17/10/2006 - 22:00

Not for profit: A closer look at seed science

17/10/2006 - 22:00

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An x-ray machine bought for $140,000 by the Kings Park and Botanic Garden science laboratory has the potential to revolutionise mine site rehabilitation in Western Australia.

Not for profit: A closer look at seed science

An x-ray machine bought for $140,000 by the Kings Park and Botanic Garden science laboratory has the potential to revolutionise mine site rehabilitation in Western Australia. 

The MX-20 x-ray machine will allow scientists to better understand the seed germination process, by producing internal images of seeds.

These images reveal all the cell types contained within an embryo and the stage of germination that has been attained within.

Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Sam Walsh praised the new machine and its potential to vastly improve mine site rehabilitation by increasing the effectiveness of seeding programs. 

“This is a very practical approach to ensuring that the seeds that are going to be used are in fact going to germinate and are viable,” Mr Walsh said.

“And to me, this is a great use of technology.”

He said Rio Tinto was committed to the environment and revegetation of mine site areas.

“This year, we are rehabilitating about 100 hectares of land and a very effective seeding program is very important,” Mr Walsh said.

Environment Minister Mark McGowan also highlighted the potential of the new technology for the mining industry.

“The benefit of this is we can examine our seed product, and you can actually plant seed with the prospect of germination” Mr McGowan said.

“Mine sites will be rehabilitated much more quickly and effectively.”

Currently, seed germination in some rehabilitation areas is as low as 2 per cent of those planted, and seeds must be cut open to determine faults in the germination process.

The MX-20 x-ray prevents the destruction of seeds, and can scan up to 400 seeds at a time.

Dr Maggie Panaia, a research scientist with the Kings Park science laboratory, said the significance of the machine was its ability to determine seed viability.

“With rare and endangered species, you don’t want to cut [seeds] open” she said. “Now we instantly know if they’re viable.

“We work with mining companies, giving them thousands and thousands of seeds.

“Until now, we couldn’t show them why the seeds were not viable. From the outside, a seed can look terrific, when inside it’s shrivelled, not plump.

“For the mining industry it’s very good, because we can say you’re collecting the wrong seeds, and we can help them identify the right seeds.”

Dr Panaia said the machine would help mining companies change their seed collection methods so as to target more productive plants and harvest seeds with an increased prospect of germination.

“They can collect year in and year out from the same plant” she said.

The MX-20 x-ray contains one of the highest resolution plates ever made and the technology is so delicate that only 1 per cent of screens manufactured can actually be used.

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London, has an identical machine with both machines linked to the Millennium Seed Bank project, an international program that aims to safeguard 24,000 plant species from extinction worldwide.

A further development to benefit the resources sector is the announcement by the state government of two biological surveys, to be conducted around Yilgarn and in the Ravensthorpe Ranges by the Department of Environment and Conservation.

The surveys will provide a broader understanding of biodiversity in the areas, both highly prospective for mineral exploration, and will improve the efficiency of the environmental approvals process for mining companies.

It is estimated that there are around 1,500 plant species in Western Australia yet to be discovered.

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