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Preserving plants and recording the world's hidden wonders

Preserving plants and recording the world's hidden wonders
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PlantBank, one of the world’s largest storage facilities for plants, has opened in Sydney, Australia. The facility will preserve unique flora samples for research and restoration programmes.

With 10 percent of Australian plant species now at risk of extinction, the bank’s ultimate goal is to collect and store seeds, or live tissue, from all of the country’s 25,000 plant species.

Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze and thus preserve the seeds and other samples. Over 200 million living seeds could eventually be stored.

Horticultural research scientist Karen Sommerville detailed how it works: “You need to stop the metabolism completely. So, if you put them into the storage at minus 196 degrees Celsius everything stops. So you don’t get any ageing of the tissues that way and when you pull them back out of storage, then you’ve got a live plant.”

Seeds are accurately selected using special state-of-the-art machinery, and then preserved.

But not all Australian native plants produce seeds. For that reason PlantBank will provide alternative storage systems, such as tissue culture – the growth of tissues or cells separate from the organism.

All the living matter will be used to create a vast collection both for research and future regeneration.

Brett Summerell , a spokesperson for the Royal Botanic Gardens, explained how action now will ensure a health ecological future: “Well seed is there as a preservation, as an insurance policy for those collections. But we also want to use it for restoration programmes, for re-introduction of plant species into the wild so that we’re able to restore ecosystems and vegetation.”

Through lectures and workshops, the Australian Plant Bank also aims to educate younger generations, informing them about the different species of plant and about the risks linked to their extinction.

Ecosystems on the web

Focused on recording ecosystems, a group of Italian outdoor enthusiasts has created a web service that provides a panoramic, virtual reality insight into some of the world’s most hidden and remote locations.

Thanks to the work of their hikers, the vistas are now only a click away.

‘Trail Me Up’ is an online virtual augmented reality system that works just like Google’s Street View, but with one difference. It maps places far from main roads and off the beaten track:

“The ‘Trail Me Up’ service allows you to take virtual guided tours of places that can only be reached by foot,” said the system’s founder, Fabio Zaffagnini.

“It’s a kind of Street View for trails that gives people the possibility to join virtual tours of trails, forests and national parks. Explanations of what you see in the panoramas are also given. So, the end product is a sort of interactive documentary.”

On one trip, Zaffagnini traveled to a remote village in Ethiopia. He carried a backpack he constructed with five synchronised cameras connected to one shutter-release button.

The person wearing the backpack pushes the button every 20 to 30 metres thus taking a 360 degree image of the surrounding area. There is also a GPS receiver that determines exactly where the images were taken.

Zaffagnini described one of sites: “In this instance, we are inside a virtual reality, at a Mursi site in Ethiopia, which we went to with our backpack. Once we’ve published our material, there will be the possibility to take a tour of this village on our website.”

He built the first prototype in a kitchen two years ago, making use of some unconventional materials, including chair leg covers and a scooter battery to power the cameras.

The 'Trail Me Up' website targets mountaineers, nature lovers and everybody who is curious about exploring hard-to-reach places all around the globe.