A FORGOTTEN pulse seed collection has turned up some rare finds for scientists working for the Department of Primary Industries.
The seeds were discovered in a clean-up of a storage area at the Waite Agricultural Institute in South Australia.
- AT A GLANCE
- What: Rare crop seeds
- Why: Putting life back into old genetics
- Where: Horsham
Curator of the Australian temperate field crops collection at DPI Horsham, Bob Redden, said more than 1000 lentil, chickpea and pea seeds were uncovered.
The seeds were originally bought to Australia by pulse breeder Rowland Lawrence from an agricultural research program in Lebanon before the civil war in the 1970s.
Dr Redden said along with other seed imports from Syria and India, this genetic material was used over the following decades to develop new varieties of lentils and chickpeas.
"As the Waite collection was stored in a domestic refrigerator it was hard to know how many would still be viable," Dr Redden said.
"In the past it was considered acceptable to store seeds in domestic refrigerators but current standards require strict drying out before storage and temperatures of two degrees for a 20-year shelf life and minus-18 degrees to ensure the seeds will last for up to 100 years."
Horsham seedbank staff have analysed and checked the Waite collection to see if any of the seeds were in their own collection.
To their surprise, more than 170 were not listed in the Horsham collection and many were not even found in other worldwide genebanks.
Staff then set about attempting to germinate all of the unlisted seeds. About half of the 100 peas and chickpeas selected as unlisted have germinated but unfortunately none of the 78 selected lentils managed to grow.
Seedbank technical officer Kevin Murray said the rescue process involved putting the rare seeds in a Petri dish on filter paper moistened with gibberillic acid to begin germination.
"The pea seeds emerged over a three- to four-week period as weak and sickly seedlings, but are now growing well in the DPI greenhouse," he said.
The partial recovery of the Waite pulse collection is seen as a great way to give something back to other genebanks around the world.
Seeds collected from successful germinations of the Waite collection will go into the Horsham seedbank and eventually form part of the new Australian Grains Genebank which will be constructed at Horsham in 2013.
It consists of a new storage and processing facility and glasshouses.
Through a partnership between the Victorian Government and the Grains Research and Development Corporation, the genebank will consolidate tropical and temperate climate cereal, grain legume and oil seed collections held in Horsham, Tamworth in NSW, and Biloela, in Queensland.