Saturday, August 14, 2010

Can Twitter Help Save Pavlovsk Rare Plants?

Worldwide, many have been waiting and hoping for word from Russia that the irreplaceable and historic Pavlovsk Experimental Station outside of St. Petersburg, Russia would be spared destruction, hoping that the thousands of rare trees and other plants grown there could be saved.

Ninety percent of the varieties grown at Pavlovsk are not available anywhere else in the world. Included are unique varieties of strawberries, plums, pears, apples and currants. The destruction of the plants at the Pavlovsk Station will eliminate those varieties - a particularly troubling and ironic outcome in this, the International Year of Biodiversity.

The scientists who are attempting to save the station lost a court battle last week. The court granted rights to the federally-owned land to a government housing development agency that plans to demolish the station and construct housing units. The scientists have appealed the court's decision.

Interest in the preservation of these rare plants is not sentimental interest. They provide the raw material for developing new varieties of crops - something that will likely be needed as we confront water shortages, a changing climate, and changing plant pests.

As was reported in The LA Times -

"Saving varieties is critical for breeding," said Kent Bradford, a plant scientist at UC Davis. "When breeders are faced with a new issue, like a disease or growing in a new area, they need to go back to that diversity to see which ones are resistant or have traits that they like."

The Vavilov Research Institute that runs the Pavlovsk station holds a special place in Russian history. During the World War II siege of the city, Institute scientists chose to starve to death rather than eat the precious seeds in their rare seed bank.

The next court hearing, anticipated in about a month, will finalize the fate of the station and its treasures. In the meantime, Cary Fowler of the Global Crop Diversity Trust called upon those concerned to tweet Russian President Medvedev with their concerns and provided the suggested message in both English and Russian in his Huffington Post blog posting. On August 13, President Medveded responded, on Twitter, with the following tweet:

"Received the Civic Chamber's appeal over the Pavlov Experimental Station. Gave the instruction for this issue to be scrutinised."

I just decided to follow him on Twitter - KremlinRussia_E. I notice that he and the White House follow each other, which I guess is a good thing . . . You can follow the discourse and/or voice your opinion at the hashtag #Pavlovsk. Global Crop Diversity Trust also has an online petition to sign.

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