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Hunt for Diversity

Kathy Willis examines the quest to find wild relatives of our domesticated crops, to help sustain food production. From 2014.

Agriculture tends to favour the best food varieties but this is often a trade off with beneficial traits such as resistance to disease or tolerance to drought. During the 1920s the Russian botanist Nikolai Vavilov, having witnessed famine on a large scale, became increasingly concerned about the potential loss of locally adapted varieties and spent his life studying crop plants in their wild habitats.

Professor Kathy Willis examines Vavilov's pioneering work and his search for pools of genetic variability - so called "centres of origin" amongst the wild relatives of our domesticated crops that could help sustain future plant breeding for human use.

Vavilov's story has a tragic end but, as we hear, his legacy lives on in seedbanks such as Kew's Millennium Seedbank at Wakehurst Place whose Crop Wild Relatives Project is collecting and assessing new potential amongst the original progenitors of our domestic crops.

With contributions from archaeobotanist Dorian Fuller, Kew's curator of economic botany Mark Nesbitt, Crop Wild Relatives Project coordinator Ruth Eastwood, and head of the Millennium Seedbank Paul Smith.

Producer Adrian Washbourne.

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15 minutes

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