be found and planted only after years of grafting and then monitoring for suitable transplants. The Russian Housing Development Foundation linkurl:told;http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-10899318 __BBC News__ that it plans to sell the land to developers that can build single family homes on the site. "Using the land for agricultural purposes will impede the future realization of the city's plans to further develop [the city of] Saint Petersburg," the foundation's press officer told the __BBC__ in an email. With the month that the Vavilov Institute's appeal buys, proponents of saving the collection plan to exert even more pressure on the highest levels of Russian government to act. Alexanian is hopeful that Medvedev and Putin, both from Saint Petersburg, will intercede. "They know very well the value of the institute and the collection," he said. "I'm very optimistic." And if the appeal fails, he and some of his Vavilov colleagues plan to strike and line up to block the bulldozers' entry into the station. linkurl:Martin Fregene,;http://biocassavaplus.org/participating_scientists.htm director of the BioCassava Plus project at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, told __The Scientist__ that losing the Pavlovsk collection would be a catastrophe. "These varieties represent literally millennia of collections by farmers and of plant evolution," said Fregene, who has studied wild varieties of crop plants. Fowler said that bulldozers could move in as soon as 3 to 4 months from now, if the Vavilov Insitute's appeal is unsuccessful. "If we lose this appeal and if the president and prime minister don't jump in in this coming month, we'll be facing the largest one day loss of crop diversity in history probably," he said.
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Massive snake collection up in smoke;http://blog.the-scientist.com/2010/05/17/massive-snake-collection-up-in-smoke/
[17th May 2010]*linkurl:On the move;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/53974/
[7th December 2007]
Advertisement
Keystone Symposia
Keystone Symposia

Comments

Avatar of: RON HANSING

RON HANSING

Posts: 20

August 11, 2010

Why not offer more money... surely, it seems that the world could pull together and offer far more money?

August 11, 2010

"In that time, researchers at the Vavilov Institute and around the world will appeal to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin -- the only two people who have the authority to overturn the ruling -- to save the collection."\n\nHow can more people participate in the appeal? How can I "vote" Against corporate interests and For biodiversity?\n
Avatar of: Bob Grant

Bob Grant

Posts: 22

August 11, 2010

Thanks for reading, Desislava.\n\nYour best bet for getting involved in the appeal to save the collection at Pavlovsk is to visit the websites of The Global Crop Diversity Trust and Bioversity International. http://www.croptrust.org/main/ and http://www.bioversityinternational.org\n\nAt those sites you can find online petitions to sign, instructions for sending your own letter to Russian leaders, etc.\n\nBob Grant -- Associate Editor, The Scientist
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 50

August 11, 2010

Is there a benefactor somewhere who would be willing to buy the thing out? Even if there is some kind of corruption going on, it would be better in cases like this just to pay up. At least the city would gain some open space which could be managed for the benefit of all but the speculators.
Avatar of: YAN LINHART

YAN LINHART

Posts: 1

August 11, 2010

This is terrible news for many reasons.The collection is invaluable for work in conservation, plant genetics, agronomy, ecology and evolution. Perhaps The Scientist can post the e-mail address of the Russian Embassy in Washington DC so that concerned individuals, including professional plant geneticists and agronomists can write in to ask that the collection be protected.\n\nYan B. Linhart\nProfessor of Ecology and Evolutinary Biology, Emeritus\nUniversity of Colorado\n\n
Avatar of: Nirmal Mishra

Nirmal Mishra

Posts: 22

August 12, 2010

This agricultural heritage must be saved either by making payments/compensation or by intervention from the authorities that are capable of overturning it. The loss cannot be estimated in terms of money. It is a heritage which has wider scope and meaning than just a project of the nature for which the land is being reclaimed.\n\nNirmal Kumar Mishra\nRetd. University Professor of Zoology, Patna University, Patna 800001 INDIA
Avatar of: Bob Grant

Bob Grant

Posts: 22

August 12, 2010

Thanks very much for reading, Yan.\n\nThe website of The Embassy of the Russian Federation to the United States of America can be found here - http://www.russianembassy.org/Embassy_eng/Embassy/index.html \n\nThe contact information for the embassy is:\n\n2650 Wisconsin Ave., NW\nWashington, D.C. - 20007\nTel: (202)298-5700\nFax: (202)298-5735\nEmail: russianembassy@mindspring.com\n \nBob Grant, Associate Editor, The Scientist

August 12, 2010

It is a pity to see Russian 'bornagain capitalists and developer speculators' have a legal support to destroy the famous Valvilov world plant germplasm bank that took decades to assemble and a century to conserve for the benefit of humanity. The highest Russian political authority must immediately act to stop this absurd decision that if finally not reversed by higher courts invaluable plant biodiversity will be lost for ever. What a rediculous decision taken for the sake of few housing facilities made of cements and bricks!. As if it is not enough to see how much loss in biodiversity the world is facing by natural disasters such as global climate change, fires and floods!\n\nMabrouk A. El-Sharkawy,\nRetired research scientist, CIAT, Cali, Colombia.
Avatar of: M Dixon

M Dixon

Posts: 11

August 13, 2010

You should contact the Rhs in Britain at Kew and similar organisations in other countries. They have volunteers who could help by taking seeds and cuttings: with the correct permissions from Russia of course

Follow The Scientist

icon-facebook icon-linkedin icon-twitter icon-vimeo icon-youtube
Advertisement

Stay Connected with The Scientist

  • icon-facebook The Scientist Magazine
  • icon-facebook The Scientist Careers
  • icon-facebook Neuroscience Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Genetic Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Cell Culture Techniques
  • icon-facebook Microbiology and Immunology
  • icon-facebook Cancer Research and Technology
  • icon-facebook Stem Cell and Regenerative Science
Advertisement
Advertisement
NeuroScientistNews
NeuroScientistNews