World's Largest Banana Collection in Belgium is Adding Potatoes

Posted on January 23, 2017

Banana plantlets at KU Leuven

The world's largest collection of bananas is located at the University of Leuven in Belgium. The collection has over 1,500 varieties of bananas. Leuven is now expanding its collection to include potatoes and will be adding 8,000 potato varieties from the International Potato Centre in Peru.

Bioengineers at the university keep the many banana varieties in a special cold chamber. It contains test tubes with small banana plantlets of 3 to 4 centimetres and cryotanks with plant stem cells in liquid nitrogen at a temperature of - 196 degrees Celsius.

Professor Rony Swennen of the KU Leuven Laboratory of Tropical Crop Improvement, says in a statement, "Here in Leuven, we have 1,536 of the estimated 2,000 banana varieties. By using this method of cryopreservation, we can preserve the stem cells for hundreds of years and even regenerate them to a normal plantlet."

The CIP, the International Potato Centre in Peru, contains potatoes, sweet potatoes and other tuber and root crops from the Andes. They are confident of the cryopreservation method being used at the University of Leuven's facility.

Swennen says, "You can apply this technique to all plants that don't produce their own seeds, such as most bananas, or plants whose seeds are difficult to stock, such as coconuts. By doing so, you could build a counterpart to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the world seed bank on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen."

Banana plantlet in a test tube at KU Leuven


Photos: Bioversity International


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