Freezing plants for the future

Pieces of a rare plant species are being carefully frozen by Western Australian scientists in a long-term conservation plan.

Susan Whiteley of Kings Park Science and the University of Western Australia, with colleagues including collaborators from Curtin University, are freezing the plant Androcalva perlaria in liquid nitrogen so it can be thawed in the future.

“This species comprises less than 400 plants across eight populations,” Susan says.

“At the current rate of loss, it has a low chance of survival if there’s no intervention.”

Small sections of the plants’ stem can be taken from the wild and used to produce the miniature sterile plants.

From these miniature plants, the growing tip (around 1mm in size) can be isolated.

These tips are then frozen, through treatment with protective solutions and immersion in liquid nitrogen.

When required, be it due to the species being on the brink of extinction or with the aim of bolstering the remaining populations, the frozen material can be thawed, grown into plants and planted back in the wild, to restore lost or declining populations, or creating new ones.

Image: Androcalva perlaria plant that has been frozen in liquid nitrogen. Credit: Susan Whiteley

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