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From Collection to Cultivation

A picture of seeds in a tray

Lead researcher: Helen Anne Curry
Research staff: Sara Peres, postdoctoral research assistant, 2016–2017

This project investigates the history of seed banking as a global conservation practice and human health imperative. It was launched in 2016 with support from a Wellcome Trust Seed Award and continues as a strand of 'From Collection to Cultivation.'

Since the 1960s, governments, international organizations, NGOs, and private philanthropies have invested heavily in the conservation of genetic diversity in plant species, especially agricultural crops. The most visible marker of this investment has been the proliferation of 'seed banks,' institutions dedicated to the collection and preservation of seeds. These serve as permanent repositories for the world's vast genetic diversity in food crops and, increasingly, its diversity in wild plants as well.

This project seeks to understand: how the genetic diversity of plant species came to be seen as a critical but imperilled resource essential to human survival; how seed banks came to be seen as the obvious solution to the threat of losing such diversity; and the consequences of these ideas—and the institutions and activities they inspired—for global food security and human wellbeing in the present.



Helen Anne Curry, 'The History of Seed Banks and the Hazards of Backup', Social Studies of Science 52, no. 5 (2022): 664–688.

Helen Anne Curry, ed., 'The Collection and Conservation of Plant Genetic Resources, Past and Present', Special Issue of Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment, 41, no. 2 (2019)

Helen Anne Curry, 'From Bean Collection to Seed Bank: Transformations in Heirloom Vegetable Conservation, 1970–1985'BJHS Themes 4 (2019): 149–167.

Helen Anne Curry, 'From Working Collections to the World Germplasm Project: Agricultural Modernization and Genetic Conservation at the Rockefeller Foundation'History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 39, no. 5 (June 2017).