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UK Vegetable Genebank celebrates 40 years

  • The UK Vegetable Genebank (UKVGB) celebrates its 40th anniversary next week.
  • Regional scientific centre of national and international significance
  • Over the years the genebank has supplied seeds to a huge number of projects across the UK and worldwide.
  • Farming Minister, Victoria Prentis, comments on the importance of this resource
  • High resolution images to accompany the story plus cases studies in Notes to Editors

The UK Vegetable Genebank (UKVGB), part of Warwick Crop Centre on the University of Warwick’s Wellesbourne Campus, celebrates its 40th anniversary next week.

Dr Charlotte AllenderThe facility, which houses a globally significant collection of around 14,000 seed samples of a range of vegetable crops, was officially opened on 8 October 1980 with a remit to collect and conserve vegetable crops and their wild relatives, and to document and research them.

Over the years the Genebank has supplied seeds to a huge number of projects across the UK and worldwide. Material from the UKVGB has been involved in research into disease resistance to significant agricultural pests and diseases which affect food supply and the financial viability of vegetable growing businesses across the globe. It has also been used in a whole range of studies in plant science from projects aiming to understand the genes underpinning traits such as colour and nutrient composition to those seeking to understand the evolution of plant and crop species.

To mark the milestone, staff at the genebank have planned a week of science, sharing and celebration between the 5 and 9 of October via the website

The anniversary week will include a virtual conference, which is open to all. Entitled, Forty Years of Seeds for the Future, it will take place on October 8 from 13:00 - 14:00 BST and attendees will be able to hear perspectives from plant breeding, research and global plant genetic resources conservation and ask questions. Attendees for the conference need to register in advance at:

Farming Minister, Victoria Prentis, said:

“The UK Government is committed to ensuring that this country has a resilient and secure food supply chain.

“Genetic diversity in crops is crucially important for delivering this and Defra is proud to fund the UK Vegetable Genebank, which has helped to make sure our plant breeders, researchers and growers have the access they need to new sources of genetic variation.

“This is vital to the development of new crop varieties, which will be more resistant to pests and difficult weather conditions, and ultimately will help our farmers to get more nutritious home grown vegetables onto people’s plates in the future.”

Dr Charlotte Allender, Head of the UK Vegetable Genebank, said:

“The genebank is a truly precious resource. It is a library of seeds which keeps alive the history of particular crops, and so preserves the genetic heritage and diversity of plant species.

“As we breed commercial crops like lettuce or carrots, we may choose plants with features like taste and shape which are appealing to consumers at the time, but in choosing those features we may lose certain characteristics which may become more important in the future like tolerance to drought or resistance to a certain kind of pest. By preserving the whole crop genepool, including the wild relatives, we keep the genes which may one day be desired above others.”

“Now, with the advance of climate change, the opening of new markets and the need for Britain to be able to grow safe, reliable and sustainable food crops in the UK, the genebank is more important than ever. Our seed also aids research and plant breeding across the world; vegetables are grown in a huge range of environments

“Future food developments also mean breeders will begin looking for varieties with different and novel traits as nutrition becomes a major focus.”


Notes to editors:

Links to high resolution images


Facts and figures:

1st accession: The very first sample entered into the collection is an onion sample collected by the then International Board for Plant Genetic Resources in Sudan

How many crops: There are 47 crops represented in the collection from 108 different countries

Oldest vegetable variety: This is a tricky question! Some of the varieties date from the 1800s, examples are James Scarlet Intermediate (carrot from 1820s), Webbs Wonderful (lettuce from 1840s).

Local names include: Leamington Cauliflower, Kenilworth Tomato, Rous Lench (Brussels Sprouts), Evesham Special (Brussel sprouts), Offenham (cabbage), Avon Defiance (lettuce – bred on site at the then National Vegetable Research Station)

Silly names include: Tom Thumb (lettuce), Bubbles (lettuce), Little Finger (carrot)

Interesting facts:

1086 samples from the UKVGB are stored in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The UKVGB were only the second UK genebank to lodge material there.

