Gene Seed Banks

With just a few exceptions, almost all the crops that we enjoy today come from other countries. Twenty seed banks around the United States conserve plant genetic resources that are valuable for research and education, crop improvement, and food security.

Candace Gardner is the manager of the seed bank in Ames, Iowa, which was the first organized seed bank established in the United States in 1947. She says they were started because our country had very few crop genetic resources that were indigenous.

"We want genetic and geographic representation to capture the genetic diversity available," she says. "So for maize, we would have maize from all over Latin America, from Southeast Asia, from Africa, and we maintain these. We regenerate them using controlled pollination methods so that we retain their original genetic profile."

Gardner says about a fourth of their collection is distributed every year to educators and researchers all over the world who look for specific traits and qualities that can be useful in variety improvement. She says the seed banks are also playing an important role in cutting-edge ways to keep us healthy.

"They’re investigating various species for treatment of diabetes, or for use as antifungals and antimicrobials," she says. "There’s all sorts of investigations going on as we learn how to combine research tools, research technologies that weren’t available to us even a decade ago, so it’s pretty exciting."

Learn more about seed banks in the United States and around the world.