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The UK Vegetable Genebank

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What is genetic diversity?

We can think of genetic diversity as the total number of heritable differences between individuals. Genetic diversity is the raw material used by plant breeders to develop new crop varieties, a process called crop improvement.

We need our crops to be able to cope with a changing environment and all the challenges that come with it, from shifting weather patterns to the impact of existing and new pests and diseases. Genetic diversity in crops is essential in ensuring access to nutritious food - now and in the future.

The research project

Based at the University of Warwick’s Wellesbourne Campus, the UK Vegetable Genebank manages an internationally significant collection of thousands of seed samples - conserving genetic diversity in a range of important vegetable crops.

These seeds represent all parts of the crop genepool, from wild ancestors to traditional and commercial varieties. The work of the genebank is essential in making sure the genetic diversity in the samples remains available, even if the seeds are no longer maintained elsewhere.

Dr Charlotte Allender from the School of Life Sciences (which UKVGB is a part of) explains:

“We keep our seeds at -20°C, and under these conditions they can last for decades - if not longer. We send seed on request to plant breeders, research scientists and other users across the world. The UKVGB first opened in 1980 and in 2020 we celebrated our 40th anniversary. An artistic collaboration would be a means to drive further public engagement with the project and allow us to explore other perspectives on our work."

The artist

Dr Allender will be working with local poet, freelance writer and former Warwick academic George Ttoouli to create an artistic response to UKVG’s research. George has worked extensively with researchers across disciplines at both Warwick and Coventry Universities.

He is one of 11 core poets for the BBC’s Contains Strong Language Festival in Coventry (scheduled for September 2021), and a Green City Poet in Residence for the Sherbourne Valley Allotments. In the run-up to Coventry City of Culture 2021, he co-curated a year-long series of eco-arts micro-residencies, which acted as a unique platform for people to consider, confront and articulate various environmental issues.

“In my role as a freelancer, I have worked with researchers from STEM to Social Sciences, Philosophy to History, at both Warwick and Coventry. Universities I also have a PhD in English Literature from Warwick, and worked for many years in the English department and Warwick Writing Programme. Because of this, I’m keen to work with researchers from outside the Arts and Humanities, if the opportunity arises” he explains.