Thousands of plant species to be frozen, stored at University of Guelph
In the future, when more varieties of plants become extinct, will the world’s arborists look to Guelph?
That’s the hope behind the University of Guelph’s Gosling Research Institute for Plant Preservation (GRIPP), which officially opened Wednesday.
GRIPP aims to take in samples of every plant still living in Canada (and, eventually, other countries) and freeze them in liquid nitrogen, preserving them for generations.
“Every week, dozens of plant species are dying,” says GRIPP director Praveen Saxena.
“If we can’t have them today, then we can’t have them tomorrow.”
Recent estimates, Saxena says, show that plants are going extinct at a rate approximately 10,000 times faster than previously expected.
Ricki Rathwell, a graduate student at Guelph, says the facility is “absolutely” necessary to help preserve plants such as the cherry birch trees she’s researching.
“If you want to keep something nice and fresh, you put it in the fridge. If you want to keep it longer, you put it in the freezer,” she says.
“If you want to keep it for over 200 years, you put it in liquid nitrogen.”
Unlike seed banks, which serve a similar mission to GRIPP but carry it out by storing plants’ seeds, the Guelph facility will preserve entire plants.
Susan Gosling of the Gosling Foundation, which donated $5.5 million toward GRIPP, says the difference is that preserving a plant ensures genetic variation isn’t an issue, while seeds may turn into something different from their parents.
“You will be able to get the exact plant back that you were preserving,” she says.
In addition to the “cryo-bank”, which has more space than is necessary to store every known plant species in Canada, GRIPP has the necessary technology to clone any of its samples should the need arise.