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Seedbank gets splash of H2O

21 Nov 2012 THE AGE - SIMON JOHANSON



HORSHAM will be the site of a new seedbank being designed by H2O architects.

The $1.6 million Australian Grains Genebank will bring together every known type of Australian grain in the publicly-accessible building on the Wimmera Highway.

The high-tech cool store will house hundreds of seed varieties in a hermetically sealed building kept at a constant minus 20-degree temperature.

The facility will collect together Australia's existing seedbanks in Horsham, Tamworth in NSW and Biloela in Queensland.

H2O director Mark O'Dwyer said the building would contain four large freezer rooms, an 80 square-metre drying room, administration rooms, laboratory and workshops.

While still in the early stages of design, the project was proving challenging, he said.

"It has to be sustainable and work passively to exclude the sun," said Mr O'Dwyer, whose initial concepts include a detached, aerated roof shading the entire building.

Construction of the freezer units was very specialised. "The sealing is absolutely critical," he said.

H2O designed the Seedbank's sister facility in South Australia, the Plant Accelerator at the University of Adelaide.

That building is used to study the biochemical response of crops to genetic and environmental influences in order to help develop more productive, disease-tolerant crops.

The Horsham seedbank's curator, Bob Redden, said seeds sent to the facility from farmers and breeders would be dried before being kept in cool storage.

The combination of dehydration and low temperature allowed them to be stored indefinitely.

The stocks would be freely exchanged with researchers and institutions under an international treaty, said Mr Redden, of the Department of Primary Industries Victoria.

About 1000 seeds from each genetic resource line, farmers' seeds, old village grain varieties and seeds from their wild relatives will be stored in the building.

"This will be the signature building for genetic resources and seed crops in Australia," Mr Redden said.

Work will start in March on the 1000 sq m building and is expected to be completed next September.