Monday, March 26, 2012

Plants at Risk of Extinction

The following article, based on analysis made by the Royal Botanic Gardens, states the current high risk of extinction among one-fifth of the world’s plants. Plants are the lungs of the earth; they provide clean air, food and sometimes fuel, including medicinal properties that have help us discovered numerous vaccines and cures for diseases. However, current studies show that 22% out of 4,000 species are classified as threatened, including 33% of species that have not been completely study to be assessed.

The high rate of threatened species is mostly because scientists have base their studies on a narrow range of plants that have a limited genetic base. The article also estimates 380,000 plant species victims of habitat loss, to which it has been replaced for agricultural purposes. With species in tropical rainforest at high risk, the freezing seed bank at Kew’s Botanical Gardens has already collected around 1.8 billion seeds from around the world. The collection, which includes seeds from plants that have already been judged extinct, have currently be named and stored in underground cold rooms in case of future losses. Additionally, a study, known as the Sampled Red List Index for Plants, has been made in order to have an accurate knowledge of the rate of extinct plant species. Certainly, studies has been made in the past, however, they were mostly focused on the most threatened plants or particular regions in the world, which in reality there are thousands of species that have not been completely study or even discovered, with high significant value in the medical field and on the environment.  The article adds that “Plant-based remedies are the only source of healthcare in the world’s poorest countries” (Shukman, 2010) combating diseases such as malaria and leukemia.
It is important to collect seeds from different plant species and keep making studies so cases such as the olive tree from the South Atlantic island of St Helena that has completely disappear, with only few traces of dried pressing of its leaves, and some test-tube DNA sample currently kept in a freezer, won’t happen in the future.
St. Helena olive tree
Photo Retrieved from:

The article presents good information, giving thought to the most important aspects of the plant. The freezing seed bank has made a huge step on saving such species for future germination. I’m not sure if this freezing process has been done to threatened animal species but it would be a huge step due to their high chance of extinction. Hopefully is not too late to place these freeze species in their natural habitat. Consequently botanists could try first with few seeds and observe if they adapt to the habitat as well as its new surrounding environment.

Shukman, D. (2010, September 29). One-Fifth of World's Plants at Risk of Extinction. Environment correspondent, BBC News. Retrieved from

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