UKVGB seed is referenced in over 300 scientific publications and reports.



Elsoms Seeds

Richard Tudor, Vegetable Breeding Manager, from Elsoms Seeds Ltd said:

“Being able to access broad genetic diversity from the UK Vegetable Genebank at Warwick is valuable because it helps us to understand existing genetic variation and has the potential to inform our breeding programs. This is worthwhile as it allows us to breed market relevant traits into a crop, or to access to better mapping populations and identify markers to screen lines for commercially important traits.

“In the last 15 years’ several hundred accessions have been accessed from the UKVGB. Several lines that have been obtained have gone on to help create commercial lines. Some of the material was used to form the basis of a BBSRC LINK award and was also used previously in a BBSRC Industrial CASE Award. The aim of these projects was to identify markers linked to taste/nutritional compounds to aid development of novel varieties.

“Other material added value to breeding programmes by enabling the development of markers/QTLs linked to specific diseases. This was achieved by enabling more diverse crosses to produce better mapping populations. UKVGB germplasm has enabled Elsoms breeders to understand degree of variation in key traits, even if specific accessions were not taken forward or used in variety development.”


CN Seeds Ltd

Sujit Tha, Head of Plant Breeding, from CN Seeds said:

“From the beginning of domestication of different crops, a series of selections have been made by farmers and breeders for desired traits while leaving behind the traits which might not be of interest at that time. This has led to the point of less genetic diversity within crop system. This might be the reason why modern varieties are more prone to continuously evolving stresses like insects, diseases which have developed resistance to pesticides, increases in temperature or fluctuation of weather conditions.

“Moreover, awareness about what is on our plates means more stringent restrictions on the use of chemical pesticides are in place and there are more to come globally. The decrease in genetic diversity, increase in susceptibility to pests and diseases and reduction in legal chemical control methods have a huge impact on what a farmer can grow successfully.

“As a breeding company, specialising in baby leaf salads which are eaten raw, we are working hard to make sure we deliver varieties which will be resistant to disease and pests and adapted to changing climate. We work very closely with the UK Vegetable Genebank and use the collections there as the starting point for this endeavour.

“To give an example, there was a globally trending babyleaf kale market back in 2011/12 – especially in USA – which has declined sharply due to Downy Mildew susceptibility in the existing varieties. We requested accessions from the UKVGB with the hope to bring more genetic diversity and resistance which can be incorporated into the breeding programme to develop varieties with disease resistance. So far, we have made a good progress. Hopefully, we will get this lost market back again in future. Therefore, as a breeding company, we recognise the importance of the UK Vegetable Genebank at Warwick and its work to save genetic diversity in our vegetable crops.”


Will Crowther, PhD student at Warwick Crop Centre working on finding resistance to White Blister Rust – a significant disease of oil crops, which affects farmers in India in particular.

He said: “White Blister Rust (WR) inflicts significant yield decline in Brassica crops across the world. It is a particular problem in countries like India, where resource poor farmers cultivating Oilseed mustard suffer between 30-60% yield losses per year. Breeding for host resistance is the most effective and environmentally friendly way of protecting brassica crops from WR.

“As well as improving oil seed mustard production in India, the purpose of our research is to develop methods to improve the utilization of Gene bank genetic diversity, specifically for identifying new sources of crop resistance in the fight against globally important pathogens.

“Plant pathogens can rapidly evolve and overcome established crop resistances. It’s therefore vital to identify as many new sources of resistance as possible that when combined into new crop varieties will best ensure the long-term protection of crops from disease.

“Using single packets of seed from genetically diverse varieties of Brassica (sourced from the UK Vegetable Gene Bank), and with the application of DNA sequencing technology, we were able to identify several distinct genomic regions controlling resistance to the globally destructive pathogen White Blister Rust. This was done rapidly, in a span of approximately four months, where previous methods can often take years.”



1 October 2020

For further information contact:

Andrea Cullis

Media relations manager

University of Warwick


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